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Home Sports and Culture Photostory: Taleems of Kolhapur — A legacy in wrestling

Photostory: Taleems of Kolhapur — A legacy in wrestling

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Last Updated on 11 min read

(This article is part of Saha Sutra on www.sahapedia.org, an open online resource on the arts, cultures and heritage of India.)

The year was 1948. India was participating as an independent nation for the first time in the Olympics. India had never won an individual medal at the Olympics—except Norman Pritchard’s brace of silver medals in 1900, but Pritchard was ethnically British. Amongst the 79 participants India sent to London in 1948, was a young wrestler from the village of Goleshwar in Satara district, Maharashtra. Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadav was 22 years old and hailed from a family of pehelwans (wrestlers) where he trained from a young age.

His talent was spotted, and his trip to England was sponsored by Shahaji II, Maharaja of Kolhapur. K.D. Jadhav finished sixth in the flyweight category but gained valuable experience competing on the unfamiliar mat surface. Jadhav trained hard and returned for the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. This time he won bronze in the bantamweight freestyle category; the first-ever individual medal won by an Indian at the Olympics. K.D. Jadhav returned to a hero’s welcome to his village and was felicitated in Kolhapur.

Kolhapur has a long history of kushti (wrestling) and has produced many noted wrestlers. The sport flourished during the reign of Chattrapati Shahu Maharaj (ruled 1894–1922), remembered for being a progressive ruler who brought about many social reforms. During this golden age, Shahu Maharaj built akharas all over Kolhapur and organized wrestling tournaments, inviting legendary wrestlers from across undivided India. Since then, Kolhapur’s wrestling culture has been dominated by Gangavesh Akhara, Shahupuri Akhara, Motibag Akhara and New Motibag Akhara. In each of these akharas, more than 70 wrestlers undertake taleem, or training. Hence, the akhara is colloquially, also known as taleem.

Wrestlers from various age groups pose for a photograph outside Shahupuri Akhara after the end of evening practice session around 6 pm.
Wrestlers from various age groups pose for a photograph outside Shahupuri Akhara after the end of evening practice session around 6 pm.

Families aspire to send their children to the taleems from an early age. Daily life at a taleem is based on egalitarianism, strict discipline, healthy diet, high morals and ethical living. When a pehelwan completes his taleem, it brings high social status for the entire family. Many families in Kolhapur have a history in wrestling, and they want to continue the tradition, irrespective of the high cost and sacrifices made. Though the fees paid to gurus are nominal, monthly expenditure on food and dietary supplements cost between 10 to 25 thousand rupees depending on the age and weight of the wrestler. During this period, trainee pehelwans are sustained by money sent from home. The agrarian economy acts as a lifeline for the sustenance of wrestling in this region. Most pehelwans belong to farmer families, and their income depends on a good agricultural harvest. During severe droughts in the Marathwada region, many pehelwans left training and returned home because their farmer parents were unable to support them. Even tournaments can get cancelled during years of bad harvest.

However, kushti has seen a shift in fortune in the last decade. Renewed interest in the sport was triggered after Sushil Kumar won bronze and silver medals in consecutive Olympics (2008, 2012), and Yogeshwar Dutt won a bronze medal (2012 Olympics). Following the male wrestlers, Sakshi Malik won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics, inspiring a new generation of female wrestlers. Indian wrestlers—both male and female— have also won numerous medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games which has brought much prestige to the sport. The success of the Phogat sisters was featured in the super-hit movie Dangal and girls now see wrestling as a viable career option. This has come as a welcome change within the sporting community and has received support from parents, sponsors, gurus, coaches and male wrestlers. Kolhapur’s taleems have now opened up to female grapplers who undergo training on the same level as boys.

Wrestlers practising in Shahupuri Akhara, one of the most reputed akharas in Kolhapur that has been in existence since the last hundred years.
Wrestlers practising in Shahupuri Akhara, one of the most reputed akharas in Kolhapur that has been in existence since the last hundred years.

The rise in popularity of the sport has also brought in increased prize money at tournaments. Some reputed wrestlers get paid for only participating in the tournament. Politicians have started sponsoring wrestling tournaments to connect with the masses and influence their vote banks by exploiting the popularity of the sport. Pursuing a career in wrestling—other than the prestige and fame—has also opened up job opportunities, particularly in the police force. In the government sector, wrestlers can also get jobs through sports quota. Many wrestlers go on to become coaches working with bodies like the Sports Authority of India or the Wrestling Federation of India, or they independently run their own akharas.

