Although morality is a central feature of Indian wrestling, it is not professional wrestling in Barthes’s sense. It is not a spectacle. Wrestling bouts are dramatic, but they are not self-conscious performances. The contests are not “rigged,” nor do the contestants adopt burlesque roles as cult figures. Unlike the Western professional wrestler who epitomizes a particular moral virtue, the Indian wrestler embodies a whole ideology. As such he is an ideal figure rather than a simple caricature, a culture hero and not a scaramouche.
Wrestling is more than a sport, it is a vocation: a way of life. One chooses to become a wrestler.
Although much of what wrestlers do is to practice techniques and moves, they regard this aspect of their art as specialized and somewhat esoteric. In contrast to the unproblematic issue of skill and technique, the wrestler is eminently concerned with such complex questions as the relationship between moral and physical strength, abstinence and celibacy. As such, wrestlers are concerned with wrestling as a way of life that defines the boundaries of their everyday actions.
For a wrestler, wrestling and all it entails is an ideology, a partial and incomplete but nevertheless holistic ordering of the world. At the locus of this ideology is the identity of the wrestler—what it means, among other things, to be strong, skillful, celibate, devoted, dutiful, honest, and humble.
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