Back in 2019, a small, dedicated group went to Varanasi in India to train in the Akharas and explore the holy city during the Nag Panchami Cobra Festival that is sacred to the wrestlers.
Nag Panchami, or the Cobra Festival, is usually at the beginning of August and was originally a fertility festival involving the iconic serpents. While the snakes are still a part of festivities, the focus fell on wrestling and other strength disciplines over the years, likely due to the symbolic virility of wrestlers. The day and the lead up to it is marked with various competitions such as Jori swinging, Gada Swinging and wrestling. The Akharas are cleaned and everything is repainted in preparation for the festival, making it an exciting time to visit Varanasi if you are interested in Kushti and Vyayam.
The Group, hosted by Pratyay Singh, included Tom Billinge, William Calvani and Paul Wolkowinski, a man known for popularising the Gada in the West, as well as being at the forefront of the resurgence of Indian Clubs. Documentary filmmaker Michael Dean also accompanied the group and shot a short film about the journey with a focus on Paul, who is a wealth of knowledge. Paul’s website Indian Clubs (and how to swing them) is a goldmine for anyone looking to dive deeper into the swinging arts.
Anyone who is interested in WarYoga and wants to make a deeper connection to their practice would do well to visit Varanasi and its ancient Akharas.