There are around 300 colleges in Pune city and PCMC limits. Yet, over the past 10 years, whenever entries are invited for inter-college mallakhamb competitions, the total number of entries from all the colleges don’t even touch 15.
For instance, in 2014-15, when city-based Marathwada Mitra Mandal’s College of Engineering (MMCoE) organised the competition and invited entries, it received just 12 entries. The figure was the same in the following year too, when the competition was organised by MMCC, Deccan.
Tushar Anil Gujar, physical education director at MMCoE, who has been a member of the selection committee as well, says, “Our college also organises inter-college chess and table tennis competitions, both of which get more than 250 entries. However, when it comes to mallakhamb, there are hardly any entries. To make a team of mallakhamb, we require at least four players in the boys’ and girls’ team. Out of 5-6 applications we receive for both groups, we have to select four, so there’s hardly any competition for participants.”
Gujar, who was also the Pune University mallakhamb team captain from 2006-12, says that the scenario has been the same since more than a decade. “Even when I used to participate as a student, the total entries would hardly cross 20 including the boys’ and girls’ groups. There were times when there were four applicants and since it needs four members to make a team, all four participants qualified for the competition,” he says.
Mallakhamb is a traditional sport in which gymnasts perform poses and acts with the help of a vertical wooden pole or rope. Although this sport dates back to the 12th century, it lost popularity thereafter and was later revived in the 18th century during the Peshwa era.
City-based mallakhamb instructor Shrinivas Havaldar, who has been associated with the sports since the past two decades, once ran three mallakhamb academies in the city. However, due to shortage of coaches and fall in the number of students, he shut down all the centres one after another.
“It’s a sport that not only keeps one’s body fit and flexible but also increases one’s focus. Sadly, it is losing its sheen due to government apathy. Hardly anything is done by the government to popularise it among senior college-going kids unlike other games like football, tennis, basketball and so on,” Havaldar rues.
In Madhya Pradesh, where mallakhamb has been declared the state sport in 2013, it attracts many takers. “If one is doing well in mallakhamb on the competitive level, he gets a government job. There is no such benefits attached with the sport in Maharashtra and that’s another reason for mallakhamb players in older age groups looking for other options,” Gujar says.
While the interest in mallakhamb may be diminishing among college-going youngsters, the figures are quite encouraging in lower age groups. Many centres in the city such as Maharashtriya Mandal (Tilak Road), New Pune Gymkhana (Senapati Bapat Road), Paranjape Vidya Mandir (Kothrud), Academy of Physical Education (Shivajinagar) and Krida Prabodhini (Nigdi) are a testimony to the fact.
Upendra Patwardhan, who’s been training students at New Pune Gymkhana for seven years, says that the centre sees nearly 40 students coming to learn the sport. Out of the total number of students, hardly 10 per cent are from the senior age group – 15 and above. He cites a reason for this trend.
“Once students reach their 10th or 12th standard, they take a break from the sport and shift their focus to academics. Even if they want to continue, they do not get enough time. Besides, the sport is physically demanding too and not everyone can cope up with it,” Patwardhan says.
As compared to other sports like table tennis, tennis and football, which can make a hole in the pocket, the cost of joining a mallakhamb class is comparatively quite low-Rs 400-500 a month. “Parents get attracted to these sports as they are safer compared to mallakhamb. Also, there’s a lot of glamour attached them,” Patwardhan adds.