This is a study of wrestling as a system of meaning, and it must be made clear at the outset that I have not undertaken to study the technical aspects of the sport. Those who look for a detailed explication of moves, countermoves, and techniques will undoubtedly be disappointed. The reason for this is quite simple. The moves, countermoves, and techniques of Indian wrestling must be filmed or photographed to be appreciated and understood fully. This monograph is not an exercise in replication or description of this exact sort; it is a work of interpretation—to adapt an old adage, 1001 words offered in place of what would otherwise be a mere picture.
I am indebted to a number of institutions and individuals for the support they have given to this project. Preliminary research funding was afforded by a Humanities Graduate Research Grant from the University of California at Berkeley for a study of the popular literature on Indian wrestling. Funding for a year of field work was provided by a Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant under the auspices of the Fulbright-Hays Foundation. The ample financial support given under this grant was much appreciated. I would also like to thank the staff officers in Washington and Delhi for their efficient work. Without their help, getting the necessary visa and academic affiliation would have been impossible. While I was in India the staff at “Fulbright House” were very helpful in many ways, which made the difficult task of research that much less arduous.
In Banaras I was granted affiliation with the Department of Physical Education at Banaras Hindu University under the direction of Dr. S. S. Sharma. I am grateful both to the university and to Dr. Sharma for their support.
Upon completing the field research I was awarded a Mabelle McLeod Lewis Memorial Grant for a year of dissertation writing. This support proved invaluable and fulfilling, as I was able to write without distraction for an entire year—a rare situation today.
In India a number of people contributed to the success of this project. I cannot remember the names of every wrestler whose words and ideas have found their way into this text. To all of them goes my sincere gratitude for patience and long-suffering indulgence. A few wrestlers with whom I spoke extensively must be mentioned by name. In Banaras, they are: Lakshmi Kant Pande, Govardan Das Malhotra, Jatindar Kumar Pathak, Narayan Singh, Kaniya Lal Yadav, Amru Dada, Banarsi Pande, Indramani Misra, Pratap Singh, Jharkhande Rai, Krishna Kumar Singh, Kaniya, Ashok, Sohan, Manohar, Atma, Shyam, Govind, Anand, Subhash, Danesh, Ram ji, and Lal ji. I am deeply indebted also to Sita Ram Yadav, a champion wrestler of his time; Nathu Lal Yadav, a genuine pahalwan; and Lallu Pahalwan, a quintessential guru. I would also like to thank the owner, managers, and staff of Sandeep Hotel, where I lived for seven months. Their good humor was always appreciated. I recommend their services highly. If I have left out anyone’s name it is not by design or lack of appreciation but because so many were helpful.
In Dehra Dun I express my heartfelt thanks to Kanta Pahalwan, who first introduced me to Indian wrestling. During my stay, however, Kanta was absent from Dehra Dun, and I worked closely with Yamin and his cadre of young wrestlers from Saharanpur. A special word of thanks must go to Dr. Shanti Prakash Atreya, who is by popular acclaim the guru of Indian wrestling. I had hoped to work closely with him in Dehra Dun but was unable to for various reasons. (The life of a fieldworker does not always accommodate itself to the obligations of a grihastha.) Instead I have read his numerous articles on Indian wrestling and hope to have absorbed in this way what he would rather have had me learn in his akhara at Bandarjuddha. His influence on my work is considerable.
In the Department of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley a number of people made valuable contributions to my research in particular, and to my academic career in general. My greatest debt is to my advisor and friend Gerald Berreman, whose support has been unstinting. Over the years his critical eye and astute judgement have broadened my appreciation and deepened my understanding of anthropology. The spirit of his work has informed much of my own thinking. William Simmons’s good-natured support and insightful comments have helped to keep me on the right track. Thomas Metcalf’s extensive knowledge of India has provided a necessary and much appreciated perspective.
Other people have looked over various portions of this manuscript as it went through a number of drafts. I am grateful to Burton Benedict for his comments and to the members of the dissertation-writing seminar at the University of California, Berkeley, for a chance to exchange ideas. Philip Lutgendorf has provided encouragement and has pointed out more than one bhram. I am indebted to Bruce Pray and Joseph Schaller for looking over the glossary. My thanks also go to Peter Nabokov, who took an interest in my work and recommended the manuscript to the University of California Press. More than one anonymous reviewer made valuable suggestions for which I am very grateful. Although not directly involved in this project, I would also like to thank Elizabeth Traube, my M.A. advisor at Wesleyan University, for getting me to ask the right questions.
Finally I am indebted to Nicole Constable, whose sharp eye for imprecision is but one mundane feature of a wholly immeasurable and invaluable contribution to the larger project.