Hidden away in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district, alongside the Kaveri river, is a cemented space dedicated to the malishwalas of Hogenakkal Falls. Scores of men with oil-covered bodies glisten in the sun as these experts in massage techniques relax their bodies into holistic healing. As photographer and avid traveller Rajarshi Chakraborty ventured into this area earlier this month, the shutterbug in him was inspired to capture this age-old tradition in action.
“I noticed that a lot of people were not eager to get a malish. I could relate it to the current world, where we seem to be moving away from traditional ways, which are slowly vanishing,” he tells us in an interview. With the view of the majestic falls in toe, Hogenakkal is a popular tourist site, which has given rise to an indulgent spa culture with lavish massage offerings that lure visitors away from the more traditional malishes, making the ancient profession lag behind, unable to compete with lustrous spas. “The new generation isn’t interested in the traditional massages. I noticed that most of the clients there were men who were 30 or 35 years old,” the photographer explains.
Charging approximately Rs. 100 for a massage, these well-trained traditional oil masseurs are privy to tricks for fourteen massage points in the male body which provide healing and detoxification through enhanced blood circulation, muscle toning, improving mental alertness and so on. As Chakraborty observes, these malishwalas pass down their expertise from generation to generation, with the same families continuing the tradition decade after decade with in-bred training. And to add to their legitimacy, an organised club handles the affairs of this oil-soaked cement massage haven, handing out identity cards to trained malishwalas, making them official.
While travelogues and other accounts mention women malishwalis for female clients, Chakraborty found only men out in the open, while the women in the area sold massage oils, thus making this photo series a reflection of the male oil masseurs by the Kaveri river. Scroll on for Rajarshi Chakraborty’s stark and simplistic black-and-white depiction of the Malishwalas of Hogenakkal and their dying, age-old tradition.
[All images are have been photographed by and are copyrighted Rajarshi Chakraborty. They cannot be reproduced without permission.]