During my second trip to India (2012), when I was traveling by car from Mumbai to Goa, I decided to stop in Kolhapur for a short visit, to photograph the most important wrestlings classes (Talim in Marathi). 

Kolhapur has a long history of kushti (wrestling) and has produced many noted wrestlers. The sport flourished during the reign of Chattrapati Shahu Maharaj (ruled 1894–1922). During this golden age, Shahu Maharaj built akharas all over Kolhapur and organized wrestling tournaments, inviting legendary wrestlers from across undivided India. Since then, Kolhapur’s wrestling culture has been dominated by Gangavesh Akhara, Shahupuri Akhara, Motibag Akhara, and New Motibag Akhara. In each of these akharas, more than 70 wrestlers undertake taleem or training. Hence, the akhara is colloquially also known as taleem.

Daily life at a taleem is based on egalitarianism, strict discipline, a healthy diet, high morals, and ethical living. When a pehelwan completes his taleem, it brings a high social status for the entire family.

In 1948 India was participating as an independent nation for the first time in the Olympics. Amongst the 79 participants India sent to London in 1948, was a young wrestler from the village of Goleshwar in Satara district, Maharashtra. Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadav was 22 years old and hailed from a family of pehelwans (wrestlers). His talent was promoted and his trip to England was sponsored by Shahaji II, Maharaja of Kolhapur.

Even though K.D. Jadhav finished sixth in the flyweight category, he gained valuable experience competing on the unfamiliar mat surface. In 1952 he won bronze in the bantamweight freestyle category; the first-ever individual medal won by an Indian at the Olympics.

Overall, many families in Kolhapur have a history in wrestling and they want to continue the tradition, irrespective of the high cost and sacrifices made. They aspire to send them children to the taleems from an early age. Even though the fees paid to gurus are nominal, monthly expenditure on food and dietary supplements cost between 10 to 25 thousand rupees depending on the age and weight of the wrestler. During this period, trainee pehelwans are sustained by money sent from home.  

The agrarian economy acts as a lifeline for the sustenance of wrestling in this region. Most pehelwans belong to farmer families and their income depends on a good agricultural harvest.

Source: https://www.sahapedia.org/taleems-of-kolhapur-legacy-wrestling

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