Becoming a champion wrestler can bring your family great honour. Mediadrumimages / Mitchell Kanashkevich

By Kate Harrold


THIS ANCIENT form of wrestling requires men to become CELIBATE and train for twelve hours a day – and some recruits are just SIX years old.

In one image, a man tackled a young boy to the ground pinning him upside down during an intense training session.

In another, several thousand spectators watched on as teenage fighters competed for the title of champion.

A portrait of a Kushti wrestler. Mediadrumimages / Mitchell Kanashkevich

Photographer, Mitchell Kanashkevich (39), from Sydney, Australia, was in Kolhapur, India, when he photographed these traditional Kushti wrestlers on his Canon 5D MKII camera – providing rare insight into a seldom seen world.

Kushti wrestling – also known as Pehlwani – is practised on soil. Due to the strict training, diet, and required celibacy, it’s becoming increasingly unpopular amongst younger generations.

“These were very tough looking men engaging in what some might deem to be a very primeval activity – trying to hurt each other – but they were warm and friendly,” said Mitchell.

The fighters take it in turns to practice. Mediadrumimages / Mitchell Kanashkevich

“Some trainers would whip the wrestlers and of course, they’re actively wrestling each other but outside of the pit, they were very brotherly – joking, chatting, and taking care of each other.

“They’d all come from such different backgrounds. Some of the younger boys were better off financially and had been sent by their fathers for disciplinary purposes.

“Being so close to the action, I was at risk of finding a body being slammed down on top of me, but thankfully that didn’t happen. You could feel the power ricochet though each time there was a ‘crash.’

Oftentimes, 20,000 spectators come to watch the wrestling. Mediadrumimages / Mitchell Kanashkevich

“To an outsider, these men seem brutal but the concept of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is very appropriate here.”

The origins of this form of wrestling date back to the 5th millennium BC where its precursor, Malla-yuddha was practised. Becoming a Kushti champion earns you tremendous respect and glory.

Still in existence today, Kushti wrestling schools train wannabe champions with a strict 12 hours-a-day training regimen. The youngest trainees are just six years old.