1. Search and Research
This monograph is a study of Indian wrestling as a way of life. The term Indian wrestling is translated directly from the Hindi phrase Bharatiya kushti. Kushti (generic wrestling) is regarded as having a uniquely Indian form. In North India there are two other terms that are used interchangeably when referring to Indian wrestling. The most common of these is pahalwani, which I have taken to signify two important conceptual domains within the larger framework of wrestling as a way of life. On the one hand, pahalwani defines a particular concept of self structured in terms of somatic principles; on the other hand, it articulates the values and ethics of a distinct ideology. To study pahalwani, therefore, is to understand how wrestlers make sense of who they are through the medium of their bodies.
The second term is mallayuddha, which may be literally translated as “wrestling combat.” The term mallayuddha is used very infrequently and is regarded by most wrestlers as an archaic designation. On account of its classical derivation, it is used primarily by people educated in Sanskrit. The root word malla, translated simply as “wrestler,” is used in conjunction with two other common terms. Mallakala is translated as the “art of wrestling,” and mallavidya as the “knowledge of wrestling.” Both terms, which are used somewhat more frequently than mallayuddha, indicate that wrestling is regarded as a complex system of meaning, as more than just a passive form of recreational leisure.
Wrestling in modern India is a synthesis of two different traditions: the Persian form of the art brought into South Asia by the Moguls, and an indigenous Hindu form that dates back at least to the eleventh century A.D. Although technically the two types of wrestling are identical, the culture of Muslim wrestling is formally different from Hindu wrestling. In this monograph I touch on Muslim wrestling only obliquely. For the most part this study is about the identity, ideology and way of life of the Hindu pahalwan.
Wrestling takes place in akharas (gymnasia). Typically an akhara is an ad hoc institution in terms of both membership and management. An akhara may have as few as five or six members or as many as sixty or seventy who range in age from eight to sixty-five. Often wrestlers in an akhara represent a spectrum of high and low caste groups. The members of an akhara are affiliated to the institution through their allegiance to a guru. Every akhara is managed by a guru and a cohort of his age mates, guru-bhais, who are known by the junior members as dadas.
The physical structure of an akhara—minimally an earthen pit, an exercise floor, a well, and a temple or shrine—is maintained by public donation. Akharas do not require a great deal of financial support. Occasionally a new pavilion must be built or a new rope, bucket, or wall is required. Money is raised on demand by whomever takes responsibility, usually one of the senior members. Neighborhood residents and wealthy merchants are asked to pledge contributions, and construction or repair proceeds when enough money has been collected.
Akharas are often located on land that is owned by temple-management committees or donated by a public benefactor or patron of wrestling. Once constructed, akharas are typically regarded as public arenas, and conceptual ownership—if not legal deed—is transferred to the resident guru.
A wrestling guru is one who instructs his disciples on the fine art of wrestling. He prescribes each wrestler’s individual regimen by delineating the number and sequence of exercises, the types and number of moves to be practiced, the content and quantity of diet, and the time and amount of rest. A guru is also a source of strength and wisdom, and a wrestler must be willing and able to commit himself totally to his guru in order to gain access to this strength and wisdom.
Although the majority of wrestlers tend to be in their early to mid-teens, the term pahalwan designates an identity that is by no means limited to the teenage wrestler. In fact, the term pahalwan includes men who were disciplined wrestlers in their youth and who, as married adults, continue to subscribe to the ideals, if not the strict regimen, of a wrestling way of life. These men are employed, support families, and are integrated members of their communities in every sense. However, their whole identity derives from the complex discipline of wrestling exercise and values. A wrestling identity, then, is not restricted to the context of an akhara; it is an attitude toward life in general.
Purpose: Why Wrestling?
I am often asked why I study Indian wrestling, and the answer is not straightforward. When the idea first came to me, as an undergraduate studying anthropology, I had conjured up an exotic image of extraordinary men doing strange things to and with their bodies. In other words, I fell blindly in step with an orientalist tradition intent on seeing other lives as esoteric, unfamiliar and titillating. Although I hope I have now exorcised from this picture the most malevolent of the orientalist demons, the fact remains that wrestlers view themselves as extraordinary men who do extraordinary things to and with their bodies. They project a self-consciously exotic image and thereby distort the world by way of a novel translation of normal events.
I was born and raised in India of missionary parents and educated in a Christian International School. The exotic was never far away, although not always where one might expect to find it. While no single event—exotic or otherwise—clearly marks that moment of insight when the comfortable truth of the world begins to dissolve into interesting questions, one particular event, among many, will serve to illustrate a point that has provided me with an anthropological perspective on wrestler’s lives.
A traveling minstrel show, evangelicals from one of the midwestern states sponsored and funded by their mission to witness to the people of India, came to our school. Clad in blue polyester suits stitched and embroidered with white thread—the white thread sticks in my mind as particularly exotic—clean-cut and well fed, this group, a “family in Christ” who called themselves “The Potter’s Clay,” took the stage in front of the assembled student body. What followed was a dazzling array of folk-rock music played on a mother-of-pearl embossed accordion, a couple of electric guitars, a trombone, and a trumpet. The music was punctuated by moments of prayer and testimony when the younger members of the troupe would explain how they had gone astray—drinking, driving fast cars, womanizing (a strange world indeed)—but were ultimately saved and had been called on by the Holy Spirit to come to India and bear witness to the power of salvation.
Two sisters—twins I think—were part of this troupe and had taken it upon themselves to have someone translate their midwestern gospel-rock ballads into various Indian languages. How they did this I do not know, for they moved from state to state on a whirlwind schedule; but they would memorize the sounds of words in Tamil, Telagu, Punjabi, Hindi, or Bengali and render these in full if somewhat halting voices at the appropriate regional gospel meeting. For some reason they were exceedingly pleased and proud of the fact that they had no idea what the words meant, or, indeed, what constituted a word as distinct from a syllable or phoneme. They were blissfully comfortable with the conviction that their spiritual message was transcendent: language was reduced to a mere technological tool.
It is against this backdrop of exotic translation that I situate the question of why I have chosen to study anthropology in general and Indian wrestling in particular. In a manner suggested by Roland Barthes (1972: 15–25) I see the world of Indian wrestling as myth and the project of mythological analysis as one of translation. The best translation, as Barthes observed, does not reduce experience to some level of universal truth. To translate, in the larger, anthropological sense, is constantly to question ideology with the yardstick of history; or, to paraphrase Barthes, not to let History masquerade as Nature (ibid: 11). I have chosen to study Indian wrestling with this in mind: to offer an anthropological translation of the wrestler’s somaticity and thereby, in an extended sense, to call the twin sisters’ exotic bluff.
