Garadi manes of Gadag

A drive to stay fit and keep safe has motivated the youth in the district to adopt a fitness routine with many seeking the wisdom of traditional centres
Ishappa Bangari, a pahelwan from Hanaman Garadi (below), wields a gaja during a workout routine | EXPRESS
Ishappa Bangari, a pahelwan from Hanaman Garadi (below), wields a gaja during a workout routine | EXPRESS

GADAG: The pandemic that brought a sense of dread and uncertainty seems to have triggered a newfound zeal among people to maintain good health and fitness. Not restricted to urban areas alone, this phenomenon of embracing a good life of exercise has been noticed even in small towns. Amid this enthusiasm, many have rediscovered the relevance of ‘garadi manes’, or traditional gyms, whose history goes back eons.

Gadag’s garadi manes are seeing increased footfall for the last two months, and youth from the city and villages are enrolling in these ‘vyayam shalas’, lifting weights and stretching muscles. Some have made New Year resolutions to embark upon a healthier lifestyle. Last year, Gadag town’s garadi manes had just 11 members, which has risen to 26 this year. Lakkundi’s garadi mane welcomed nine new members, Hatalageri six new members and Jakkali 18. Garadi manes in other rural pockets too are seeing a revival.

Illustrious past

While much can be said about the ancient past surrounding traditional gyms of India, garadi manes gained prominence in Karnataka’s rural areas primarily from 1650, during the reign of Kanthirava Narasaraja Wadiyar of Mysore.

With simple, rudimentary, yet effective implements, such as gajas, also known as mugdar, (Indian wooden clubs), and stone boulders and weights, and a soothing soil floor, these centres were frequented by men for their workout. Trained by ‘kushti patus’, the members would wrestle each other in bouts called ‘kushti’.
During the 1960s, Gadag developed a taste for these time-honoured fitness centres, with several garadi manes emerging in Jakkali, Mallapur, Savadi, Ron and surrounding villages. Many pahalwans practised at these gardai manes, and participated at district, state and national-level dangals and won many trophies. This trend continued well into the 90s.

However, with the advent of modern gyms, powered by high-tech equipment, the garadi manes of Gadag lost many patrons as multi-gyms offered various modern workout techniques, geared towards bodybuilding, along with weight loss. As a result, many garadi manes wound up in the district, down to minuscule numbers by 2010.

Back to the basics

As the pandemic motivated people to seek new experiences with the stress on tried and tested formulas – be it immunity boosters or lifestyle changes – garadi manes too got a chance at revival, with many proud pahalwans looking to rekindle interest in this workout regimen amongsthe youth.

“Now is the time to attract more people towards these natural exercise centres. I have been training in Gadag for the last 50 years, and new trends have distracted our youth. We wish that they come here and learn these exercises. New technologies and gyms diverted our youngsters, but the garadi mane exercises are natural and a gift from our ancestors. We need to preserve this culture and pass it on to the coming generations. Nowadays, students come in more numbers on Sundays and holidays. The numbers are increasing, which is a good sign after a decade of slowdown,” says Ishappa Bangari (64), a pahalwan from Hanaman Garadi.

“I have been going to garadi manes since I have been three. Now at the age of 54, there’s no stopping. The garadi mane regimen is useful for a long life. The exercises are natural and help keep our bodies fit and immune. It’s good to see more people returning to these traditional methods,” says Sharanagouda Beleri, a garadi mane trainer.

It is because of the contributions and foresight of such passionate and determined individuals that the garadi manes of Gadag are rising again, fit, strong and healthy.

Spartan life

Garadi mane fighters are trained and sent for kushti competitions. The fighters use their intelligence, coupled with their strong bodies, while wrestling their opponents. Bhimaseni pattu, Udakh, Nikhal, and Jarasandhi pattu, among other wrestling techniques, are taught by the gurus, called ‘khalifs’ or ‘ustadis’. The fight is held on a ground filled with mud, where pahalwans try to pin down the opponent. Pahalwans exercise close to six hours a day. They lift gajas of different weights, drag hundreds of kilos of weight and carry heavy stones of 75-100 kg as a part of their exercises. They also consume a nutrition-rich diet each day – including ghee karjur, 2 litres of milk, sajjagi (dish made of jaggery and semolina) and rottis with sprouts and green vegetables.

On the silver screen

Garadi manes gained popularity after they were depicted in some Kannada and Hindi films. Popular among them was Dr Rajkumar-starrer Mayura, which created a rage for garadi manes and kushti in the 1980s. Inspired by the movie, garadi mane saw over 40-50 youngsters joining them, said a pahalwan from Gadag. Similarly, Aamir Khan’s Dangal, Bollywood actor Salman Khan-starrer Sultan and Kannada actor Sudeep’s Pailwan created much interest.

Rich history

Gadag’s Hanaman Garadi started in 1827 and was known for discovering new talent. Hundreds of pahalwans from this garadi mane have won state- and national-level kushti competitions over the decades.

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