The Warrior Monks
Malla-yuddha is the traditional South Asian form of combat-wrestling created in what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It is closely related to Southeast Asian wrestling styles such as naban and is the ancestor of kusti.
Wrestling in South Asia has a history of 5000 years and predates the Indo-Aryan invasions. The first written attestation of the term mallayuddha is found in the Ramayana epic, in the context of a wrestling match between the vanara King Bali and Ravana, the king of Lanka.
Hanuman, the monkey god of the Ramayana, is worshipped as the patron of wrestlers and general feats of strength. The Mahabharata epic also describes a wrestling match between Bhima and Jarasandha. Other early literary descriptions of wrestling matches include the story of Balarama and Krishna. Stories describing Krishna report that he sometimes engaged in wrestling matches where he used knee strikes to the chest, punches to the head, hair pulling, and strangleholds. He defeated Kans, king of Mathura, in a wrestling match and became new king in his place.
Siddhartha Gautama himself was said to be an expert wrestler, archer and sword-fighter before becoming the Buddha.
Wrestlers train and fight in a traditional arena or “akhara”. Matches take place in a clay or dirt pit, thirty feet across and either square or circular in shape. The soil of the floor is mixed with various ingredients, including ghee. Before training, the floor is raked of any pebbles or stones. Many wrestlers live at their training hall but this is not always required. Traditionally revered as extensions of Hanuman, all wrestlers are required to abstain from sex, smoking and drinking so the body remains pure and the wrestlers are able to focus on cultivating themselves physically, mentally and spiritually.
This purity is also said to help achieve the highest level of martial and sporting perfection. A wrestler's only belongings are a blanket, a kowpeenam (loincloth) and some clothes. In this regard, they are often compared to Hindu-Buddhist holy men.