I have chosen to study Indian wrestling for more specific reasons as well. Although it is a popular sport, very little has been written about this rich cultural tradition embedded within the larger Indian cultural scene either in India or in the West. For the most part, social scientists who conduct research in India have focused on well-documented and more or less clearly articulated social and cultural institutions such as caste, economics, politics, agriculture, land tenure, marriage, kinship, ritual, and religion, to name but a few. These institutions are in fact the fabricated parts of a larger, seamless social reality. While necessary, the classification of institutions—the breaking up of the whole into manageable intellectual units—entails some distortion. For example, in order to understand “caste” one must at least temporarily take it out of its holistic context and look at it on its own terms or in conjunction with some other similarly removed category such as kinship, marriage patterns, or economic interdependence. Reification is a pitfall of this kind of analysis, when one begins to think of each category as ontologically real rather than as simply heuristically useful or analytically expedient. It is the task of any study to challenge the parameters of classification—to stretch the culturally accepted boundaries—in order to get a more complete and accurate picture of the whole by constantly reflecting its component parts against one another in new ways.
The literature on India is so vast that most topics have been analyzed numerous times from countless perspectives. Caste is probably one of the most thoroughly studied institutions (Berreman 1966, 1967, 1972, 1973; Beteille 1969; Davis 1983; Harper 1964; Hocart 1950;Kolenda 1963, 1978; Lynch 1969; Marriott 1960; Srinivas 1962, 1965, 1969; Wiser 1950). This is not to suggest that something new and interesting cannot be said about it. But because Indian institutions have been thoroughly studied in their own terms, it is necessary to ask what cultural and social phenomena transcend these traditionally defined institutions. What aspects of social life do not fit so neatly or consistently onto the existing intellectual grid? How do these phenomena provide new insight into Indian civilization? What parts of the whole have not yet been compared against one another? In pursuing such inquiry and seeking an adequate translation, I have found it necessary to situate old problems and themes in new contexts. (For recent examples of this see Carman and Marglin 1985; Daniel 1984; Gold 1988; Raheja 1988.)
Wrestling transcends the categories that anthropologists and others have traditionally used to interpret Indian society and culture. It is a sport, but it is also an elaborate way of life involving general prescriptions of physical culture, diet, health, ethics, and morality. It is not caste-specific nor directly implicated in caste hierarchy. Although it is a way of life, it is not a livelihood; it is a chosen path that is not contiguous with other life paths as defined by the Hindu life cycle. As a sport wrestling provides entertainment, but this dimension is secondary. The ethic of training and psychophysical preparation is more important than the wrestling bout itself. Wrestling is not restricted to any one class of people; it is neither rural nor urban. In general, it tends to defy simple classification. However, to say that wrestling is not primarily a caste phenomenon or that it is not completely subsumed within religious, economic, or political systems is not to say that it is irrelevant to these spheres of life; quite the contrary. My argument is that wrestling is a unique and somewhat anomalous phenomenon in Indian society. As such it can shed light on familiar institutions from a dramatically new perspective.
I chose to study wrestling in the hope that the disparity between lived experience and my interpretation of that experience could be minimized. This seemed likely because wrestling is eminently public and self-conscious. A man chooses to become a wrestler and must reflect on the implications of his decision. He must struggle with a set of ideals and values and interpret their ramifications. Wrestlers reflect on what they do and why they do it in an overtly self-conscious way. They do not simply take it for granted. This fact allowed me to build my interpretation on an already well-defined pattern of self-awareness, inquiry, personal critique, and objective analysis, thus reducing the distance between their voices and mine.
I am interested in wrestling as public performance and as a stage for self-presentation because it is on such public stages that interpretations, rationalizations, and meanings are expressed and modified (Brandes 1985; Bruner 1984; Geertz 1973; Goffman 1959). All social life is public; its cultural meaning is open to continual definition and redefinition, interpretation and reinterpretation. Wrestling, like ritual, dance, and musical performance, is a dramatically public text (Ricoeur 1971). It is unique, however, in that there are relatively few absolute semantic rules which define action within the textual framework. To use Barthes’s terms, one might say that wrestling is a myth that, because of its interstitial reality, lacks a consistent grammer of its own. As such, wrestling only contingently reaffirms pervasive cultural themes such as rank and status; more significantly, it opens up the stage for a protean, maverick revision of these themes.
I was born in North India and lived there for twenty years. I speak and read Hindi. While in high school I became well acquainted with some wrestlers and began to wrestle in local tournaments. Although I was not a successful wrestler, I became interested in the rich culture associated with wrestling as a system of physical culture and health. In 1977 I affiliated with a wrestling gymnasium under the guruship of Dr. Shanti Prakash Atreya and was introduced to Indian wrestling as not only a sport but also a way of life, a complex system of physical fitness, exercise techniques, dietary prescriptions, personal character traits, devotion, discipline, and a host of ethical values. As a result of this experience I decided to return to India in 1987 and conduct a year of field research on the culture of Indian wrestling. My exposure to wrestling made it possible to affiliate with and quickly assimilate into a new akhara and to build rapport with a number of wrestlers.
I lived for seven months, from January to July 1987, in Banaras, Uttar Pradesh, where there are over 150 active wrestling gymnasia in the city and twenty or thirty in the surrounding villages. Because wrestling is not defined by a residential community and gymnasia are not usually residential institutions, I was not able to live with the wrestlers I studied. I was closely affiliated with one gymnasium, Akhara Ram Singh, but I did not restrict my research to this group because I did not want to become so involved with the activities of one community as to be precluded from others.
Pressure is brought to bear on all members to come to their akhara regularly. I therefore rented a room in a local hotel. This proved very satisfactory on a number of counts. The hotel was centrally located five minutes from Akhara Ram Singh and within thirty minutes of most akharas in the city. By living in the hotel I was able to maintain a necessary distance between myself and the life of the gymnasium. I was thus able to type notes and generally collect my thoughts in an isolated environment. The hotel provided food, security, mail and message service, laundry, and a regular supply of water and electricity. Rather than having to attend to these mundane concerns, I was able to spend all of my time concentrating on the research project. Moreover, I was able to entertain informants/guests on short notice and in comfort.