Despite these changes, there is still a huge difference between training in a taleem and winning medals at international tournaments. The main reason is the difference in tactics, rules, training facilities and playing surface. Wrestlers practise on specially prepared soil in the taleems and the competitions held in villages are also held on open ground, but international tournaments are held on mat surface and follow a scoring pattern adjudicated by a panel of judges. Wrestling on the soil is all about stamina and strength because there is no time restriction. In comparison, wrestling on the mat is all about tactics and speed because each round lasts only for a few minutes. Mats are expensive and not available for training. This is why wrestlers get less practice on mat, which affects their performance at national and international games where soil wrestling is not allowed.

In this photographic journey, I have documented the passion for wrestling I witnessed in the taleems of Kolhapur. I also got to explore the hinterlands and experience how the people of rural Maharashtra celebrate wrestling with fervour. The kushti tradition is still alive and thriving, and I hope in future India will unearth many medal winners from the soil of its traditional taleems in Kolhapur.

Shrimant Raghunath Chaugule, aged 70, poses with his grandson Akshay Chaugule, aged 18, at Shahupuri Akhara in Kolhapur. Shrimant and Akshay Chaugule are from Solapur district, 200 km away from Kolhapur. Akshay has been practising wrestling for the last eight years. Akshay’s grandfather stays with him and makes food for him so that he can concentrate on his practice. Shrimant Chaugule was also part of Shahupuri Akhara from 1968 to 1971.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Shrimant Raghunath Chaugule, aged 70, poses with his grandson Akshay Chaugule, aged 18, at Shahupuri Akhara in Kolhapur. Shrimant and Akshay Chaugule are from Solapur district, 200 km away from Kolhapur. Akshay has been practising wrestling for the last eight years. Akshay’s grandfather stays with him and makes food for him so that he can concentrate on his practice. Shrimant Chaugule was also part of Shahupuri Akhara from 1968 to 1971.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Trainee wrestlers doing running practice in Surli village of Satara district, Maharashtra. Running across uneven terrain forms a regular part of training and helps improve their stamina and lower body muscle strength.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Trainee wrestlers doing running practice in Surli village of Satara district, Maharashtra. Running across uneven terrain forms a regular part of training and helps improve their stamina and lower body muscle strength.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Young wrestlers taking bath in a canal after their morning practice session in Surli village of Satara district. Though much of the training takes place indoors, outdoor training also forms an important part of the daily routine which includes a range of stamina-building exercises like swimming, running and climbing.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Young wrestlers taking bath in a canal after their morning practice session in Surli village of Satara district. Though much of the training takes place indoors, outdoor training also forms an important part of the daily routine which includes a range of stamina-building exercises like swimming, running and climbing.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Trainee wrestlers from Surli village waiting for their turn in climbing the rope. They usually do this exercise 50 times in every session. Rope climbing is beneficial for powerlifters, gymnasts, wrestlers, strongmen and weightlifters. This exercise requires minimum equipment and forms a regular aspect of training at the akharas.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Trainee wrestlers from Surli village waiting for their turn in climbing the rope. They usually do this exercise 50 times in every session. Rope climbing is beneficial for powerlifters, gymnasts, wrestlers, strongmen and weightlifters. This exercise requires minimum equipment and forms a regular aspect of training at the akharas.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

