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Photographer: Divyakant Solanki


Near Mahim Bay in the western Indian metropolis of Mumbai sits a red, two-story building whose modest appearance betrays its notable heritage of athletics.


More than 1,000 athletes of different sports who went on to become national champions have attended the Shree Samarth Vyayam Mandir (SVM) physical education institution since it opened in 1925.


The school is a training ground for traditional Indian sports like Mallakhamba, a discipline that combines aspects of gymnastics, wrestling and yoga.


Students practiced Mallakhamba during the 44th Samartha Summer Sports Coaching Camp in April under the guidance of chief coach Uday Deshpande.


Mallakhamba arose in the western state of Maharashtra centuries ago. It was originally practiced by wrestlers and soldiers as a strength training exercise. 'Malla' means 'wrestler' and 'khamb' means 'pole' in Marathi, though the term is the same in Kannada and Tamil. Mallakhamba requires the strength of wrestling and the flexibility of gymnastics and yoga, and practitioners must combine those elements to perform aerial yoga poses while gripping a vertical pole. The pole is made of Seesham (Indian Rosewood) and polished with castor oil to reduce friction and minimize the risk of injury.


There are three main variations of Mallakhamba: pole Mallakhamba, hanging Mallakhamba and rope Mallahkhamba.


With the pole type, performers do acrobatic feats and pose on a 10-12 foot high wooden pole, fixed into the ground. The pole is 5 to 6 inches in diameter at the bottom and narrows to 1.5-2 inches in diameter at the top.


Hanging Mallakhamba involves a swinging pole. The performers display their acrobatic tricks on a short pole, which is suspended by rope or with chains and hooks. The pole hangs 3 to 4 feet above the ground.


Rope Mallakhamba replaces the pole with a rope, which the performers hold onto while doing acrobatic maneuvers. The rope is 5.5 meters long and 1-2 centimeters in diameter. Participants grip the rope with the gap between the big toe and the second toe, along with the hands. The performer then ties the rope around the body in different positions, some of which are imitations of yoga poses.


The process of registering Mallakhamba as a competitive sport was long and difficult, but finally succeeded in 1998 when the Indian Olympic Association recognized it and Mallakhamba federations were formed in India.


Though it is most prominent in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh states, its popularity has spread all over India and worldwide. Outside India, Mallakhamba Coaching Camps are held in Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Dubai, Germany and Malaysia, among other countries.