Monday, July 22, 2024

The Historical Role of ‘Akhadās’ in The Indian Freedom Struggle

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Akhadās (अखाड़ा), traditionally known for their role in physical training and wrestling, played a significant role in the Indian freedom struggle against British colonial rule. These institutions, originally formed for promoting physical fitness and martial arts, gradually transformed into centers of political and social awakening. Today, however, this history has been forgotten, so much so that even those training at these akhadās would rarely know about their important role in our freedom movement.

Origins of Akhadās

  • Historical Roots: Akhadās have a deep-rooted history in India, dating back to ancient times. They were initially established as centers for physical and spiritual training. The term “Akhada” refers to a place where wrestling and other forms of physical training are practiced.
  • Cultural Significance: Akhadās were associated with different sects of Hinduism, including the Naga Sadhus and the various orders of sannyasis (ascetics). They played a crucial role in maintaining martial traditions and physical culture in Indian society. This especially espouses the spirit of ‘Kshatriyata’ in the society and the origins of organised centres for training can thus be traced from vedic texts to the Mahabharata, where references to physical and martial training can be found.

Akhadas and the Freedom Struggle

What would probably come as a surprise to most readers is the fact that akhadās played a very important role in the Indian Freedom Struggle in terms of organising resistance against the British Colonial Rule, training freedom fighters, supporting underground or secret freedom organisations, and relaying messages through creating a network of akhadās.

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  • Transformation into Centers of Resistance: During the British colonial period, many akhadās began to take on a new role as centers for political resistance. They became places where young Indians could train not only in physical fitness but also in patriotic fervor and nationalist ideologies.
  • Promotion of Swadeshi Movement: Akhadās were instrumental in promoting the Swadeshi movement, which advocated for the use of Indian-made goods and the boycott of British products.
  • Training in Guerrilla Warfare: Some akhadās provided training in guerrilla warfare techniques, preparing young men for armed resistance against the British forces. These secret training sessions included lessons in hand-to-hand combat, use of traditional weapons, and strategic planning.

Freedom Struggle Organisations and Recruitment

The collaboration between akhadās and freedom organizations like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), of which revolutionaries such as Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad were a part, was a significant aspect of the Indian freedom struggle.

Akhadās, with their network of physically and mentally disciplined individuals, provided a ready infrastructure for training and mobilizing revolutionaries. Many other organisations such as the Anushilan Committee, its offshoot the Jugantar Party, and later the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha exploited this network to recruit reliable individuals who would agitate for freedom.

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Notable Contributions and Personalities

Many revolutionary leaders and freedom fighters were associated with akhadās. For example, Bhagat Singh, one of the most prominent figures in the Indian independence movement, was known to have trained in an Akhada. Chandrasekhar Azad, the leader of the HSRA, along with Rajguru and Batukeshwar Dutt, were also figures who trained at akhadās and actively used the network for their purposes.

Udham Singh, who avenged the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by assassinating Michael O’Dwyer, the former Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, also received his training in an akhadā.

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The rigorous training in akhadās helped in building the physical and mental discipline required for enduring the hardships of the freedom struggle. The resilience and determination of many freedom fighters, from Khudiram Bose to Ram Prasad Bismil, and even Ashfaqulla Khan, can be traced back to their training in these traditional centers. 

Legacy of Akhadās

After India gained independence in 1947, the role of akhadās evolved. While their political significance has diminished, they continue to be important centers for promoting sports, particularly wrestling, and preserving India’s martial kshatriya traditions.

Today, akhadās remain an integral part of India’s cultural heritage, representing a unique blend of physical training, spirituality, and patriotism. They continue to inspire future generations with their rich history and contributions to the nation’s freedom struggle.

Like multiple facets of the freedom struggle that have either been forgotten or deliberately erased from public memory to lay credits at the door of certain personalities (such as the 1946 Naval Mutiny), the history of akhadās too has found little to no mention in history textbooks. However, its history is glorious as well as thought-provoking as it sheds light on the adaptive and innovative abilities of our freedom fighters to agitate right under the noses of the imperialists, and it is imperative that we not only remember but cherish and pride ourselves in bits and pieces of our glorious history such as this.

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