If Haryana has Dangal, Maharashtra has the prestigious Maharashtra Kesari. Organized by the state since 1961, the 61st edition of the yearly tournament saw Pune boy, Abhijeet Katke clinch the coveted Silver Mace (Gadhaa). The tournament is a big hit among budding wrestlers. Fans in the state eagerly wait for the ‘Maharashtra Kesari Kushti’ and show up in huge numbers for the tournament.
The state of Maharashtra has a long tradition of producing world class wrestlers. In 1952 K D Jadhav gave India the first ever Olympics medal. The legacy was taken forward by Asian and Commonwealth games gold winner Narsingh Yadav.
22 year old Pune wrestler Abhijeet Katke who was also one of the finalists in Maharashtra Kesari 2016, was the 2017 winner. He beat his friend cum competitor Kiran Bhagat of Satara in a keenly contested title bout. Organized at the Mamasaheb Mohol Sports City in Bhugaon, Pune (pune sports), the match saw fan frenzy to the tune of 40000 people.
As is the tradition of wrestling matches, Abhijeet along with the mace was presented a Mahindra Thar (SUV), the prize for the event. Kiran Bhagat, the runner-up was presented with a Royal-Enfield Bullet Classic.
Maharashtra Kesari – As the event unfolded
The Bhugaon venue in Mulshi was overflowed as wrestling fans thronged the 40,000-seater temporary stadium. VIP dignitaries and Politician were among the crowd to cheer the mega wrestling event.
Sharad Pawar, the President of the Maharashtra State Wrestling Association; Union Minister for Transport and Water Resources, Nitin Gadkari, and Pune’s Guardian Minister Girish Bapat were in attendance for the final bout.
The popular wrestling championship was jointly organised by the Pune District Wrestling Association under the aegis of Maharashtra State Wrestling Association. The Mulshi Taluka Wrestling Association and Mallasamrat Pratishthan along with the villagers of Bhugaon were instrumental in hosting the event.
Maharashtra Kesari Final Bout – Cautious Start, Aggressive Moves and Player Protest
Both the wrestlers started the summit clash on a cautious note, keeping an eye on the big prize; enthralling the wrestling fanatics present on chilly evening.
The hard-fought battle started with a controversy as Kiran Bhagat complained about an improper movement from Katke. Abhijeet was nursing his injured left hand. Kiran Bhagat’s supporters were expecting a warning to the Pune wrestler, but the referees continued the match without any points.
Abhijeet Katke was keen to strike at every given opportunity and took vital points with his offensive play, putting Kiran Bhagat under pressure. Abhijeet Katke, known for his aggressive style of wrestling, raced to a 3-1 lead in the first round.
The second round started on a positive note for Kiran Bhagat as he came out of the traps. Trying to be the aggressor, Kiran Bhagat took advantage of his agility to eke out a few points.
On the other hand, Kiran Bhagat’s coach complained that Abhijeet Katke, again, used improper techniques, resulting in a further injury to Kiran Bhagat. However, this time, the referees supported the protest.
Kiran Bhagat was awarded two points and the score was equalised to 3-3.
As the match got poised Kiran Bhagat then found the rhythm and delivered an effective ‘Hafta’ move. This move gave him four points and took a 7-4 lead. For the first time, he was in the lead in the final. On a few more occasions, Kiran succeeded in clawing back the deficit.
However, Abhijeet’s collective approach enabled him to capitalise on Kiran’s technical mistakes and score vital points of his own.
In an attempt to extend the lead, the wrestler from Satara tried another ‘Hafta’ move. But this time, Abhijeet was cautious and he counter-attacked to win two points.
Confidence on a high, Abhijeet Katke again won two points with only 40 seconds remaining for the final whistle. High on aggression, Abhijeet this time used the ‘Bharandaj’ move to secure two more points.
The six points in 40 seconds turned the tables for the Pune wrestler as he won Maharashtra Kesari with 10-7 point difference.
Maharashtra Kesari Abhijeet Katke following his family Legacy
The Katke family is on cloud nine after Abhijeet’s historic feat. The 135 kg gentle giant missed the opportunity last year to win the coveted Silver Mace. In the Maharashtra Kesari 2016 title he lost to three time champion Vijay Chaudhari from Jalgaon.
For the Katke’s, wrestling is nothing new as they have been following the sport since the past five generations.
