Kyin: the traditional Rakhine wrestling

Photo: Nyi Zaw Moe
Photo: Nyi Zaw Moe

Kyin wrestling is a favourite sports of the Rakhine people since the ancient times. Kyin wrestling, being a kind of national identity for Rakhine people, is one of the national sports in the State of Rakhine that is very popular up to this day. Kyin means a spinning top in Rakhine language. Some point out that Kyin was derived from Kyar Yin. The Kyar Yin was being corrupted to Kyin. Literally, Kyar means the tiger and Yin means the fly. But, some people there called the wrestling Jun. In many parts of Rakhine any large festivity wouldn’t be complete without a Kyin tournament.
In the first round, one athlete has to act like a tiger or as an offensive wrestler while another one is acting like a fly or as a defensive wrestler. During the second round, the defensive one in the first round becomes the offensive one while the offensive one in the first round becomes the defensive one. They change the roles alternatively until the game is over. In a Kyin wrestling tournament, it needs two athletes to compete for the first session. And the winner has to compete against another opponent in the second session. Thus, the winner competes against a new opponent in each session, eliminating them until he reached the final session for getting the trophy. The offensive wrestler is called Aphan and the defensive wrestler is called Akhan in Rakhine language. In neighbouring India there was an ancient art of wrestling called Malla-Yuddha. That art after combining with the Iranian and the Mongolian wrestlings became the present-day wrestling, which is called Pehelwani in India. The ancient civilization between Southern India and ancient Arakan was inseparable in terms of the trade and military relations.
The demonstrative stone sculptures of Kyin wrestling can be seen in the pagodas and temples built between 15th and 18th centuries in the state of Rakhine. But, according to the oral tradition, it dates backs to earlier periods than those centuries. During the Vesali period, the kings preferred the wrestlers and the boat rowers for the military service. It was probable because Rakhine kings already possessed a formidable navy in the Bay of Bengal in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Kyin wrestling is slightly similar to Pehelwini wrestling of India but, actually, it is different from that, with its own creations and styles. Rakhine dynasties prioritized their own creations and styles in the architecture, the culture and the sports.
During the tournament, the person who falls on the ground or whose hand touches the ground during the alternative rounds is the loser in the competition. But, the person who is capable to fell his opponent on the ground or able to make his opponent’s hand touches the ground during the alternative rounds is the winner in the competition.

Photo: Nyi Zaw Moe
Photo: Nyi Zaw Moe

In the State of Rakhine, the Kyin wrestlers come from four provinces to participate in the famous religious festivals. Among them, the wrestlers from Tawphyarchaung area in Ponnagyun Township and the wrestlers from Yanpyay Township are famous and mostly, they won the trophies. The first class wrestler can get the golden trophy and the second class wrestler can get the silver trophy. Actually, the Kyin wrestlers in the State of Rakhine are not professionals, but they participate in the Kyin wrestling tournament as a tradition.
In terms of quickness, mindfulness, stamina and wits, the wrestlers have great powers to fight against their opponents. (A Kyin wrestler is called a Kyin Thann, meaning a strong wrestler.)* There are two or three referees to decide who the winner is and to monitor the wrestlers whether they abide by rules and regulations or not in the tournament. The offensive wrestler can kick the opponent’s leg and wrap around his leg to throw him to the ground. But, the defensive wrestler has to try to escape from him. And sometimes, the defensive wrestler can also slam down his opponent using his arms while he is struggling for the fighting. All wrestlers in the state of Rakhine compete with the sporting spirits although they come from different provinces they are friendly to one another. They use force and aggressive tactics in the competition, but they are very kind to each other outside of the tournament. This is a lovely tradition there.
According to the village tradition, the wrestlers practice Kyin wresting on the bank of the lake in the late afternoon when the girls come to the lake to fetch the water with the zinc water pots which are still used in India. And they share their experience from the competitions one another in the evening conversations. Kyin wrestling tournaments are held in the religious festivals and the merrymaking, especially, in the winter and summer times.
In conclusion, Rakhine people take much pride in this sport as a national identity and they desire to preserve Kyin wrestling as an ancient Rakhine culture by being listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Lists.

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