 Scene outside Shahupuri Akhara where wrestlers are practising rope climbing. Rope climbing is a tremendous exercise for strengthening biceps, arms and upper body and particularly effective in developing strong grip, which is a much needed skill while grappling wrestlers who have sweaty oil-smeared bodies.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Scene outside Shahupuri Akhara where wrestlers are practising rope climbing. Rope climbing is a tremendous exercise for strengthening biceps, arms and upper body and particularly effective in developing strong grip, which is a much-needed skill while grappling wrestlers who have sweaty oil-smeared bodies.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Young wrestlers practising wrestling in Shaupuri Akhada in Kolhapur. Because of limited space in the arena, a hierarchy is followed. Junior wrestlers usually get space after senior members complete their practice.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Young wrestlers practising wrestling in Shaupuri Akhada in Kolhapur. Because of limited space in the arena, a hierarchy is followed. Junior wrestlers usually get space after senior members complete their practice.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Wrestlers warming up in Shahupuri Akhara in front of a large portrait of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, the King of Kolhapur who is credited with popularising wrestling in his princely state.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Wrestlers warming up in Shahupuri Akhara in front of a large portrait of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, the King of Kolhapur who is credited with popularising wrestling in his princely state.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Two young wrestlers practising in Shahupuri Akhara, Kolhapur. Training happens only on soil, which is specially prepared and maintained by the resident pehelwans in the akhara.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Two young wrestlers practising in Shahupuri Akhara, Kolhapur. Training happens only on soil, which is specially prepared and maintained by the resident pehelwans in the akhara.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Senior referee Mr Bapusaheb Rade guiding young wrestlers at Motibag Akhara, Kolhapur. Aspiring pehelwans are guided by mentors, referees, coaches, senior wrestlers and trainers on the nuances of the sport. Passing down of knowledge through the guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student relationship) forms an integral part of the learning pedagogy at a taleem.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Senior referee Mr Bapusaheb Rade guiding young wrestlers at Motibag Akhara, Kolhapur. Aspiring pehelwans are guided by mentors, referees, coaches, senior wrestlers and trainers on the nuances of the sport. Passing down of knowledge through the guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student relationship) forms an integral part of the learning pedagogy at a taleem.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Young wrestlers cover their body with the soil of the training arena of Motibag Akhara. Preparation of the soil before dangal is an important ritual in all akharas. The soil is mixed with turmeric, milk, ghee, buttermilk and other natural ingredients which have curative properties. This mixture not only makes the soil soft and conducive for wrestling, but also has benefits when applied to naked skin.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Young wrestlers cover their body with the soil of the training arena of Motibag Akhara. Preparation of the soil before dangal is an important ritual in all akharas. The soil is mixed with turmeric, milk, ghee, buttermilk and other natural ingredients which have curative properties. This mixture not only makes the soil soft and conducive for wrestling, but also has benefits when applied to naked skin.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Wrestlers posing for a group photo at Gangavesh Taleem (akhara), Kolhapur. This is the usual pose they do after winning a bout.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Wrestlers posing for a group photo at Gangavesh Taleem (akhara), Kolhapur. This is the usual pose they do after winning a bout.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

A group of young wrestlers waiting for their turn to take a bath after the senior pehelwans. Taking a bath together following the training sessions is a daily ritual; it concludes the morning session after which breakfast is prepared.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
A group of young wrestlers waiting for their turn to take a bath after the senior pehelwans. Taking a bath together following the training sessions is a daily ritual; it concludes the morning session after which breakfast is prepared.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

 Living area of Gangavesh Taleem. Junior wrestlers are giving massage to senior wrestlers and the head of the akhara, Vijay Patil. This kind of grooming acts is an important way of social bonding. Lacking professional masseuse and physios, this is the only way for pehelwans to recover from muscle fatigue.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Living area of Gangavesh Taleem. Junior wrestlers are giving massage to senior wrestlers and the head of the akhara, Vijay Patil. This kind of grooming acts is an important way of social bonding. Lacking professional masseuse and physios, this is the only way for pehelwans to recover from muscle fatigue.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia





A shoe rack in the living area of Gangavesh Taleem. Running forms an important part of the daily training; starting before daybreak, it is the first thing in the everyday routine of the wrestlers.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
A shoe rack in the living area of Gangavesh Taleem. Running forms an important part of the daily training; starting before daybreak, it is the first thing in the everyday routine of the wrestlers.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

A langot is worn by wrestlers during matches, daily training and fitness exercises. Seen in the photo are discarded langots hung out in a row under a series of photo frames of great wrestlers from the history of Shahupuri Akhara.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Wrestlers cool under a shower in Motibag Akhara, Kolhapur. There is no concept of privacy; at the end of the training session, the wrestlers bathe in the open. While taking bath, pehelwans help each other in cleaning and scrubbing off the soil and sweat gathered during the training session.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Wrestlers cool under a shower in Motibag Akhara, Kolhapur. There is no concept of privacy; at the end of the training session, the wrestlers bathe in the open. While taking bath, pehelwans help each other in cleaning and scrubbing off the soil and sweat gathered during the training session.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