The term “hotel” needs to be qualified, for it may conjure up inappropriate images of luxury and leisure. I stayed at the Sandeep Hotel in Chaitganj, an “Indian Style” hotel as classified by the department of tourism, used primarily by traveling businessmen and families on pilgrimage. It was inexpensive and simply appointed to a degree unfamiliar in the West. The employees of the hotel were familiar with the wrestling scene so that wrestlers who came by to visit were not at all intimidated by the surroundings.
Banaras is not a typical Indian city (cf. Eck 1982; Freitag 1989; Lutgendorf 1991). It is one of the preeminent pilgrimage centers in India. Because of its pervasive and often intense religious atmosphere it is reputed to have a character all its own. Many people with whom I spoke—wrestlers and non-wrestlers, barbers, shopkeepers, young soldiers, policemen, students, music teachers, and others—would ask with a twinkle in their eye and a sense of pride and possessive secretiveness whether I had yet “taken in the pleasure of Banaras.” What they meant was, had I bathed in the Ganga River at dawn and then gone to one of the many temples for darshan (spiritual “viewing”); rowed across the Ganga to the sandy south shore and spent the day washing clothes, bathing, and fixing bhang (hashish); been to the Bari Gaivi temple and drunk the pure well water that improves digestion? Had I been to Sankat Mochan temple on a Saturday night and offered sweets prepared in pure ghi (clarified butter) to Lord Hanuman; been to Ramnagar across the river to witness an enactment of Tulasi Das’s Ramacaritamanasa? Had I been in Banaras for Holi? Had I enjoyed the unique pan (a betel leaf, spice, and lime-paste preparation) for which Banaras is famous (cf. Kumar 1986, 1988 for an excellent discussion of leisure and pleasure in Banaras)?
Banaras is known for many things and is unique in many ways. Wrestling in Banaras, however, is the same as wrestling in Delhi, Dehra Dun, Allahabad, and any other place in North India. Wrestling holds a special place in the Banarsi ethos (cf. Kumar 1988), but it is not defined in any unique way there. In this book I will describe what wrestling means in general in North India, using Banaras as an example, rather than what it means distinctively to people in Banaras, as Kumar has done.
After seven months in Banaras I shifted the research focus from the akhara to the competitions. For five months, from August to December 1987, I lived in Delhi and Mussoorie. Though akhara training goes on year round, the competitive season begins in July with the coming of the monsoon rains and continues through the temperate season until the Holi festival at the end of March, when the heat begins to intensify. I attended wrestling bouts in Delhi, Dehra Dun, Ramnagar, Vikasnagar, Saharanpur, Roorkee, Mangalore, and other small towns and villages to get a broader picture of this dimension of wrestling, and to insure that my interpretation was not overly specific to the Banaras experience.
Methods and Routine
One problem I encountered in the field was how to demarcate the topical boundaries of my study. I was not sure what constituted a complete picture of wrestling from an anthropological point of view. I had thought that I would join an akhara and that the boundaries of what was and what was not wrestling would be self-evident. This was not the case. I found that there were Hindu akharas, Muslim akharas, akharas where only “English” exercise was done, akharas for “Hindi” exercise, “power lifting” akharas, akharas for relaxation where little or no exercise was done, akharas with focused religious orientations and peripheral wrestling and exercise, akharas for lifting nals (stone weights), and akharas exclusively for swinging joris (wooden clubs) and gadas (maces). Some of these distinctions are sharp and exclusive, as in the case of gymnasia where members practice western-style bodybuilding. Other distinctions are more fluid, as in the case of akharas which function primarily as “health spas” but also cater to and provide facilities for wrestlers and competitive jori swingers. I focused my study on Hindu akharas that emphasized wrestling. However, I found it useful to visit akharas of all types. What goes on in an akhara where bodybuilding is the focus, for instance, sheds light on general concepts of the body in all akharas. Similarly, Muslim wrestlers provide a critical appraisal of Hindu akharas, and a jori swinger or weightlifter can speak to the general aesthetic, moral, and ethical principles of gymnasium life.
One morning, soon after arriving in Banaras, I got up at 5:00 and walked over to an akhara I had located the day before. It was set back from the road under banyan and nim trees and demarcated by a low wall. Across the road was a park and a low marshy pond. In the center of the akhara stood a large cement structure some twenty feet tall with a flat roof supported by thin posts decorated with blue line paintings of wrestlers exercising and posturing. Within this structure was the wrestling pit: a raised rectangular platform of soft, fine earth brought in yearly from village fields and raked even and flat. Around the sides of the pit were areas of hard-packed earth. To one side was a well and cement trough for bathing. Opposite this stood a small temple decorated with paintings of Hanuman, Ram, and Sita, inside of which stood the bright vermilion, cloth-bedecked, flower-garlanded form of Hanuman, the patron deity of every akhara. Beside the temple were a number of small shrines with smaller icons of Hanuman and Shiva. Leaning up against the largest of the nim trees was a broken triptych of Hanuman figures, a Shiva lingam, and countless small oil lamps. Behind the pit was a shedlike veranda attached to the guru’s house where wrestlers changed, exercised, and massaged one another.
As I walked by early in the morning I could see from some distance away that there were about twenty young men and boys standing around the pit. On closer examination I could see pairs of wrestlers practicing their moves in the pit. One climbed up a rope attached to the largest nim tree while others performed dands (jackknifing push-ups) and bethaks (deep knee bends), lifted weights, and swung dumbbells and wooden clubs. Not having met these wrestlers previously, or been introduced to the akhara, my plan was simply to observe the morning activities and gradually familiarize myself with the routine. However, as I walked by, all of the wrestlers in the akhara turned on me as one, slapping their thighs and beating their chests in the aggressive challenging fashion that precedes a competitive bout. Feeling that a statement was in order, I said something to the effect that I was interested in wrestling. Immediately a number of hands were proffered in challenge. At this point I could have backed down and said I just wanted to watch, but the spirit of the moment seemed right and I accepted the challenge of one of the senior members. I did not have a langot (g-string), but an extra one was located and I tied it on and entered the pit. For ten minutes or so I did the best I could, which is to say not very well at all; but in the end I was, if bruised, muddy, and out of breath, at least “in the door,” introduced in a dramatic way to twenty members of an akhara and on my way to understanding what wrestling was all about.
