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Nada kusti as popular as ever

By Our Staff Correspondent

Mysore Sept. 29. The smell of fresh mud wafts through the stadium as wrestlers try every trick in their bag to win the prized silver mace. With each nada kusti (traditional wrestling) bout in the akhada, a cloud of dust rises, and so does the adrenalin level of frenzied fans rooting for the wrestler representing their favourite garadi (gymnasium).

Nothing short of victory for their garadi will please the spectators. For, each supporter has waited a year to watch the pahalwan representing his garadi trounce the wrestler of a rival garadi during the Dasara wrestling competition, an event patronised by the ruling class and the common man alike, for centuries. Welcome to the Dasara wrestling arena.

The Dasara wrestling competition is also a platform for wrestlers to test the skills they have mastered through years of training under the watchful eyes of khalifs, yajamans, and ustads. Though wrestling as a sport is faster and more developed at the national and international levels, interest in the traditional form of wrestling, especially during Dasara, is deep rooted in the people of Mysore. A sport that has had royal patronage since early 17th Century, nada kusti is very popular among those from the lower middle class and rural areas.

Old-timers never tire of recounting how the Wadiyar ruler, Ranadheera Kanteerava, defeated an arrogant wrestler at Tiruchirapalli. First promoted by Raja Wadiyar in the 16th Century, the popularity of nada kusti reached its peak during the rule of Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV in the first half of the 20th Century.

The foundation of the Dasara wrestling competition, one of the few competitions held regularly in the State, was laid by the late Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar at Jaganmohan Palace.

The venue of the competition was later shifted to the Sahukar Chennaiah akhada, also the present venue, in the late 60s.

Over a period of time, the Government improved the akhada. The Karnataka Exhibition Authority built a modern akhada abutting the exhibition grounds at a cost of Rs. 1 crore two years ago.

The adventures of the Wadiyar rulers in the wrestling arena ignited a passion in their subjects, and the Indian form of wrestling flourished in Mysore producing classic wrestlers such as Koppal Basavaiah and Channaboranna, who made a mark in the international arena too.

Under royal patronage, more than 70 garadis prospered in the city. Some garadis of the royal era include Hathujanagala Garadi, Pakeer Ahmed Sahebara Garadi, Mayannanavara Garadi, and Ustad Srinivasan Garadi.

Apart from these garadis, nearly 240 others came up all over the district. A testimony to the popularity of this traditional sport is the increasing attendance at the Sahukar Chennaiah wrestling stadium every year. Fortunately, although the game has become faster on mats and because of innovative techniques incorporated by wrestlers, the popularity of traditional wrestling has not diminished.

According to the general secretary of the Mysore District Wrestling Association, S. Mahadev, the popularity of traditional wrestling has remained intact despite the growing popularity of other sports. Over the years, it has been able to retain both its traditional touch and the passion the people have for it, he said.

But sadly, the exponents of nada kusti as well as the garadis are in a poor state despite the game's popularity. Today, the sport is no more than a form of rural entertainment, a fact best illustrated by the number of spectators the sport attracts at village fairs in North Karnataka.

While wrestlers continue to enthral spectators year after year during Dasara, they themselves continue to suffer due to insensitive administrators.

The apathy notwithstanding, the bouts remain as competitive as ever and the decibel levels increase with each victory.

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