 Young wrestlers washing pots in Motibag Akhara, Kolhapur. Every trainee wrestler is expected to complete their own chores and help each other out in maintaining cleanliness and discipline in the akhara. This involves helping in cleaning the place, preparing the arena, washing utensils, cooking food, and a range of other daily tasks.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Young wrestlers washing pots in Motibag Akhara, Kolhapur. Every trainee wrestler is expected to complete their own chores and help each other out in maintaining cleanliness and discipline in the akhara. This involves helping in cleaning the place, preparing the arena, washing utensils, cooking food, and a range of other daily tasks.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Scene from living area of Gangavesh Taleem where two wrestlers are making their breakfast. Demarcation of space and privacy are both luxuries in the akharas and often the same space serves different purposes. Seen in the photo are wrestlers cooking in the area which is alternately used as a space for sleeping and as a changing room.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Scene from living area of Gangavesh Taleem where two wrestlers are making their breakfast. Demarcation of space and privacy are both luxuries in the akharas and often the same space serves different purposes. Seen in the photo are wrestlers cooking in the area which is alternately used as a space for sleeping and as a changing room.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

A senior pehelwan spending time with a young trainee at Gangavesh Akhara, Kolhapur. The akharas function like dormitories where wrestlers from various age groups live together for long durations, away from their families.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
A senior pehelwan spending time with a young trainee at Gangavesh Akhara, Kolhapur. The akharas function like dormitories where wrestlers from various age groups live together for long durations, away from their families.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Banana seller outside Gangavesh Akhara. Banana is very popular as a food which is readily available and loaded with essential vitamins and minerals such as potassium, calcium, manganese, magnesium and iron. The vendors are often farmers who bring fresh bananas directly from their fields to the taleem.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Banana seller outside Gangavesh Akhara. Banana is very popular as a food which is readily available and loaded with essential vitamins and minerals such as potassium, calcium, manganese, magnesium and iron. The vendors are often farmers who bring fresh bananas directly from their fields to the taleem.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

A small shrine and a big painting of Lord Hanuman hang on the walls of Gangavesh Akhara. Hanuman is idolised by all wrestlers for his immense strength, celibate lifestyle and complete dedication to serving Lord Rama. Pehelwans try to emulate these traits of Hanuman in their own morals, personality and training.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
A small shrine and a big painting of Lord Hanuman hang on the walls of Gangavesh Akhara. Hanuman is idolised by all wrestlers for his immense strength, celibate lifestyle and complete dedication to serving Lord Rama. Pehelwans try to emulate these traits of Hanuman in their own morals, personality and training.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Portrait of Somnath Munde with his two sons, Tanaji and Babu, and nephew Shivaji. His two sons and nephew have been practising in Gangavesh Akhara since the last two years and Munde spends an average of 25 to 30 thousand rupees each month for their food and other expenses. Munde has 30 acres of agricultural land in Karmala village in Marathwada which is a drought affected area. I asked him why do you spend so much money on wrestling, he replied, ‘Our wrestler sons are the pride of our family which cannot be calculated in terms of money.’
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Portrait of Somnath Munde with his two sons, Tanaji and Babu, and nephew Shivaji. His two sons and nephew have been practising in Gangavesh Akhara since the last two years and Munde spends an average of 25 to 30 thousand rupees each month for their food and other expenses. Munde has 30 acres of agricultural land in Karmala village in Marathwada which is a drought-affected area. I asked him why do you spend so much money on wrestling, he replied, ‘Our wrestler sons are the pride of our family which cannot be calculated in terms of money.’

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Portrait of Santosh Vetal (aged 38) at his home. Vetal won the Hind Kesari title in 2014 which is the most prestigious award in Indian wrestling. He lives in Surli village of Satara district in Maharashtra. The silver mace (gada) which he is holding is the prize he won for winning the Hind Kesari title. Gada is the primary weapon of Lord Hanuman and is presented as a trophy to winners of wrestling competitions in India.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Portrait of Santosh Vetal (aged 38) at his home. Vetal won the Hind Kesari title in 2014 which is the most prestigious award in Indian wrestling. He lives in Surli village of Satara district in Maharashtra. The silver mace (gada) which he is holding is the prize he won for winning the Hind Kesari title. Gada is the primary weapon of Lord Hanuman and is presented as a trophy to winners of wrestling competitions in India.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

