Guru Hanuman Akhara: Fight for Life In a Traditional Sports School in India
Photographer from St. Petersburg. In 2014, graduated from the Photojournalism Department and received an award for his graduation project. Worked for National Geographic Russia, Vokrug Sveta, Lenta.ru, Meduza, Nevskoye Vremya, LensWork, Wall Street International Magazine, Vice UK/USA. Works as a stringer for RIA Novosti, Kommersant, Getty Images. Received Jury’s Special Award at Humanity Photo Awards 2015, received two awards from both Young Photographers of Russia and Zolotoye Pero.
Kushti, which resembles modern freestyle wrestling, became popular in India in the 17th century. After the country was colonized by the English, kushti was forgotten, to be remembered again in the early 20th century in Haryana state. The sport started developing in neighboring Delhi. In 1925, a prominent Indian wrestling teacher Guru Hanuman opened the first kushti academy, or akhana, there.
Now the academy bears Hanuman’s name, and the land it stands on is deemed holy. Guru Hanuman accepts only the most promising young men from all over the country. The training takes between six and eight years. Many graduates become champions in traditional wrestling and win international tournament in freestyle.
The gym with mats, the training ground for fighting in the dirt, the kitchen and showers take up only about 200 sq. meters. Athletes live nearby in ascetic and anti-sanitary conditions. The state sponsors the akhara and pays for sports equipment and food, but there is never enough.
Wrestlers live in small rooms where three or four of them share a bed. They have a modest diet of lentil soup and flat cakes. The equipment is decades old and is passed on from athlete to athlete.
The training starts at 5am and takes 10 hours a day: an hour-long run in the morning, two sessions of wrestling in the dirt for two hours each, to develop strength and stamina, two hour-long practices of technique on the mats, and an hour-long ball game.
The athletes have one hour free before going to bed at night. They spend this time watching funny videos on YouTube or Western music videos with models. Each one of them dreams of meeting a girl and starting a family, but first — to make it to the Olympic team and win the gold.