You've Never Seen Mud Wrestling Quite Like This

Why you should care

These dedicated pehlwans are keeping a dying sport alive.

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It’s stunning to watch: a balance of body and soul that requires fierce dedication. But pehlwani, an ancient style of wrestling, is struggling to survive in modern-day Pakistan.

Its roots date back to the fourth century B.C., when it was born during the Mughal Empire with the combining of different fighting disciplines, including Persian ones. Bamma Pehlwan’s akhara — the clay pit where pehlwans (warriors) practice — is located behind the Lahore Fort. It’s the largest wrestling pit in Lahore, and years ago it was famous for having produced many champions.

Pehlwans devote their lives to this sport in a country that walks among hopes and shadows, including systemic corruption, lethargy and ethnic-religious violence.

But this ancient sport is quickly heading toward extinction. Decades ago, hundreds of men were in training. Now only dozens remain committed to keeping the tradition, which lacks financial support from the government, alive. Despite its declining popularity, pehlwani, also known as kushti, remains a way of life for some fighters; most, though, have to balance training with day jobs. The discipline is a rigorous one that includes traditional training techniques in the akhara: pushups, climbing, digging.

Pehlwans devote their lives to this sport in a country that walks among hopes and shadows, including systemic corruption, lethargy and ethnic-religious violence. Keeping the practice alive requires a different approach to contemporary Pakistan.

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A pehlwan drags a plank of wood to prepare the clay floor for a game at Bamma Pehlwan’s akhara, the largest wrestling pit in Lahore. Pebbles and stones are raked from the floor before training.

Source Diego Ibarra Sánchez/MeMo

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A pehlwan turns the soil in the fighting pit before a training session.

Source Diego Ibarra Sánchez/MeMo

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Pictures of past pehlwans. Famous wrestlers were once treated as celebrities and their posters were displayed across the city before a competition.

Source Diego Ibarra Sánchez/MeMo

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Pehlwans practice their technique during a training session at Bamma Pehlwan’s akhara.

Source Diego Ibarra Sánchez/MeMo

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A wrestler receives a massage after a training session.

Source Diego Ibarra Sánchez/MeMo

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A wrestler showers after training.

Source Diego Ibarra Sánchez/MeMo

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