Dying 12th century sport gets a lifeline

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By SUNIL PATNAIK
  • Published 3.11.11
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Students of Ganjam Mallakhamb Association perform at Berhampur stadium. Picture by Gopal Krishna Reddy

Berhampur, Nov. 2: Watching a gymnast perform stunts on the vertical wooden pole or Mallakhamb could leave any person awestruck.

Sadly, this traditional sport has not received much patronisation in the last few decades and is almost at the verge of extinction with a dearth of performers.

To revive interest in the rural sport, a day-long Mallakhamb championship was held on October 30 by All Orissa Mallakhamb Association at the Berhampur Stadium.

Mallakhamb dates back to the 12th century and finds reference in the classic Manasollasa (1135 AD) by Somesvara Chalukya. The sport was also practiced in ancient Hyderabad, Maharashtra and other parts of the country.

“Three decades ago, pole Mallakhamb gave way to the rope Mallakhamb. This is the closest thing to the legendry Indian rope tricks and requires alertness, focus and balance. Treating the rope with due veneration, the gymnast slides up and down, performing various exercises and holds it without knotting the rope in any way,” said 71-year-old Pitabas Pradhan, vice-president of the Mallakhamb Federation of India (MFI), who is also the general secretary of the All Orissa Mallakhamb Association.

Mallakhamb exponents believe that the sport, a unique combination of meditation and gymnastics, helps sportspersons develop a healthy mind and sound body. It not only develops the muscles of the body but also improves the circulatory system. This sport efficiently provides optimum exercise to the entire body in the least possible time. “Besides giving perfect shape and form to the body, the practice of this ancient sport also gives remarkable control over the limbs,” said Mallakhamb coach Madhusudan Roy.

“This quirky sport remains relatively unknown, without getting the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, the sport is struggling to survive. It received some footage in the Bollywood movie Kisna (2005) in which dancer-actress Isha Sharvani performed some well-choreographed Mallakhamb sequences,” said Pradhan.

Regular championships have kept the sport alive. Participants from 29 states compete in the national-level Mallakhamb championship that is being organised for the last 25 years. Similarly, a state-level contest is held every year from 1990.

“The state government has not provided much financial help except Rs 3,000 in 1993 and Rs 5,000 in 1995. I often mortgage the gold ornaments of my family to organise such championships,” said Pradhan, who is also the director of the Puri Urban Bank. “The state government must take immediate steps to establish a Mallakhamb academy in Orissa and appoint a regular coach,” he added.

Fifty participants including 15 girls in four groups — senior, junior, sub junior and mini — from Sambalpur, Bargarh, Puri, Khurda and Ganjam district, participated in this one-day All Orissa Mallakhamb Championship held on Sunday.