It was during a Ganesh Puja immersion procession in 1996, that Pune first saw a young man performing the gravity-defying moves of Mallakhamb on a moving truck. He was Chinmay Patankar, whose name Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled a week ago when he addressed the nation through Mann ki Baat. “Nowadays, our traditional sport of Mallakhamb is gaining popularity in several countries. In the US, when Chinmay Patankar and Pradnya Patankar started to teach Mallakhamb from their home, even they did not have an idea how successful they would be. Today, there are Mallakhamb training centres at many places in the US as the youth there are learning Mallakhamb in large numbers,” Modi said.
Mallakhamb is an ancient Indian sport that requires a practitioner to employ every muscle in the body. It helps them develop speed, stamina and improve fitness. Chinmay and his partner Pradnya are experts of the form, with several competitions under their belt.
“I started learning Mallakhamb at the age of nine and played for 13 years. My training was at Pune’s Academy of Physical Education, from Balkrishna Thatte and Vinayak Rajmachikar. Many other Mallakhamb coaches also imparted their knowledge to me. At national championships, I used to compete in three categories – Fixed Pole, Hanging Pole and Rope Mallakhamb. I have also demonstrated traditional sword and traditional torches Mallakhamb,” says Chinmay, who performed Mallakhamb at the United Nations in 2017, a first for the sport. Pradnya, a state-level sportsperson of Mallakhamb, is author of Mallakhamb Book of Knowledge.
Chinmay says that he started teaching Mallakhamb when he was 18 years old. “Due to business and job, I was not able to teach between 2003 to 2013. In 2013, Pradnya, a few others and I got together and invested in bringing Mallakhamb to the US from India. Group learning of Mallakhamb caught on and began to increase as it drew many strangers to our home to learn,” he says. After most of the original founders left due to work or other commitments, the couple appealed to their friends to come forward and start a federation for Mallakhamb in the US. Today, Mallakhamb Federation USA is an official not-for-profit organization and teaches a large number of children.
The curriculum, derived from Pradnya’s book, Mallakhamb Book of Knowledge, is split into Basic, Intermediate and Advanced skills in five categories, such as mounts, dismounts, balances, acro skills and intercepts. As the duo spread Mallakhamb in the land of baseball and athletics, they faced numerous hurdles that tested their leadership and organisational skills. “A major challenge is the availability of coaches. There are many coaches in India who are ready to sacrifice their personal lives to support Mallakhamb but, the problem is that Indian coaches do not understand the American style of coaching and the American languages used in the teaching of Mallakhamb. These coaches are expensive, requiring $6,000 per month salary as per local regulations. To overcome this challenge, we are teaching the teachers, who are locally available in the US and ready to work part time,” says Chinmay.
Finances were also a concern. “Although Mallakhamb Federation USA is not-for-profit, grants cannot be used for the expansion. These grants can be used locally. Currently, the Federation does not receive many donations. Expansion of Mallakhamb centers is solely dependent on fees collected through teaching. Current coaches and administrators do not earn money through teachings. The fees collected goes into rentals, maintaining liability insurance and other costs,” he adds. To open a training space, requires $7,000. “Through existing savings, it takes six to nine months to start new center. This can be accelerated if Mallakhamb supporters donate actively to the Mallakhamb Federation,” says Chinmay.
He has kept Mallakhamb in the spotlight through leading demonstrations at landmarks such as the Statute of Liberty, Lincoln Center of Performing Arts, Boston Children Museum and Times Square. The Patankars have also started the Recreational Games Day in New Jersey, to teach children Kabbadi, Kho Kho and Kalaripayattu with Mallakhamb. “This received a tremendous response from Indian diaspora. The State Senate of New Jersey awarded a citation to the Mallakhamb Federation USA,” says Chinmay. Coming up, in July 2021, Chinmay will compete in the second Mallakhamb world championship in Manhattan.