My research strategy was to become a regular member of a gymnasium and study its members and daily routine in detail through regular participant observation. Ram Singh Akhara, the first akhara I visited, turned out to be the gymnasium with which I became affiliated. Every other morning from 5:00 or 5:30 until 9:00 I practiced and exercised with the members of the akhara. Most akharas are active at a very early hour so that after practice members can go to work or school. On the mornings that I did not go to Akhara Ram Singh I would go to one of the other gymnasia in the city. Although I went to numerous akharas, I returned often to Akhara Bara Ganesh near the loha (metal/iron) bazaar, Gaya Seth on the Grand Trunk road near Gol Gaddha, Surya Akhara near Chauk Bazaar, Sant Ram Akhara above Manikarnika Ghat, and Akhara Karanghanta near Maidagin. In the afternoons I would try to locate other akharas and, if possible, observe their evening exercise routine.
Once I had established rapport with wrestlers at several akharas I began to conduct scheduled interviews on a range of topics. These interviews came to constitute a fair percentage of the material I gathered. I conducted thirty-five formal interviews, each between an hour and an hour and a half long. These interviews were taped and then transcribed. I did not have a key informant but rather worked with seven primary informants and ten or eleven secondary informants. I surveyed thirty-five akharas in order to discern membership, management techniques, ownership, religious foci, political affiliations, and a host of other basic census data. In informal, untaped interviews I collected short life sketches of 110 wrestlers in order to determine such factors as educational background, caste, economic-class status, residence, and family wrestling history. Although important information was collected in this way, by far the most valuable information came from attending morning practice sessions, swimming in the river and visiting temples with members of the akhara, attending weddings and parties, going to wrestling bouts, and listening to gossip while lying in the cool akhara earth after an afternoon workout.
One reason I selected wrestling as a topic of study is that it is a self-conscious public activity that people choose to do. They articulate their reasons for wrestling and reflect on what wrestling as a chosen life path means to them in particular and to all wrestlers in general. Because of this there is a considerable popular literature on wrestling, often reflexive and analytical. I have termed this literature “popular” because it is stylistically neither journalistic nor scholarly. It is popular in the dual sense of being interesting and concerned with the public interest. Most journal articles and pamphlets are not simply descriptive but advocate a particular point of view directed at a specific audience. I also refer to this literature as popular because it is largely published by small local publishing houses for a restricted audience. In this regard it is distinguished from academic texts, which enjoy a much larger circulation and currency and appear, among other places, on the accessions list of the Library of Congress and the shelves of universities both in India and in the West.
The popular literature on Indian wrestling is not easy to find unless you know where to look or are directed there by those who know: the back galis of Chauri Bazaar in Old Delhi, the Rangmahal area of Indor, small printing establishments in Banaras, and other equally obscure places that have yet to be discovered. While I am most familiar with the Hindi-language publications of this genre (Ali 1984; Anonymous n.d.; Changani 1958; R. Gupta n.d.; M. Lal n.d.; G. Y. Manik 1964; K. Manik 1939; Mathur 1966; Patodi 1982; Sarma 1934; A. K. Singh 1983; H. Singh 1981, 1984a, 1984b; Sivnathrayji 1955), it should be noted that there are also a number of other regional-language publications by Soman (1963, 1974) and Suryavamshi (1966) in Marathi, and Basu (1934) and Bhadudi (1964) in Bengali.
The most significant literature of this type is published by the Bharatiya Kushti Prakashan (The Indian Wrestling Publishing House) under the editorship of Ratan Patodi. The publishing house was established in 1968 when the editor was forced to choose between his job as a journalist in Indor and his avocation of writing and publishing material on Indian wrestling. Since 1968 some forty-five editions of the quarterly journal Bharatiya Kushti (Indian Wrestling) have been published. This journal is a source of invaluable information. Consider some of the articles: “Physical Education in Rural Areas” by Atreya (1971); “At What Age to Begin Wrestling” by K. P. Singh (1975); “How to Stay Healthy During the Rainy Season” by N. Pathak (1980); “Poverty and Health” by Atreya (1986a); “Eat Greens, Stay Healthy” by M. R. Gupta (1973); and “A Vegetarian Diet to Increase Your Weight” by O. P. Kumawath (1987). In addition to numerous articles on diet, health care, exercise techniques, celibacy, morality, and religion, there are over a hundred articles that outline the life histories of as many famous wrestlers. There are also over a hundred accounts of wrestling tournaments in India. In short, Bharatiya Kushti is a remarkable source of information.
One of the most significant features of this journal is that it provides a cross section of views on various topics by authorities on the subject of Indian wrestling. Through a reading of the articles by Atreya, K. P. Singh, Pathak, Malhotra, Patodi, Guru Hanuman, and others, I am able to compare their views with those of the wrestlers I talked with and interviewed. I have treated popular texts on wrestling in the same way that I have treated interviews and observations. Although the voices which speak from the written texts are voices of authority, to the extent that they represent wrestling to a reading public, I have read these texts as simply other voices speaking in a common public arena. Written texts may speak more loudly and with clearer articulation, but they do not define some objective truth; they merely add authority to the discourse.
The existence of a self-reflexive, indigenous commentary on cultural life raises a number of interesting and problematic questions concerning the role of the anthropologist as foreign observer. For, in effect—to overstate the point slightly—the anthropologist is rendered impotent and somewhat redundant when the wrestlers write their own ethnography. Or, alternatively, would I classify myself as but another wrestler writing in a somewhat different context, to a different audience, in a different language, but with no more or less legitimacy than any other wrestler? Certainly I have more at stake as an academic scholar but less invested as a wrestler. In any case, what is somewhat blurred here is the relationship between observer and observed and this, as Clifford (1983) and Clifford and Marcus (1986) among others (Fabian 1983; Rabinow 1977; Tyler 1986) have pointed out, raises the problematic question of ethnographic authority.
Traditional anthropological exegesis is based on both eyewitness accounts and hearsay, an epistemology that almost by definition makes a sharp dichotomy between the written word and the heard word or seen event. This is simply no longer tenable, given the fact that anthropologists can no longer study isolated, illiterate groups. In an article published in Bharatiya Kushti entitled “Brahmacharya,” Atreya quotes Goethe and the Swedish theologian Swedenborg as well as the Bhagavad Gita and other classical Indian texts (1973b: 24). An early text entitled Jujitsu and Japanese Wrestling by a Banaras resident named Kalidas Manik (1932) compares wrestling in India with wrestling in Japan. Manik admonishes young Indian wrestlers to learn Japanese moves. Banarsi Pande, a well-known wrestler in the Banaras area, was trained as an international referee at the National Institute of Sport in Patiala. He is conversant on a range of topics that includes the Swedish gymnasium movement of the early twentieth century. When I asked him to talk about the history of Indian wrestling he spoke of classical Greece and ancient Rome and referred to notes he had taken on hand-to-hand combat described in the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics. Indrasan Rai, who comes from a family of famous wrestlers, has written a doctoral dissertation for the department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archeology, Banaras Hindu University, on the art of wrestling in ancient India (1984). About one-sixth of the references cited in his dissertation are of works in English about western philosophy and physical education. I was introduced to Indrasan Rai by an illiterate wrestler who directed me to textual sources—newspaper clippings and commemorative souvenir volumes—when I asked him to recount his life story.
