Origin, History & Development of Mallakhamb

The origin of Mallakhamb, as we all know goes back to the regime of IInd Bajirao peshwa in
1800’s in Pune, when Adyaguru  Balambhatt Dada Deodhar defeated Ali, a reknowned wrestler from Nijam of Hyderabad, by his practice on a Wooden Pole & this technique was shown to him by no one else other than Lord Hanuman, the Bajrang Bali. This anecdote is nicely described in Vyayam Dnyankosh Vol. 3 written by D. C. Mujumdar, of Baroda, in 1938 and recently published book ‘Ek Hota Balambhatt’ by Ms. Manisha Bathe, Pune. After the Britishers’ defeated Peshwas’ in 1818, Bajirao Peshwa II was asked to leave Pune on a pension of Rs. 8 Lakhs per anum and he was settled at Brahmhavart on the banks of River Ganges, about 35 Kms from Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh. Guru Balambhatt Dada accompanied the Peshwa and established Akhadas en route from Pune to Surat, Baroda, Ahmadabad, Ujjain, Devas, Indore, Gwalior, Jhansi, Varanasi and Kanpur. These Akhadas are still in existence today, Mallakhamb is also there, but nobody is there to learn and nobody is there to teach. In fact, when I visited Kondbhatt Akhada at Varanasi, in 1989, the Jangiya, worn by shree Balambhatt Dada was still kept there, but unfortunately, when I visited the Kondbhat-Akhada on 29.6.2018, I came know that the Akhada was already closed and locked. I found out that it was purchased by a family known as “Sonawala. I could only take the photograph of the closed Akhada and the residence of Mr. Sonawala!

Guru Balambhatt Dada had three sons – Ramji Guru, Laxman Guru and Narayan Guru (Avghad Shastri) and his first disciple was Takke Jamal. Takke Jamal trained Junmadada, who was in the forefront with Tatya Tope, in the first war of independence of 1957.  Junmadada was the Guru of Rajratna Prof.  Manikrao of Baroda. Another disciple of Balambhatt Dada was Kondbhatt Nana Godbole of Varanasi, who trained Damodarguru Moghe.  Damodarguru invented Cane Mallakham and he spread Mallakhamb in Ujjain, Indore and many other parts of M. P. He was also known as Shree Achyutananda Swami Maharaj. The Institutions like ‘Achyutanand Prasadik Jivajirao Vysamshala’ and ‘Guruka Akhada’ in Ujjain,  ‘Damodar Guru Vyayam Shala’ in Indore, are still working relentlessly in the field and have produced many Mallakhamb exponents.

From same linkage, there were two stalwarts, Chhotubhai Purani and Ambubhai Purani from Gujrat Vyayam Prasarak Mandal, Rajpipla, in Gujarat. They were the one who propagated Mallakhamb throughout Gujarat and then subsequently started teaching Mallakhamb at Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. You will be surprised to know, till recent years the Mallakhamb coach in Pondicherry was a British person named Richard Pierson. I had seen a film in which, Pole Mallakhamb was performed by young girls from Aurobindo Ashram, 30 – 40 years back, in my college days. One of those girls was Tara Johar, who was above 80 years of age, when I met her at Aurobindo Ashram, at Delhi few years back.

Dr. D M Kalyanpurkar led the team of Bombay Gymnastics Institute, along with the students from Shree Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal, Amravati, who demonstrated Mallakhamb in front of Hitler, during the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Shree Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal, Amravati has sent teams to several countries like Argentina, Tehran, Stockholm, England, Finland, France, Japan, USA etc. for the demonstration of Mallakhamb and other varieties of exercises and dance, on the occasion of International Children’s Festival, Youth Festival, Women’s Congress etc. Maharashtriya Mandal, Pune also had many tours organized  for the demonstrations of Mallakhamb in yester years. Akhil Maharashtra Shareerik Shikshan Mandal, Pune, lead by M.N. Natu, Captain Shivrampant Damle, formed the first Rules for Mallakhamb competitions. Hind Vijay Gymkhana, Baroda, Mumbai Shareerik Shikshan Mandal, Mumbai, led by K. S. Mhaskar, S. S. Prabhu, Haribhau Damle,  Kisanrao Sakpal also conducted ‘Hind Karandak’ Interschool Mallakhamb Competitions for several years in Mumbai and they also started ‘Inter Mills’ Mallakhamb Competitions by ‘Mill owners Association’.

