A lot of different kind of sports in India will find themselves woven to some traditional strings that range long back in history. A very Indian, traditional and historical sport that has now acquired the status of an art form in the country is “Mallakhamb”.
As per Wikipedia, Mallakhamb or Malkhamb is a traditional Indian sport in which a gymnast performs feats and poses in concert with a vertical wooden pole or rope. Mallakhamb also refers to the pole used in the sport. The word “Mallakhamb” is composed of malla which denotes a gymnast or a man of strength and khamb which means a pole. Mallakhamb can therefore be translated to English as pole gymnastics.
There are different forms of the sport. The fixed Malkhamb which is done on a pole that is set on the ground, the rope Malkhamb which evolved through time and is done on a rope, and lastly the hanging Malkhamb which is a slight deflection from the fixed Malkhamb and involves the balance of the body.
Lately we saw the projection of the sport as a dance form in popular talent shows like Dance India Dance and India’s got Talent, but Malkhamb is not a form of dance. It’s a serious sport that requires intense practice and projects the perfect gymnast. It helps develop qualities such as flexibility, swiftness, and polish along with rhythm that is precious for any gymnast. The Mallkhamb exercises make the body light and strong and these are beneficial for stomach, back and thighs.
The roots of this sport can be traced long back to the 12th century classic “Manasollasa” (1135 AD) by “Someswara Chalukya”. According to wikipedia, it was only in the 19th century that the sport gained popularity that was brought about by Balambhatta Dada Deodhar, the fitness instructor of Peshwa Bajirao II during the reign of the Peshwas. Mallkhamb.com says “Mallakhamb to the human structure can be easily seen. At first Mallakhamb was always concerned with Kusti, to learn different styles of Kusti. Nowadays the game also includes Gymnastics. It is leaving ancient grips. The present game includes supple body, alert muscles and mind, concentration and expansion of the muscles, rhythm in breath, eyes wide open etc.”
In order to make the game more standardized and disciplined, the “Malkhamb Federation of India” (MFI) was established in 1980. This association is responsible for organizing events on the district, state and national basis. The competition is increasing by the day and the need for safety measures is felt.
Over the years the sport has become well known with it being showcased in various talent shows, and the game is ever evolving. Recently there has been addition to it with introduction of 5 more forms of Mallkhamb.
Although the sport is popular in India, very little is done to popularize it around the world. A sport that is so complex that when a show is put out, it leaves the audience in awe. A sport that is part of the oldest of traditions of India doesn’t see much light outside India. The few references that are there of the sport reaching abroad show the high enthusiasm of the people abroad. The Times of India (September 23, 2004) states that Aditi Deshpanday and Uday Deshpande, the current national champions, were invited to Munich for a display of Mallkhamb given by a certain yoga institute there. Deshpande says with a trace of sadness, “Koreans spread their indigenous sport of taekwondo and Japanese their judo and both are Olympic sports. India is doing nothing to lift off its own sports.” With the right kind of response abroad, if the sport is properly paid attention to, it can reach great heights!