As Marcus and Fischer have rightly pointed out, it is incumbent on anthropologists to make sense of this polyphony of voices and texts (1986: 37). The goal of such an endeavor would be to produce what Clifford refers to as dialogic texts which seek to evoke meaning in an ongoing process of creative praxis (1983). The anthropologist’s voice is introduced into the arena not as any sort of final authority on represented truth but as yet another redactor of partial knowledge. A number of anthropologists have experimented with various techniques to try to reorient the anthropologist’s voice in the larger discourse of ethnographic work (cf. Crapanzano 1980; Narayan 1989; M. Rosaldo 1980). The world of Indian wrestling affords a unique opportunity to examine the theoretical implications for anthropology of textual intersubjectivity. If Goethe and Swedenborg can be quoted as sources on Indian wrestling, and if wrestlers write about themselves in objective, self-reflexive intellectual terms, then where do we draw the line between text, context, and author? And who draws it?
Historical Texts and the Problem of History
It is now accepted in anthropology that cultural analysis must somehow be contexualized within a historical framework (Cohn 1987; Fabian 1983; R. Rosaldo 1980; Sahlins 1981, 1986). This is not to say that ethnography must be predicated upon historical reconstruction. History must be integrated into a holistic understanding of institutions and groups. It is not enough to make reference to the past without a critical evaluation of how the history of an event is as much a reflection of current concerns as it is an objective, impartial description. Conversely, a reevaluation of history can shed significant light on the way in which ethnography is interpreted and analyzed. In this study a lack of historical information prevents me from using history in this way.
One of the greatest frustrations in dealing with wrestling is the paucity of historical material. There are a number of cultural histories of various epochs that mention wrestling in passing but say little beyond an indication that it was a popular pastime of kings and princes (Chopra 1963; Dayal 1981: 40; Suryavanshi 1962: 63, 64). A brief account is given in The Encyclopedia of Sport(Pollok 1911: 353), and a short synopsis appears in Man(Hornblower 1928: 65) where reference is made to an earlier account in the Times of March 2, 1928. There are brief accounts of wrestling during the Mogul period in the Babur Nama(Beveridge 1921: 656, 660, 683), the Akbar-Nama(Blochmann 1904: [I]456–487, [III] 482) and the Ain-i-Akbari(Blochmann 1873–1948: [I] 263). Wrestling is described in Dharmamangala, a Bengali poem by Chanaram Chakravarty (1900: 51). Wrestling, along with other sports, is described by Tridib Nath Roy in “Indoor and Outdoor Games in Ancient India” (1939), and by Dr. V. Raghavan in Festivals, Sports and Pastimes of India(1979). Short accounts of wrestling during the epic ages are given by S. Bhattacharya in Mahabharata Kalin Samaj(Society in the Mahabharata Era; 1966), and S. K. N. Vyas in Ramayana Kalin Samaj(Society in the Ramayana Era; 1958). L. Singh discusses wrestling as a martial art in Ramayankalin mein Yuddhakala(Martial Arts in the Ramayana Era; 1982–1983). M. Rai situates wrestling in a larger context of royal entertainment in his Prachin Bharatiya Manoranjan(Entertainment in Ancient India; 1956). The problem with all of these secondary sources on wrestling is that they are based on the same limited corpus of primary texts. There is much repetition but little elaboration.
In his doctoral dissertation entitled Prachin Bharat mein Mallavidya(Wrestling Knowledge in Ancient India), Indrasan Rai (1984) has synthesized historical references to wrestling into a comprehensive analytical survey. Rai has systematically gone through Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain texts and painstakingly compiled a historical picture of wrestling. However, because most texts deal with wrestling only marginally, the historical picture of wrestling is partial and opaque. Moreover, Rai’s study treats history in a scheme of “now” and “then,” with “then” representing a vast, unchanging, primordial past. Through no fault of his own, Rai’s work provides a thin description of wrestling in this generalized past, without depth or sense of change because there is simply not enough material to suggest any process of development.
Balbir Singh’s study of wrestling history, Bharat de Pahalwan: 1635–1935(Wrestlers of India: 1635–1935; 1964) is a more focused and therefore comprehensive work. Written in Punjabi, it is a catalogue of famous wrestlers and their accomplishments, which, though extremely useful in its own right, simply extends the boundary of the present into the past and does not provide a historical understanding of what constituted a wrestling way of life in, for instance, the eighteenth century. In any case there is no historical connection among accounts of wrestling in the Ramayana (thirteenth-century Gujarat), Mahabharata (twelfth-century South India), and Jataka Tales (eighteenth-century Delhi). The texts that deal with these periods do not provide us with a comprehensive history of wrestling, but with static, dated accounts.
Two of these deserve special mention: the Malla Purana and the Manasollasa. The Malla Purana, edited by B. J. Sandesara and R. N. Mehta (1964), is a caste purana dating most likely to the thirteenth century A.D.(ibid: 6). The purana is a dissertation on, and description of, the Jyesthimallas—a “caste” of professional wrestlers—in medieval Gujarat. It categorizes and classifies types of wrestlers, defines necessary physical characteristics, and describes types of exercise and techniques of wrestling as well as the preparation of the wrestling pit. The text of the Malla Purana is Sanskrit, but the editors have provided an English synopsis in their extensive introduction. Veena Das has studied the Malla Purana from a sociological perspective, focusing her inquiry on why priests, who would not usually adopt a martial art, became professional wrestlers (1968, 1970).
A second text of particular significance is the Manasollasa of the twelfth-century Deccan king Somesvara (Srigondekar 1959). This is a general treatise on royal fine arts and leisure and contains a detailed description of the art of wrestling. Rai (1984) has referred to this text as the wrestler’s “Gita” since it is both a practical and philosophical account of wrestling as a science, an art, and a way of life. However, aside from Rai, Atreya, and a few other “academic wrestlers,” not many contemporary wrestlers know of this text. Although more detailed than other texts, the Manasollasa only gives the names of moves and exercises but does not provide descriptions.
