Tucked away between the Great Salt Desert of Kutch and a hill range is the Banni Grassland Reserve. Though it is the second largest grassland in Asia, it is relatively unknown. It wasn’t always a grassland; the Indus flowed through here and communities from what is now Iran, Afghanistan, Sindh, and Balochistan have been living here for centuries. 

In 1819 a massive earthquake changed the course of the Indus, and Banni became an arid grassland. The settler communities adopted pastoralism and live in 48 hamlets that dot the grassland. While they comprise a number of tribes, their collective identity is maaldhari. In the local dialect—Kutchi—maal refers to animals, and dhari means possessor. They rear cows, buffaloes, camels, horses, sheep, and goats. Their lives and culture revolve around their animals. Some migrate to find pasture for their herds. Their social status is tied to the size and quality of the herd. Every year, they come together for two days to celebrate this. 

The Banni Pashu Mela is organized by the Banni Breeders Association. It brings together all maaldhari communities in the Banni. The most popular event is freestyle wrestling for men (locally, bakhmalakdo). This form of wrestling is equally popular in Kutch as well as Sindh, Pakistan. On the day people from villages near and far also gather to make this event a one-of-a-kind annual extravaganza.

—Text by Hardika Dayalani

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Omar walked 5 km to see the wrestling. 
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A spectator records the event.
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Not far from the wrestling ground children jump on a trampoline.
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Suresh is an enthusiast who came from the district capital Bhuj. He sold his home-made snacks to the crowd as he watched the fights. 
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People come  from villages far and near to the Banni Grassland for the bouts.
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Security personnel supposed to control unruly crowds are more focused on the match than keeping peace. 
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Referees and organisers share a joke.
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A winner collects a token of appreciation from a spectator.
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  The bakhmalakdo ring seen from the top of a truck. 
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As the match begins the crowd cheers the wrestlers. Each contest generally lasts 10 to 20 minutes.
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A bout in progress.
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Yusuf retired from wrestling a few years ago but he follows every match.
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Spectators put  money on their favourites. The champion takes it all.
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Local musicians keep the crowd entertained.
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At dusk, it's time to go home.