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The ancient Indian wrestling tradition is dying out because competitors are expected to be celibate


An ancient form of wrestling is dying out in India as men are celibate and have to avoid alcohol and tobacco.

Kushti wrestlers train twelve hours a day, and the sport is recruiting boys as young as six years old, but has lost its popularity with younger generations.

Wrestling, also known as Pehlwani, takes place on the ground, where the word Kushti translates as "Wrestling Ground with Hallowed Earth".

Wrestlers lift weights and preach a life of discipline, practice celibacy, and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.

Due to the rigorous training and commitments that wrestlers practice 12 hours a day, it is becoming increasingly unpopular with younger generations.

A man grabs a boy by the floor and puts him on the head during an intense kushti training session in Kolhapur, India

A wrestler painfully arm locks his opponent while fighting in the ground. Photographer Mitchell Kanashkevich, 39, from Sydney, Australia photographed the traditional Kushti wrestlers captured with a Canon 5D MKII camera

A wrestler painfully arm locks his opponent while fighting in the ground. Mitchell Kanashkevich, 39, from Sydney, Australia, photographed the traditional Kushti wrestlers captured with a Canon 5D MKII camera

Kushti wrestlers perform barbell curls as part of their rigorous strength training. The wrestlers preach a life of discipline, practice celibacy and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco

Kushti wrestlers perform barbell curls as part of their rigorous strength training. The wrestlers preach a life of discipline, practice celibacy and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco

A boy is taught a wrestling train by one of the grown men at a Kolhapur gym. Some boys are sent to learn discipline by their wealthy fathers

A boy is taught a wrestling train by one of the grown men at a Kolhapur gym. Some boys are sent to learn discipline by their wealthy fathers

An elder watches over the young trainees. Some of the younger boys in the gym are better off financially and were sent off for disciplinary purposes by their fathers

An elder watches over the young trainees. Some of the younger boys in the gym are better off financially and were sent off for disciplinary purposes by their fathers

The gyms where the wrestlers trained, known as Akhara, are one of the few places in India where Hindu men from different castes are considered equal.

You will be trained by a local guru named Palawan with the help of senior trainers. Your only workout clothing is the kowpeenam or loincloth.

Mitchell Kanashkevich, 39, from Sydney, Australia, photographed traditional Kushti wrestlers in Kolhapur, India.

In one picture, a man grabbed a boy on the ground and held him upside down during an intense training session.

Light pours into the Akhara after a wrestler is defeated in a tough training session. The winner crouches over the fallen loser in the match

Light pours into the Akhara after a wrestler is defeated in a tough training session. The winner crouches over the fallen loser in the match

Kushti students sit cross-legged and watch seasoned wrestlers fight in the ground in front of them. A tall wrestler puts his opponent on the ground and kneels on his back

Kushti students sit cross-legged and watch seasoned wrestlers fight in the ground in front of them. A tall wrestler puts his opponent on the ground and kneels on his back

Several thousand spectators watch in the stands as young fighters fought for the title of Kushti Champion in Kolhapur, India

Several thousand spectators watch in the stands as young fighters fought for the title of Kushti Champion in Kolhapur, India

A skilled wrestler pulls a wooden pallet that one of the younger coaches is sitting on to smooth the floor before a day of training

A skilled wrestler pulls a wooden pallet that one of the younger coaches is sitting on to smooth the floor before a day of training

A fighter winces in pain as he is held to the ground. The Kushti Wrestling Schools train wrestlers with a rigorous 12-hour training program

A fighter winces in pain as he is held to the ground. The Kushti Wrestling Schools train wrestlers with a strict 12-hour training program

In another picture, several thousand spectators watched as young fighters battled for the championship title.

Mitchell said, “These were very tough looking men who got into a very primeval activity – trying to hurt one another – but they were warm and kind.

“Some coaches have whipped the wrestlers and of course they are actively wrestling each other, but outside the pit they were very brotherly – joking, chatting and caring for each other.

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

The origins of this form of wrestling go back to the 5th millennium BC. Back to when its forerunner Malla-yuddha was practiced

The origins of this form of wrestling go back to the 5th millennium BC. Back to when its forerunner Malla-yuddha was practiced

The Kushti Wrestling Schools train wrestlers with a rigorous 12-hour training program. The youngest trainees are only six years old

The Kushti Wrestling Schools train wrestlers with a rigorous 12-hour training program. The youngest trainees are only six years old

Kushti wrestlers covered in scars and dirt from training pose for portraits

Wrestlers are trained by a local guru called Palawan with the help of senior trainers

Kushti wrestlers covered in scars and dirt from training pose for portraits. Wrestlers are trained by a local guru named Palawan with the help of senior trainers

The gyms where the wrestlers trained, known as Akhara, are one of the few places in India where Hindu men from different castes are considered equal

The gyms where the wrestlers trained, known as Akhara, are one of the few places in India where Hindu men from different castes are considered equal

“Because I was so close to the action there was a risk of a body getting hit on me, but luckily it didn't. You could feel the rebound of force, even though there was a "crash" every time.

"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 go back to the 5th millennium BC. Back to when its forerunner Malla-yuddha was practiced. Becoming a Kushti champion deserves respect and fame in the community.

The Kushti wrestling schools that still exist today train wrestlers with a strict 12-hour training program. The youngest trainees are only six years old.