Kushti - Indian wrestling.
Kushti, a traditional form of Indian wrestling, held during the festival of Dussera, in Dunda Heda, Haryana. Follow us at http://twitter.com/photosSMH Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Heroes are made on these few square metres of dusty ground.
Under a weak winter sun in Dunda Heda, in the northern state of Haryana, India's ancient form of wrestling, kushti, offers a typically dichotomous Indian scene.
At a distance from the small dirt arena and its modest grandstand are the shiny glass skyscrapers of nearby Gurgaon, home to call centres and IT helpdesks, symbols of a contemporary, ''rising'' India.
But the sport practised here, in the shadows of those modern monoliths, is an ancient one, celebrated still and barely changed for centuries.
Practised on a raked dirt pitch, the rules of kushti are as simple as they are unforgiving: pin your opponent.
Put him on his back and the referee will tap you, letting you know you've won. There are no points, no penalties, no rounds or time-outs.
Bouts that run their time - four or five minutes for juniors, sometimes beyond 15 minutes for men - without a pin are draws. Little else, to a first-time observer, appears banned, though fights rarely get dirty (only dusty).
There are no women here, not a single one, either competing or in the audience.
The first bouts are those of the juniors, lean boys as young as eight, tiny in their red langot, the traditional wrestling loin cloths.
From a distance, this junior competition appears little more than a rolling brawl. But amid the chaos of dozens of junior wrestlers all fighting or awaiting their turn, an organic sort of order emerges.
Wrestlers choose their own opponents - you pick someone you think you can beat - and go hand in hand to one of three referees. If he agrees to the bout, you begin immediately, writhing in the dirt, seeking to flip, roll or strongarm your opponent onto his back.
There are three or four ''official'' bouts going on at a time, and about the same number of illegitimate match-ups, as kids find their own fights while they wait to get on.
In the junior ranks, winners get 20 rupees (35¢) a win, a crisp, fresh banknote handed straight to them by the referee, which they immediately run to their coach.
Sometimes the loser gets the prize as well, if the bout is judged to be sufficiently hard-fought, or sometimes just if the vanquished appears sufficiently distressed.
The older the wrestlers get, and the higher the standard of the bout, the more money there is on offer.
The prize for the overall winner of the men's kushti today has been billed at 51,000 rupees (about $900) but it's an amount that will likely be augmented substantially by slings from generous onlookers.
As the prizemoney climbs - 50, 100, 500, 1000 rupees for a win - the fighters become larger. No longer lean, now they are round-shouldered and brawny, their commitment to the craft further evidenced by distended cauliflower ears.
With fewer bouts happening at once now, the crowd is paying closer attention, and each win is received with a rapturous cheer.
Like all crowds in this country, there are too many here for the small stadium; officials beat back the encroaching audience with long bamboo poles.
The final is an engrossing affair. Pradeep, of Delhi, and local boy Vikram grapple and brawl across the churned-up dirt arena for half an hour before, mercifully, the fight is called a draw.
With donations from onlookers, the purse has doubled. Each of the exhausted wrestlers takes home the winner's prize of 51,000 rupees.
We have travelled to Dunda Heda in the company of Pandit Prakash Pahalwan, a five-time Indian national kushti champion and now, at 74, a revered elder statesman of the sport.
He sits quietly in a chair on the top row of the stand, a practised eye watching over the bouts. Wrestlers and officials climb the steps to touch his feet in respect.
Prakash tells us that, while urban Indians ''are crazy for cricket'', the games most loved by the village people - still the majority of Indians - are traditional sports such as kushti.
''This is the sport for the aam aadmi, the common man, the Indian people.''
He says the sport transcends what goes on in the few square metres of dusty arena.
''To be a practitioner of kushti a wrestler must train, he needs to eat the right foods, but he must also live a good life, he must have empathy for others, he must work to help the poor, he must have respect for his coaches and his sport. A wrestler needs a disciplined life, otherwise he will have only a short future.''