Chandigarh (Punjab): For long, Mallakhamb has been referred to as a poor man’s sport as its purveyors have mostly hailed from the deprived sections of the society.
“Have you ever seen a boy from a sophisticated family climb a pole in boxers? quipped a young Mallakhamb contestant from Haryana as he prepared for the Khelo India Youth Games in which it will be seen for the first time as a demonstration sport.
Poor or not, the sport is gaining popularity in the country ever since the Union Sports Ministry recognized it, allowing its connoisseurs to form their own National Sports Federation.
“Now, we proudly hold the nationals and players receive certificates and the medallists a scholarship of Rs 10,000 per month too,” Ramesh Indolia, President of Mallakhamb Federation of India, revealed.
“But even top Mallakhamb practitioners often end up as street performers or circus artistes for lack of opportunities. In fact, after seeing their jaw-dropping acrobats on reality shows, people think it’s only a demonstration sport,” Indolia rued.
But Mallakhamb has a great history. The only anti-gravitational sport that originated in India, it had even been used by Guerilla warfare warriors like Rani Jhansi, Tatya Tope and then by the revolutionaries of India’s freedom struggle – Rajguru, Bhagat Singh and Azad.
It’s been practised since ancient times; pottery found at Chandraketugarh archaeological site, dating back to the second century BC, shows a couple exhibiting gymnastics by hanging on a pole like structure. The earliest literary reference to Mallakhamb is found in Sanskrit classic Manasollasa, written in 1135 CE by Chalukya King Somesvara III. The Marathas revived it for its amazing abilities to build agility and stamina among soldiers. Balambhatta Dada Deodhar, the teacher of Peshwa Baji Rao II, gave it a new lease of life.
Despite such rich history and patronage, it is seen as a poor man’s street performance art, in part due to the dismissive culture of everything traditional as obsolete. That it survived against all odds in akharas, is due to the guru-shishya tradition in the so-called backward areas.
It’s truly amazing that almost all the coaches at the 100 vyayamshala centres and academies across the country work as volunteers, keeping the sport alive.
To turn this traditional art into a modern sports event, the rules and points system has been standardized, with a player judged on a scale of 10 points, just like in gymnastics.
The sport’s gaining acceptance can be gauged by the fact that 45 countries have already taken it up as a sport
Girls and boys both display their aerial yoga skills in 18 to 24 postures. While boys display their skills on a pole, rope or even a hanging pole, the girls stick to the pole and the rope.
In the Khelo India Youth Games, starting in Haryana on June 4, 16 states are expected to field their teams, adding up to an impressive total of over 240 players. (ANI)