Although his father and grandfather didn’t taste any major tournaments success, they had a keen interest in the sport and supported Abhijeet since his childhood. Abhijeet along with his training is also appearing externally for his class 12 exams.
The youngster trains with his ‘Vastaad’ Amar Nimbalkar at Shivramdada Talim in Ganesh Peth, Pune. Additionally, Abhijeet trains with national wrestlers Bharat Mhaske, Hanmant Gaikwad and Gulab Patel.
Talking about his ward, Nimbalkar said, “Strength and raw power are Abhijit’s main weapons. He takes advantage of his weight and tries to overpower his opponent.”
The Maharashtra Kesari 2017 winner starts his day at 4.30 am. Practicing with traditional wrestling techniques, Abhijeet also spends an equal time at the gym.
His next aim is to lift the ‘Hind Kesari’. But, his final destination is to make his family and nation proud by winning a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Notable Winners from the last decade at Maharashtra Kesari
Abhijeet Katke, last year’s runner up, is the winner of Maharashtra Kesari 2017.
Narsingh Yadav holds the record of winning the title three times consecutively from 2011 to 2013. Narsingh also won Gold for India at the 2010 Asian and Commonwealth Games.
From 2014 to 2016 Vijay Chaudhary equalled Narsing’s record of triple Maharashtra Kesari.
Other notable winners are Ganpat Khedkar, Chamba Mutnaal, Laxman Wadar, Dadu Chougule and Chandrahar Patil. All have won the title twice.
The record holder for youngest Maharashtra Kesari Kusti champion is Yuvraj Patil. He won the coveted championship at the age of 17.
Gender Bias Broken – For the first time ever Women Wrestlers make it to the Maharashtra Kesari Stage
Woman wrestlers from Maharashtra created history at the annual event. While all eyes were on who bags the prestigious Silver Mace, meant for men, a couple of women wrestlers got an unique opportunity to participate in the event.
A promotional bout between Ankita Gund and Harshada Jadhav ended up garnering praises from energetic 40000 plus crowd.
After the successful exhibition match, a demand to hold a tournament with an equivalent title for women has been made by the organisers.
A huge crowd of men graced the event, a fair number of women from surrounding villages were also present in the audience. They had gathered to cheer and watch Ankita Gund and Harshada Jadhav battle each other on the stage.
Though it was organised as a promotional event or exhibition match, the bout created quite a roar among wrestling lovers. Ankita overcame Harshada in the friendly encounter.
Speaking about the inclusion of women wrestlers, Shantaram Ingawle, the tournament’s organiser, said, “Women are getting a platform to showcase their talent in every sector today. There are so many women who have earned accolades in wrestling at international level.”
“We decided to rope in two women wrestlers this time to participate in the promotional event. This is the 60th year of the state-level wrestling competition and 42nd year of the Maharashtra Kesari Kusti tournament. We are glad that the girls showcased a gripping match and were applauded by the crowd.”
After Haryana, Maharashtra Kesari opens the gates for Women Wrestlers
Haryana, one of the most conservative states in terms of women empowerment was the first to gleefully accept women wrestling. Thanks to them, Maharashtra is following the trend.
Even if women wrestlers from India are getting recognition worldwide, the need for a tournament of equivalent stature was never held in the state before.
Ankita Gund, winner of the promotional match said, “People need to remember that it was a female wrestler that got India a medal at the 2016 Olympics. But we are not acknowledged. I’m glad that we got the opportunity to showcase our talent on the Maharashtra Kesari stage. We have proved that we are no less than the men, who participate in this competition each year.”
After Ankita and Harshada’s thrilling match, the energetic spectators demanded that a tournament be held for women next time.
One of the fans who attended the event, said, “Either they should get to compete in this match or a separate competition of equivalent stature be held for them. We have seen Aamir Khan’s Dangal. The struggle of women wrestlers in the country is real. This is the time to bring a change in the sport.”
From late 2006-07, India has shown a steady growth in quality of wrestlers participating at international events. Right from Sushil Kumar’s 2008 Olympic medal winning bout to Geeta Phogat’s 2010 commonwealth heroics, wrestling has multiplied in popularity.
Youngsters like Abhijeet Katke, Kiran Bhagat, Ankita Gund and Harshada Jadhav are making it big at state level competitions. It would be fair to say that our world domination in the sport of wrestling is here to stay.