A large banner outside the Gangavesh Taleem in Kolhapur announcing Maharashtra Interstate Wrestling Competition 2017. The banner has details of the different weight categories and the various prize amounts ranked from 1st to 4th.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
A large banner outside the Gangavesh Taleem in Kolhapur announcing Maharashtra Interstate Wrestling Competition 2017. The banner has details of the different weight categories and the various prize amounts ranked from 1st to 4th.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Wrestlers from various villages getting ready before a competition. Such village tournaments are held with minimal arrangements. Participants change their costumes in the open and do a long session of warm-up before each bout.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Wrestlers from various villages getting ready before a competition. Such village tournaments are held with minimal arrangements. Participants change their costumes in the open and do a long session of warm-up before each bout.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Temporary sitting arrangement made for local politicians and sponsors in Savade village. The popularity of the wrestling tournaments makes it a forum through which politicians reach out to the masses. Politicians, some of whom might have been pehelwans in their youth, often head the wrestling federations and patronize the tournaments.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Temporary sitting arrangement made for local politicians and sponsors in Savade village. The popularity of the wrestling tournaments makes it a forum through which politicians reach out to the masses. Politicians, some of whom might have been pehelwans in their youth, often head the wrestling federations and patronize the tournaments.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Intense moment from a fight held in Savade village of Satara district in Maharashtra. Grapplers struggle to grasp their opponent and pin them down to score a point. Unlike international or national tournaments, there is no restriction of time at the village-level tournaments and bouts can last long.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Intense moment from a fight held in Savade village of Satara district in Maharashtra. Grapplers struggle to grasp their opponent and pin them down to score a point. Unlike international or national tournaments, there is no restriction of time at the village-level tournaments and bouts can last long.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

 Eight-year-old Sairaj Shelke (in red langot) and 7-year-old girl Gautami Chorge (blue tracksuit) fighting for a championship title in Savade village. Till a few years back, women were prohibited from wrestling. But now the scenario has changed, especially after the success of the Bollywood movie 'Dangal' which was based on the real-life story of the Phogat sisters from Haryana.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Eight-year-old Sairaj Shelke (in red langot) and 7-year-old girl Gautami Chorge (blue tracksuit) fighting for a championship title in Savade village. Till a few years back, women were prohibited from wrestling. But now the scenario has changed, especially after the success of the Bollywood movie ‘Dangal’ which was based on the real-life story of the Phogat sisters from Haryana.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

A rookie kid wrestler celebrating his victory at a local competition held in Savade village of Satara district in Maharashtra. Multiple matches are organised simultaneously in the open arena and running commentary and announcements are made over loudspeakers.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
A rookie kid wrestler celebrating his victory at a local competition held in Savade village of Satara district in Maharashtra. Multiple matches are organised simultaneously in the open arena and running commentary and announcements are made over loudspeakers.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Wrestlers receiving their prize money at a local competition held in Savade village, Karad taluka of Satara district in Maharashtra. Prize amount can be anything between 150 rupees to 1 lakh rupees, depending on the different weight categories, age groups and the various finishing positions.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Wrestlers receiving their prize money at a local competition held in Savade village, Karad taluka of Satara district in Maharashtra. Prize amount can be anything between 150 rupees to 1 lakh rupees, depending on the different weight categories, age groups and the various finishing positions.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

Women wrestler Sophia Mulla (age 15) being greeted by the crowd. Sophia is training to become a wrestler for the last three years. Her father used to be a famous wrestler in Satara district. She was hugely inspired by the success of Sakshi Malik who won a bronze medal in wrestling for India at the Rio Olympics in 2012.
Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia
Women wrestler Sophia Mulla (age 15) being greeted by the crowd. Sophia is training to become a wrestler for the last three years. Her father used to be a famous wrestler in Satara district. She was hugely inspired by the success of Sakshi Malik who won a bronze medal in wrestling for India at the Rio Olympics in 2012.

Photograph by
Indrajit Khambe
©Sahapedia

This article was originally published on Sahapedia, which offers encyclopedic content on India’s vast and diverse heritage in multimedia format, authored by scholars and curated by experts–to creatively engage with culture and history to reveal connections for a wide public using digital media.

Indrajit Khambe, Sahapedia
Indrajit Khambe, Sahapedia
He is a documentary photographer based in Kankavli, a small town situated near the Goa-Maharashtra border. His photographic subjects are rooted in his home state and he has explored various subjects relevant to this region.
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