It is worth noting that while wrestling is regarded as a martial art, it is rarely mentioned in accounts of epic or medieval military history (Chakravarti 1972; Hopkins 1972; B. K. Majumdar 1960; Oppert 1967; G. Pant 1970; J. N. Sarkar 1984; Wilson 1979; cf. also Deopujari 1973 and Irvine 1962 for accounts of Maratha and Mogul warfare respectively). When it is mentioned it is regarded as much less important than swordsmanship, archery, equestrian skill, and the other “high” arts of military combat. One reason for this may be that wrestling, no matter how well developed and refined as a fighting skill, remained a basic form of hand-to-hand combat and did not enjoy the glory and prestige of the more technologically sophisticated arts of war. Another reason may be that wrestling was regarded more as a dueling art than as a mode of field combat. Many of the epic accounts describe wrestling as taking place in an arena rather than on the battlefield, and in this respect wrestling may be regarded as the diametrical opposite of war. Consequently, one reason why wrestling may not appear in many accounts of military history is that its ambiguous status as art/sport/combat/way of life may have made it difficult to classify.
Given the paucity of historical accounts about wrestling and the generally opaque and thin description of the sport when it is mentioned, I do not believe that an adequate history of wrestling can be written now, if what we mean by such a history is the systematic developmental analysis of an institution or point of view—what Foucault calls genealogy—rather than the objective quest for origins or the abstract construction of an uncritical chronology. Foucault has clearly pointed out the pitfalls of venturing into the arena of history with preconceived notions of what to look for and where to find it (1984a: 76–100). He suggests, instead, that a meticulous genealogical method must be applied to create a reformed “effective” history that “deprives the self of the reassuring stability of life and nature, and . . . will not permit itself to be transported by a voiceless obstinacy toward a millennial ending. It will . . . relentlessly disrupt its pretended continuity” (ibid: 88).
The scattered fragments of information about wrestling are interesting in their own right but do not fit together in a complete picture. For this reason, I have incorporated dated texts into this book not as genealogy or history but as voices from another time speaking on various pervasive themes. To do so is unfortunate and methodologically tenuous, but unavoidable owing to the paucity of sources. A proper genealogy of the wrestler’s body must await further study.
The same situation applies on a much more abbreviated time scale. I was told in a number of interviews that wrestling was very popular during the nationalist movement (mid-nineteenth century until 1947) when the ideology of nationalism was apparently closely allied with a wrestling way of life. There are tantalizing hints at how this coalescence began and developed. For instance, Gama, the great Indian wrestler of the early twentieth century, went to London in 1920 under the sponsorship of a wealthy Bengali merchant. He soundly defeated all of the British champions at a time when Indian nationalism was reaching its full strength. He returned to India a national hero (Alter: manuscript). Madan Mohan Malaviya, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Moti Lal Nehru all were strong advocates of physical education and akhara culture as a necessary component of building a free India (Karandikar 1957: 48).D. C. Mujumdar’s Encyclopedia of Indian Physical Culture(1950), and the earlier, more comprehensive, Marathi text in ten volumes on which that work is based, implicitly advocate a nationalist ideology (1950: xxiv). The references to wrestling as an ideal of physical culture during the independence movement are scant and oblique. We know, for instance, that Mahatma Gandhi said that “in the search for wisdom, physical education ought to have a status equal to that of learning” (Patodi 1973a: 33), but we are not told how or why. Similarly Tilak is reputed to have said, “I call on students and youth to be devoted to strength and celibacy. Without wisdom and strength we cannot foster and protect our liberty. The freedom of the nation is dependent on the courageous” (Patodi 1973a: 62).
It is clear that Indian nationalists were advocates of a wrestling way of life, but there is not yet enough evidence to write an effective history of their views. John Rosselli has authored a brief account of the role of physical culture in the formation of a nationalist ideology in nineteenth-century Bengal (1980). To fill out the picture, similar and more comprehensive studies are needed for other parts of India.
A history of Indian wrestling can and likely will be written. However, in doing so it would be wrong to look for the roots of a nationalist ideology in the disciplinary practices of thirteenth- or eighteenth-century wrestling. One must begin with the body and proceed not to a “rediscovery of ourselves” (Foucault 1984a :88) but to an exegesis of the mechanics and mythology of domination.
The Wrestler’s Body: Identity, Ideology, and Meaning
As a sport, wrestling evokes images of various kinds. The most pervasive and powerful of these images in the United States and other Western countries (cf. Barthes 1972: 15–26; Craven and Mosley 1972; Morton 1985) is professional wrestling. According to Barthes, this genre of wrestling is a “great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice” (1972: 19).
Although morality is a central feature of Indian wrestling, it is not professional wrestling in Barthes’s sense. It is not a spectacle. Wrestling bouts are dramatic, but they are not self-conscious performances. The contests are not “rigged,” nor do the contestants adopt burlesque roles as cult figures. Unlike the Western professional wrestler who epitomizes a particular moral virtue, the Indian wrestler embodies a whole ideology. As such he is an ideal figure rather than a simple caricature, a culture hero and not a scaramouche.
Although a complete picture of Indian wrestling will emerge in this book, it is necessary to provide a basic frame of reference—however cryptic—in order to give a point of comparative orientation. The rules of Indian wrestling are very close to the rules of Olympic freestyle wrestling. As a sport, wrestling is a leisure activity. It is entertaining for both wrestlers and spectators alike; it is a medium for relaxation and competition. This is not to say, however, that wrestling is somehow marginal to the core factors of “real life”—production, exchange, domestic life, politics, and religion. Leisure and entertainment are no less real on account of their “non-utility” than is production real on account of its fundamental use value. Because sport is fun does not in any way mean that it is insignificant. As a cultural system, sport is meaningful to the same extent as systems of production and exchange. That sport is seen, in contrast to drama, dance, business, and education, as nothing more than “fun” is an unfortunate fact of cultural chauvinism. One aspect of this study is to show how one sport, Indian wrestling, is an integral and important part of everyday life. A number of people—businessmen, college professors, and peasant farmers—regarded it as the most important medium through which to think about themselves and to make sense of their world.
Wrestling is more than a sport, it is a vocation: a way of life. One chooses to become a wrestler. My focus is not on moves and countermoves, holds, takedowns, or the other skills a wrestler must master. I am interested in the ideals and values associated with wrestling as a more or less bounded system of meaning. Although much of what wrestlers do is to practice techniques and moves, they regard this aspect of their art as specialized and somewhat esoteric. In contrast to the unproblematic issue of skill and technique, the wrestler is eminently concerned with such complex questions as the relationship between moral and physical strength, abstinence and celibacy. As such, wrestlers are concerned with wrestling as a way of life that defines the boundaries of their everyday actions.
