Parisa Applegarth | Molded in Mud (2017)

33cm x 48cm (pigment prints)

More than 5000 years in the making, Indian wrestling has evolved as an art form of martial discipline that even to this day attracts young boys (and girls) to make a lifetime of commitment to the sport. These young minds are literally molded in mud in the mud-pits of the akhadas (schools) to emerge as accomplished Malla-Yoddha (wrestlers) and identify themselves in the society.

The style of mud-wrestling is unique to India. The international standard of wrestling is on the wrestling mat. The Indian wrestlers have surprisingly not abandoned the mud-pits and instead are choosing to train in the mud and on the mat. The Mughals introduced the elements of Persian wrestling, which has become integral to the akhada system in India. The mud-wrestling integrates techniques from various wrestling formats from across the world. Yet, the akhadas have retained their ancient traditions and have evolved to produce world-class wrestlers who are a charm to watch as they wrestle in the fluid mud.

The mud-pit is not an ordinary pit filled with dirt. The soil is raked and buttermilk, water, and ghee (clarified butter) are added before training. Red ochre is added to give the soil the red hue. The soil is kept soft enough not to cause injury but hard enough to allow the wrestler to move in the pit.

It is a common practice for the wrestlers to seek blessings by throwing the pit mud on themselves and their opponents while they are in the pit. The mud did not bother them and had become part of them, giving them character and color. These wrestlers are indeed molded in mud.