Losing heritage? How modern gymnasiums are killing the Akharas of Banaras


By Rituparna Chakraborty

The traditional akharas (traditional Indian gyms) in Varanasi in India are fading into oblivion. Earlier the city which had one or two hundred akharas has lost its ground to the modern gymnasiums and the situation is so bad that now only 15-16 akharas are in working condition.

The akharas which once were a pride of Varanasi’s tradition and heritage, are losing to gyms because the modern training routines are less rigorous and consume little time.

Gyassuddin who works as a physical trainer at a local gym says that working out in an akhara is very time consuming and requires a disciplined routine, which the youth find a little out dated.

The Akhara Culture

In the earlier days people joined akharas to practice wrestling activities which was then a source entertainment.

The central feature of every akhara is a twelve-to-fifteen meter square earthen pit which is usually covered with a cement pavilion. The pit is surrounded by an expanse of packed earth which consists of turmeric (haldi), alkali (phitkari) and many other ayurvedic herbs.

The equipments like gada, dumble etc used in akaharas are much heavier than the machines available at the gyms.

The akharas provide natural environment to the wrestlers and the workouts are carried out under the open sky and in fresh air. Before starting the daily exercise they offer prayer to lord Hanuman. The akhara is an aesthetic cum moral space.

Why akharas are losing to gyms?

The gyms have proper trainers who are qualified and have proper knowledge of diet and exercises. Also, they have well trained staff who customize work-out routines for the clients.

According to health expert Dr. Ravindu, who practises in  Varanasi, the exercises carried out at gyms are safer as there is proper guidance by the trainers, whereas the akharas lag in this. He also stated that the pahalwans are more prone to injuries due to this reason.