For a wrestler, wrestling and all it entails is an ideology, a partial and incomplete but nevertheless holistic ordering of the world. At the locus of this ideology is the identity of the wrestler—what it means, among other things, to be strong, skillful, celibate, devoted, dutiful, honest, and humble. In order to explain this it is necessary to work through the implications of what is meant by “system of meaning,” “identity,” and “ideology.”
It is by now a commonplace in anthropology, following Geertz, to recognize that meaning is the central problematic in understanding culture. The project of an interpretive approach is not to unlock hidden objective truths, but to engage in an ongoing dialogue from which emerges the textured fabric of cultural meaning. The focus is not on deep structures or fundamental principles but on cultural texts: experience as lived and expressed in everyday life.
Meaning cannot be reduced to first principles or located objectively in symbolic forms, social organization or elementary structures. As Bourdieu writes, “[t]he mind is a metaphor of the world of objects which is itself but an endless circle of mutually reflecting metaphors” (1977: 91). Bourdieu would be quick to add, however, that on this level of pure pastiche there is very little significance to the meaning of metaphor. To get at the significance of cultural production and reproduction one must consider both identity and ideology.
Because meaning is a derivative of interpretation and not intrinsic to symbolic forms, the role of the interpreter becomes very significant. The place of the actor in social discourse is important for understanding how persons manipulate and produce meaning. Through interaction with others, people construct their own biographies. In turn, these biographies become the basis for further interaction. One aspect of culture is the collective memory of biographies emerging from and creating a shared history. It must be remembered, however, that one person’s experience of the world through intersubjective interpretation is necessarily partial and incomplete. The self is fragmentary, and people may act in terms of a particular matrix of these fragments—as they may perform a role—but a characteristic feature of the self is that it is only partially realized. As Simmel has noted, self-knowledge is inherently imperfect (Natanson 1973: xl). What this suggests, however, is not a pejorative condition, but rather a possibility for persons to borrow from other contexts and other partial and imperfect formulations in order to redefine themselves (cf. Rabinow 1983). In this context the self is not a partial reflection of an a priori social reality but instead the locus of intersubjective reflexivity (cf. Babcock 1980; Bruner 1984; Fernandez 1980).
The creative process of inventing and interpreting meaning does not take place in a vacuum. People spin the webs of their own significance, but they are constrained in the range, direction, and extent of their own action. That people tend to define themselves in terms of common values is an expression of shared cultural tradition. It is also, however, an expression of ideological constraint and domination. By definition any cultural tradition is exclusive—holistic in terms of itself but not universal—and defines appropriate and inappropriate domains of action. In this regard any culture is necessarily partial, and when juxtaposed to another culture it is at least partially subversive. What is considered to be real and meaningful in one context may in a larger context—and therefore more political arena—be peddled as universal truth. I follow Habermas (1972) in his treatment of ideology as “distorted communication” and extend this to include the whole range of culture. An ideology is a powerful cultural system for it is regarded as an immutable paradigm for interpreting meaning and guiding action (Geertz 1973: 220; cf. Ricoeur 1986).
The value of a theory of ideology, following Giddens, is that it provides a critique of domination (1979: 187). If one speaks, as Giddens suggests, in terms of the “ideological” rather than in terms of institutionalized ideologies as such, then the concept denotes some features of what Bourdieu calls habitus, “the source of these series of moves which are objectively organized as strategies without being the product of a genuine strategic intention—which would presuppose at least that they are perceived as one strategy among other possible strategies” (1977: 73). What makes habitus “ideological” is not only its “strategic” quality but the fact that it operates in a covert manner. Those who are engaged in the practice of habitus—the replication and reproduction of various forms of domination—are not fully aware of all of the ramifications of their actions (ibid: 79).
I use ideology to mean what Raymond Williams, following Gramsci, terms the hegemonic. Hegemony is not a formal structure of consciousness and control; rather, it refers to “relations of subordination and domination” embedded in the commonsense world of everyday life (1977: 110). Domination of this sort can be reflected with considerable power in seemingly innocuous areas: a work of art, seating arrangements, smoking etiquette, dietary patterns, body aesthetics. Rather than adopt Williams’s terminology, I will use the term ideology to denote the everyday relations of subordination and domination embedded in culture (cf. Barnett 1977; Barnett and Silverman 1979).
Although ideologies present themselves as totalizing and immutable, they cannot explain everything. Moreover, alternative ideologies provide different possible interpretations of a single phenomenon. Barnett has provided a detailed and flexible model for understanding how persons act in terms of their ideological stance (1977). The important point in his formulation is that while persons act in terms of one ideology they have a partial understanding of how other ideologies work. They have at least a nascent idea that something can be understood from another perspective (ibid: 276).
My argument, following the spirit if not the letter of Barnett’s model, is that people can change their ideological stance given persuasive counterinterpretations of experience. In order to make sense of a situation a person may interpret the significance of particular symbols in a novel way. What is crucial, however, is that the new interpretation is not pure invention but is rather the product of symbolic domination. The forms of ideological protest and counterinterpretation are encoded in the dominant symbols themselves. Giddens has focused much of his work on this point. He argues that action emanates from structure and “that the reflexive monitoring of action both draws upon and reconstitutes the institutional organization of society” (1979: 255). Action does not follow a tangent of its own making; its course is set by pervasive structural themes (ibid: 5; cf. also Barnett and Silverman 1979: 37). Ideological form, according to Barnett and Silverman, is not structured by static categories but rather by eruptions of conflict, by disjunction rather than consensus. Domination defines the parameters of protest and interpretation. Or, as Raymond Williams puts it, “the dominant culture, so to say, at once produces and limits its own forms of counter-culture” (1977: 114).
To apply this argument to the Indian case, one may say that an effective counterinterpretation of caste hierarchy is necessarily couched in terms of the pervasive and dominant symbols of purity and pollution. Barnett has shown that dramatic ideological change takes place through the reinterpretation of blood symbolism within the context of caste identity (1977: 283). As a referent for common group identity, blood can mean either holistic interdependence and membership in a caste group, or it can come to refer to substance and evoke notions of individuality, class, and ethnicity (ibid: 283). Blood as substance, however, is charged with significance precisely because it is a dominant symbol of the holistic caste ideology. It can come to be a powerful referent for racism in India because it has significance in the domain of caste interdependence.
