Asia India Photo Essays

Kushti In The Morning | Traditional Wrestling in Kolkata, India

August 27, 2019

by Shourya Ray

Wrestling, in modern Olympic custom, is practised on mats. In India, the ancient sport of Kushti, or traditional wrestling, is still practised in gyms known as Akharas on freshly dug soil that has been mixed with ghee, turmeric, neem and water.

With pressure to conform to international wrestling standards, and win Olympic medals, this ancient tradition is dwindling in modern-day India. However, it still thrives in out of way pockets, a custom that is as old as the Mughal times.

On the banks of the river Ganga, in Kolkata, in the foreground of the Howrah bridge, the Siyaram Akhara continues this tradition to this day. Under the watchful eye of guru Jwala Tiwari, practitioners ranging from young boys to youths undergo a gruelling training regimen that begins hours before sunrise.

Many students come from rural families and work at cottage factories that dot Kolkata. The daily training at the akhara, the strict diet and requirements of celibacy will hone their focus on living a pure life, building strength and following the steps of a champion pehlwani. In these parts of India, that still brings glory, respect and power.

These images were taken with the permission of the wrestling guru, Jwala Tiwari, who appears in the foreground of Image 1. 

Shourya Ray is based in the greater Washington, D.C. area. Apart from a few years where he taught photography as an adjunct professor at the Northern Virginia Community College, he has pursued photography as an amateur for over twenty years. Follow him on Instagram and see more articles like this on Medium at

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