A corpse burner’s wrestling pit

#1 Dec 2nd, 2017, 22:03
Join Date:
Dec 2008
In the land of awesomeness
  • aarosh is offline

Bibek Chaudhary (left) swings ‘jodis’ in the Dom ‘akhada’ as Hari Om Chaudhary looks on. Photographs by Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Bariyr Chaudhary, 70, is consumed by nostalgia when he recalls the time he used to practise wrestling, or kushti, at the Dom akhada. “When I was 16, I began practising kushti for the first time. It was the era of the pehelwans, and it was glorious,” he says in Hindi.

It’s a cold winter morning at Varanasi’s Meer ghat, and we are sitting on a cot covered by a thin, lumpy mattress in a narrow, 4ft-wide corridor leading to the interiors of Bariyr’s three-room house. Bariyr sleeps on the cot, right near the entrance; the three rooms are occupied by his three sons. The entrance, with the door ajar, is the only source of light in the corridor.

“In our time, the Doms’ akhada would overflow with pehelwans from different castes. Untouchability was predominant, but when it came to wrestling, caste boundaries blurred. If you were a pehelwan, and I was a pehelwan, no matter what your jaat (caste), we were equal on the playing field. All we cared about was kala—the art of wrestling. It was the skill that was important. In our time, untouchability and caste discrimination existed and were quite prevalent, but not in the akhada.”

The yellow mud (a mixture of mud, mustard oil, turmeric powder, and sometimes, ghee and yogurt) that fills a traditional akhada is symbolic of this belief —that all men come from the same mitti. They are, therefore, equal in the wrestling space.

In fact, a number of wrestlers, irrespective of their caste, drop their surnames for the title of “pehelwan”, indicating that their art, rather than their birth, defines them.

Dom Raja Natey Chaudhary with a collection of ‘jodis’ and ‘gadas’ in the background.

Some of the Doms, who burn corpses for a living, live in Meer ghat, a stone’s throw from Manikarnika ghat, a cremation site that holds great significance for Hindus. Their belief system dictates that if an upper caste touches a corpse, he will be contaminated. Therefore, the job of cremating the dead is given to the “untouchables”—and in Varanasi, it falls to the Doms.

Tucked within the fortress of the Dom Raja family (the wealthiest of the Doms, and the owners of Manikarnika ghat) lies an akhada that is more than 100 years old. At the entrance, across the akhada’s blue walls, the auspicious word Shubh has been painted in Hindi. Silence covers the ground like a shroud. There is no hustle of footsteps, and no sound of kushti. Broken pebbles cover the uneven ground instead of soft, levelled yellow earth. The akhada is hemmed in by overgrown plants on one side, a grilled railing, and a motley crew of abandoned wooden doors, a broken toilet sink, and shattered glass.
#2 Jan 19th, 2018, 19:48
Join Date:
Jun 2010
West Yorks, UK
  • spud is offline
Great read aarosh And a must visit for next time... if I can find it... If they allow visitors even? I'll ask the Ganpati guest house owners about it next time I'm there.


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