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A different kind of wrestling at local Sikh temple

Thousands attend annual wrestling tournament at Deshmesh Darbar Sikh Temple in Lodi

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Posted: Monday, October 3, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 4:32 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

They're dressed in nothing but shorts as they duke it out on a pile of dirt. They get bruises, cuts and even bone fractures as 10 teams from Sikh temples throughout California and beyond compete in a way that most Americans wouldn't dream of.

More than 3,000 people crammed the grounds outside the Deshmesh Darbar Sikh Temple on Sunday for a full day of wrestling, basketball, volleyball, eating and praying at an annual event in the southern outskirts of Lodi. The festivities even included a 71-year-old Sikh man lifting a 125-pound weight.

Sikhs from east India wrestle in a much different way than is common in the United States. In America, wrestling matches are typically held in a gymnasium and on a mattress so the athletes won't endure much pain.

But at the Sikh temple, they follow a tradition from their homeland — matches are held outdoors, on dirt, while sporting bare chests and feet.

"It's a very tough game," said Ajitpal S. Kahlon, president of the Lodi-based temple at Armstrong Road and West Lane. "The game started in the (Indian) villages."

The matches, called Kabaddi, feature a wrestler from one team challenging four wrestlers from the opposing team. The single wrestler chooses one of his opponents, and the two of them go at it on the dirt.

Ten teams came to Lodi on Sunday for the tournament, including one squad from England and another from Canada, said Amarjit Bedi, a trustee at the Deshmesh Darbar Temple. The remainder came from parts of California, including Sacramento, Modesto, Fresno and the Bay Area.

"Everybody loves this game," San Francisco resident Kuldip Singh said.

Singh, who went to a tournament last weekend in Lathrop, brought his 8-year-old son, Mandeep Singh, to watch the wrestling and see how the matches operate. Young Mandeep said he'd like to someday wrestle in a ring like the one he saw in Lodi.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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