Dawn, Varanasi. As the people of the city begin their day washing in the Ganges, the men from around Tulsi Ghat begin their own morning ritual, centuries in the making, in the fitness ground known as an Akhada.
It is believed that this particular Akhada has been a place of fitness and worship for almost 500 years. Men till the soil by hand, before offering a prayer to the Lord Rama and partaking in an incense burning ceremony. The Akhada is predominantly a place to maintain fitness and stamina, and the men begin their workouts by lifting weights, jogging, and performing pushups.
Then, they begin to drag themselves through the soil of the wrestling ring, throwing dirt over themselves to cover their already-oiled skin and provide some friction during the upcoming rounds of wrestling known as kushti or pehlwani.
This cultural peculiarity is unfortunately becoming less popular, with numbers of Akhada dwindling from well over 50 across the city several decades ago, to now barely a dozen hidden throughout the streets and ghats of Varanasi.
I loved stepping through the small stone archway into the Tulsi Akhada. The rituals performed here beautifully showcase a sport and a tradition which has lasted centuries. With this short film, I wanted to capture that tradition by telling the story of the men, the Pehlwans, who live and breathe it as part of their morning routine.
Edited in Premiere Pro and After Effects.