Mallakhamb is an ancient Indian martial art and has also been recognised as a traditional sport fighting to bag its spot in today’s sports world. The word ‘Mallakhamb’ comes from coalescing two words- ‘malla’ meaning wrestler and ‘ khamb’ meaning pole. The gymnast performs aerial yoga postures on a wooden pole, a cane or simply a rope. Traditionally, a wooden pole is used to perform yoga postures, which is made of Sheesham or Indian Rosewood and smoothened by castor oil.
History and Origin
Mallakhamb has a history that dates back to the twelfth century. A text named ‘Manasolhas’ that belongs to the Chalukya kings mentions a sport wherein wrestlers practice onto a pole to maintain their agility and postures. With the end of the Chalukya kingdom, the sport too was abandoned. It was only when Balambhatt Dada Deodhar, the fitness and sports instructor to Peshwa Bajirao II, reintroduced it to his pupils and soldiers. This was how Mallakhamb was revived in the nineteenth century. He used this sport to enhance the fitness levels of the soldiers and a significant tactic to be used in Guerrilla warfare.
Many times during wars, soldiers might need to climb huge walls of the enemy’s palace and Mallakhamb perfectly serves the purpose.
Modern Day Mallakhamb
The sport is still striving to survive in today’s world. Mallakhamb debuted in the National Gymnastics Championships in 1958. The Gymnastics Federation of India made a move and directed to include Mallakhamb in the annual championships. But then, Mallakhambh did not succeed in making a mark of itself and soon was ruled out from the list of sports. In 1981, some Mallkambh enthusiasts from Madhya Pradesh namely Dr Bamshankar Joshi and others set up an All-India level organization called Mallakhamb Federation of India.
At present, Mallakhmab is recognised internationally as well. Official organisations have been set on different levels. Organizations like Asian Mallakhamb Federation, South Asian Mallakhamb Federation and Mallakhamb Confederation of World are doing their best in promoting this traditional sport.
Unique Features of Mallakhamb
Apart from its traditional form, this sport is performed on a cane and rope. So we have three kinds of Mallakhamb: pole, cane and rope.
Pole Mallakhamb is the strictly traditional form of it. A free-standing pole made of teak or rosewood and smeared with castor oil is used as the prop. The height of the pole ranging from 2.6 metres above the ground.
Cane Mallakhamb is very similar to Pole Mallakhamb but the only difference is the height of the pole. In cane Mallakhamb the pole is shorter in length and most importantly, the pole is left hanging from a hook leaving a gap between the end of the pole and ground.
In Rope Mallakhamb, the performer is supposed to exercise the postures on a 5.5 metres long rope suspended from the top. The performer is not allowed to tie a knot in the rope whatsoever. In olden days, a cotton rope replaced canes and continued to survive till date.
Where can you witness Mallakhamb?
Pune and nearby cities in Maharashtra have been the centre of this martial art since the Peshwas reinforced its practice and performance. Many of their soldiers and wrestlers took up Mallakhamb and trained other people and hence it survived through generations. Nowadays, there are some Mallakhamb clubs in Mumbai as well.