If this perspective is reversed, one is led to ask not what caste has come to mean in India, as Barnett has done, but rather how political protest movements against caste have been articulated. Untouchability in India has been attacked from countless perspectives: the humanism of Gandhi, the democratic socialism of Nehru, the egalitarian reform of the Arya Samaj, the proto-Buddhism of Ambedkar, and the militancy of the Dalit Panthers, to name but a few. All of these forms of protest attack the institution of untouchability and suggest reform through the promotion of ethnic pride, democracy, equality, or empowerment. Reform of this type can work, and has been shown to work in particular cases. However, the fact that untouchables become Buddhists, Muslims, or advocates of democratic equality or leftist revolution does not challenge the principles of caste ideology as such. This point must be emphasized. One ideology can displace another, but what often happens is that formal change of this sort is rendered impotent by the pervasive power of the embedded ideology.
Although religious and political reform movements can be effective, they do not, so to speak, take the bull by the horns. The encoded hegemonic forces of power are not confronted on their own terms when legislation or revolt is directed at social groups or institutions who simply manifest authority. Buddhist converts become stigmatized as untouchables; low-caste persons are denied access to education, legal process, political power, temples, tea shops, and gymnasia even when legislation and public opinion seem to be in their interest. What is to be made of this paradox? I do not presume to have the whole answer, but in confronting the problem I do not locate power in the institution of high caste groups as such, or with any group in particular. The invidious nature of deeply rooted power is manifested, among other places, in the code of purity and pollution. If, for example, stigma is located in physical contact and saliva—that which pollutes tea cups and cigarettes—then one must address questions concerning the nature of ideological power to that level. To highlight the most invidious nature of power, Foucault has drawn attention along these lines to the historically situated human body (1978, 1979).
My purpose in taking up the issue of caste ideology is to understand how invidious distinctions are encoded as dominant symbols in everyday life and how these symbols can be rendered less powerful—or equally powerful in a different way—through counterinterpretation. Barnett has shown that blood purity can translate hierarchy into, among other things, racism. My point is that key symbols such as asceticism, which tend to reinforce hierarchy, at least in the context of the dominant caste ideology, can be reinterpreted to undercut caste principles. Although it may seem that wrestling has little to do with caste hierarchy, my argument is that it does. This is not because wrestling provides a forum for social protest against stratification, but rather because it is a context in which the meaning of particular key symbols that relate to the embeddedness of caste are significantly reinterpreted through the medium of the human body.
Body Discipline: The Mechanics of Reform
Recently the body has become a subject of interest in anthropology and the other human sciences (cf. Blacking 1977; Comaroff 1985; Kunzel 1981; Scarry 1985; Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1987; B. Turner 1984). While much of this literature is in the area of medical anthropology, there is also an extensive literature on embodiment and sport (cf. Morgan and Klaus 1988). The literature on “things somatic” is, ofcourse, voluminous and incorporates a host of perspectives. Recent work has been most successful, however, in demonstrating that the body is not only “good to think with” as Lévi-Strauss (1966), Leach (1958, 1976), Douglas (1970) and V. Turner (1969) might have it, but is also acted upon through what Foucault has termed a “political anatomy.” (cf. Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1987). In this political anatomy the body is broken down into elemental units and physiological processes. It is made docile and subject, drained of any “natural” process so that all processes reflect neither pure biology nor pure culture but a history of power relations (Foucault 1984b: 182). Foucault has referred to various disciplinary regimens as “projects of docility” wherein the biomechanics of control are located in the regulation of movement—balance, precision, gesture, posture—rather than in the interpretation of signs (1979: 136).
Everyone who has studied Hindu life has to some extent noted the importance of the body in ritual, health, cosmology, and everyday life. The institution of caste rules and regulations is but one arena in which the Hindu body is made the docile subject of a pervasive political anatomy. Dumont (1970) and others have noted that Hindu society may be seen in terms of the largely somatic principles of purity and pollution. More recently Daniel, drawing in part on Marriott and Inden’s theory of coded substance (1977), has suggested that caste is but one manifestation of a more basic scheme of “differentially valued and ranked substances”: blood, food properties, earth qualities, spatial aesthetics, and sexual fluids (1984: 2). What is at issue in this matrix of coded substance, I think, is the relationship between identity, culture, and the political anatomy to which the body is subject. To what extent, under what circumstances, in what shape, and with what qualifications does a person emerge from the intersection of these forces?
It is against this backdrop of coded substance, rules of caste propriety, and somatic aesthetics that the body of the wrestler may be seen, not simply as a signifier of meaning, but as a subject actor in a larger drama of culture and power. Since wrestling is so meticulously concerned with a unique form of body discipline—which in Foucault’s sense is more a function of mechanics than meaning—one is led to ask how this discipline affects identity. Who does the physically fit wrestler think he is, and how, by virtue of what he does, is he different from the average man on the street?
These issues revolve, I think, around the nature of the person in Hindu South Asia. Dumont was perhaps the first to clearly show how the ideology of caste structures identity. Where Dumont saw caste structure as the overarching rubric of culture and identity, others have posited a more elemental structure based on coded substance (Marriott and Inden 1977; Daniel 1984). Although Daniel has criticized the extreme ethnosociology Marriott advocates (ibid: 54), his own work is aimed, it seems to me, at the same level of analysis, even though it gets there by a different, more fluid route. Regardless, in most instances there is a good “fit” between these two modes of interpretation—caste-based principles or ethnosociologically defined codes of substance—if only because many codes are keyed to an ideology of caste. However, this is by no means always the case. As Daniel’s work in particular has suggested, there are many arenas where the fit is neither good nor complete, and so the person must negotiate the rough terrain of an uncharted course. It is along these lines that the world of wrestling provides an interesting case in point.
Wrestling is unique in one respect, however. It takes direct issue with the lack of “fit” between a caste-based interpretation of the body and a distinct wrestling interpretation of the body. The exigency of close physical contact can not be ignored. That is, the wrestler does not pander to the inconsistencies of forced rationalization—he takes the bull by the horns, so to speak, and marks off, in bold steps, the terms of his own identity. He refuses to say that his world is of marginal, contingent significance. Unlike Barthes’s French wrestler, the Indian wrestler does not raise moral questions only for the sake of spectacle. He cannot simply leave the akhara and safely say, this is this and that is that, for he embodies the contradictions his actions engender. In embodying moral questions the wrestler does not directly challenge caste values, but he does restructure some of the codes to such an extent as to throw into question the logic, and thereby the power, of the dominant ideology.