In the midst of the din of Cottonpet, in a narrow potholed road and squeezed between two tall apartments, lies the quaint Dodda Garadi Mane.
And when one enters the painted green doors, you witness tradition going back to more than 300 years. Though decrepit now, the place has trained some of the most famous wrestlers in the State.
Origins in 1680
According to Purushottam K. who now runs the wrestling gymnasium, the Garadi Mane was started in 1680 when an idol was installed at the site and people from the town were encouraged to train in kusti wrestling.
“It was only in 1927 that my grandfather Pehlwan Thimmarayappa built the place and a shrine for Hanuman. After that, the place became a regular for kusti matches in the area,” says Purushottam.
For nearly half a century, the Garadi Mane was in its peak, having earned the patronage of the then Chief Ministers Kengal Hanumanthaiah, Devaraj Urs, and President V.V. Giri among others.
“Wrestlers from Punjab, Haryana and other places in north India, and even Pakistan, would come to the Garadi, stay in the little room here and practice for kusti matches,” says Purushottam, who along with his brother, Narasimha Murthy, carries on the tradition of their grandfather and father B.T. Kempanna.
One of the traditions that remain is the sanctity accorded to wrestling. Wrestlers must clean the front yard, wash their hands and legs, pay their respects to the statue of Guru Mandath — under whom Thimmarayappa trained — and only then proceed into the building.
One is allowed to enter into the kusti ring only after he has paid respects to the Hanuman idol. The Garadi, even today, does not charge a fee from users.
Lathered in oil, the wrestlers then step into the mud — which is of reddest clay obtained from the outskirts of the city — mixed with ayurvedic oils, kumkum and flowers.
It is this ring that produced Pehlwans who have acted in numerous Rajkumar movies, and who have won coveted State and national titles. While there is visible pride when the brothers point out the legacy of the Garadi, when asked about the future, there is silent surrender.
“We can't force our children to run the place. They will complete their studies and then pursue what they want,” says Narasimha.
Coupled with the uncertainty of who would carry on the family tradition, there is also the harsh reality of a fading interest among the youth in kusti wrestling.
“Youth these days are more interested in modern gyms, and beefing up muscles without building any strength in them,” he says. Interest in the Garadi, and other Garadis in the area, have waned.
Shivanna, who has been working as a helper in the Garadi for over 60 years, laments: “Before, we couldn't count the number of people who came. Hundreds would come here monthly. But now, we get only around 70 people in a month.”