Few people and Institutions from all over India were also involved in the promotion of Mallakhamb, in their own individual capacity. Annasaheb Khanvilkar of Shri Laxmi Vyayam Mandir, Jhansi, in U. P., S. Ratnam of Shri Hanuman Vyayamshala, Hyderabad, the then Andhra Pradesh, K. G. Nadgir of Mallasajjan Vyayamshala, Dharwar, Karnataka, A. Y. Sathaye, of LNCPE, Gwalior, M. P., Vyayam Maharshi P. L. Kale of Shree Samartha Vyayam Mandir, Dadar, Mumbai, in Maharashtra, Pandit Vishwanath Prasad Yadav of Marwari Vyayamshala, Bhagalpur, Bihar., Annasaheb Vipat of APJ Vyayamshala, Ujjain, M. P., R. N. Thatte of M. S. University of Baroda, Gujarat, Krushnaji Balwant Mahabal Guruji of Yashawant Vyayamshala, Nasik, in Maharashtra, Sardar Prithvisaing Azad (Swami Rao) of Ganesh Kreeda Mandal, Bhavnagar, Gujarat, Vaidya M. D. Karmarkar, of Ambabai Talim Sanstha, Miraj, Sangli, in Maharashtra and many more have contributed to this field of Mallakhamb.     
Due to the efforts of Ramdas Kalyanpurkar, Shashikant Vyas, Sai Patil and Suhas Pathare, Gymnastics Federation of India started conducting Mallakhamb National Championships, along with Gymnastics Nationals from 1965. They continued till 1976. The last Mallakhamb National Championships were held at Agartala in Tripura. The declaration of the policy of ‘One Game One Federation’ by the Government of India resulted in the discontinuation of Mallakhamb National Championships by the Gymnastics Federation of India. No Mallakhamb Nationals were conducted from 1977 to 1980, except for one Sanjay Gandhi Memorial All India Invitational Mallakhamb Tournament conducted by Raghunath Reddy at Tirupati, in 1980. Few Mallakhamb enthusiasts from Ujjain came forward in 1989 and formed ‘New Sports Association’ and conducted First Invitational Mallakhamb Nationals at Maharajwada High School in Ujjain and that was later considered to be the First National Mallakhamb Championships. Late Dr. Bamshankar Joshi, Rakesh, Rajesh and Kishorisharan Shrivastav, Shekhar Banafar, Leeladhar Kahar, were some of the stalwarts involved in this venture. The Mallakhamb Federation of India was formed and registered at Ujjain, in 1981. Then onwards, National Mallakhamb Championships were conducted quite regularly, with one or two exceptions. Rope Mallakhamb competitions for girls were introduced during the Forth National Mallakhamb Championships, held at Baroda in 1984. You will be surprised to know even after conducting Mallakhamb Nationals till 1996, the game of Mallakhamb was not recognized by the Government of India. Mr. Mohan Rawle, the then M. P. from Central Mumbai, had asked in the parliament ‘Is the sport – ‘Mallakhamb’, recognized by the Government of India? What is the Government doing to promote Mallakhamb abroad?’ Ms. Margaret Alwa, the then Union Sports Minister had blatantly lied in the Parliament that ‘we have asked for certain information from the Mallakhamb Federation and on receiving the same, we will decide about the recognition of the sport. As for the promotion of sport abroad, it is the sole responsibility of the concerned Federation’. I was the General Secretary of the Mallakhamb Federation of India, then, and I can tell you for sure, no such information was asked for, from the Mallakhamb Federation of India. In order to get recognition from the Government of India, I had personally approached several MP’s, collected more than 90 recommendatory letters from them. Due to these consistent efforts, finally, in 1996, I, along with Mr. Mohan Rawle, got an opportunity to meet Mr. Mukul Wasnik, Union Sports Minister and Mr. Suresh Kalmadi, Railway Minister and got the recognition letters for Mallakhamb Federation of India from the Dept. of Sports and Youth Affairs and also from the Railway Board. It was a very satisfying feeling that ultimately Mallakhamb got formal recognition and the Mallakhamb players and officials started getting Railway Concession for the travel for competitions.

Due to the initiation of A. Y. Sathaye of Laxmibai National College of Physical Education (LNCPE), Gwalior, Mallakhamb got introduced in the All India Intervarsity Tournaments in 1968-69, along with Gymnastics. When the University of Mumbai started participating in the Intervarsity Gymnastics Competitions, since 1982, I always presented the demonstration of Rope Mallakhamb during the prize distribution ceremony and made an attempt to reach the officials to start the Rope Mallakhamb Competitions for girls. Finally, these efforts paid off in 2005, and in the Intervarsity Tournaments held at Kakatiya University, Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, the Rope Mallakhamb Competitions also started for Women. Due to the consistent efforts of Late Shree. S. K. Moghe, Mallakhamb was included in the list of School Game Federation of India (SGFI).

On this background, I was shocked when I visited Jagannath Puri, Orissa, in 1982 and saw one Lakshmidhar Bhoi, age 65 then, was practicing Mallakhamb on a tree. During a personal meeting with him, he said, he was taught by his grandfather, who was taught by his grandfather, and this was happening, since the existence of Jaganath Vallabh Akhada. This Akhada came into existence, along with the temple of Jagannath Puri,  which is in existence, for over 700 years, indicating Mallakhamb is getting practiced for about 700 years. I happened to meet Prof. Narad  Baran Mandal,of Vishva Bharati University,  Shanti Niketan, West Bengal, just by chance, when I had gone to teach Mallakhamb to the teachers of Javahar Navoday Vidyalaya, at Kaivalyadham, Lonavala, in November 2016. He said, he had translated ‘Shree Kapal Kurantak Yog Sanhita’, which also exists for several years, and has references of ‘Rajju Yoga’. In the epic ‘Manasollas’ by Someshwar Chalukya in 1135 AD, some pictorial representations of Mallakhamb can also be seen. Recently in some old Caves in Tamilnadu, some references of positions and movements that are similar to that of Mallakhamb were also found.

Another very strong reference can be found in ‘Mallapurana’, where, it is clearly mentioned that Lord Krishna taught ‘Malla Stambha’ to few bramhins, how to climb on the Stambha, perform on a Pole to develop strength and flexibility.  This is much prior to the 12th century. Swami Nityanandaji from Nithyananda Ashram, Banglore, has termed the Pole as Shivstambha and Rope as Kundalini Rajju Yoga. In Jejuri also we have tradition since long back that when Lord Khandoba is worshipped, there are small replicas of Mallakhamb and other exercise apparatus in the plate of Aarti!

Now, it is our responsibility to dig further in the past and explore more and more information to go to the deep roots of Mallakhamb.

Uday V. Deshpande