In the 70th episode of Mann ki Baat last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dwelt on Indian sports becoming popular in many countries in the West. He mentioned the US where an ancient Indian form of sports — Mallakhamb — was drawing in a steady stream of players, thanks to the efforts of a couple named Chinmay Patankar and Pradnya Patankar. “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,” the PM said.
What is Mallakhamb?
Mallakhamb is one of the few games that is played against gravity. It functions on a synergy of mind and body, employing every muscle in a way that enables a person to develop speed, stamina and better health. The name derives from the pole used by wrestlers for practising their skills though, today, Mallakhamb has developed an identity that is separate from wrestling or kushti.
The word malla means a wrestler or an athlete in Sanskrit and can also indicate a verb,such as strong or good. Khamb or kham, in spoken Marathi, means a pole. Therefore, Mallakhamb has come to be known as wrestling against a pole. Nevertheless, there are two other Mallakhamb styles such as ‘rope mallakhamb’ and ‘hanging mallakhamb’. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
According to the Mallakhamb Federation of USA, the brainchild of the Patankars, “The origin of this ancient Indian sport can be traced to earlier part of the 12th century. A mention of wrestlers exercising on wooden poles is found in the Manasholas, written by Chalukya, in 1153 AD. It was revived late in the 19th century by Balambhatta Dada Deodhar, physical instructor to Bajirao Peshwa II. He took great efforts to popularise this sport.”
Who are Chinmay and Pradnya Patankar?
Chinmay and his partner Pradnya, originally from Pune, are experts of the form and have 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,” Chinmay told The Indian Express. Chinmay had shot into public imagination in Pune in 1996, when he had performed the gravity-defying moves of Mallakhamb on a moving truck during a Ganesh Puja immersion.
Pradnya, a state-level sportsperson of Mallakhamb, is author of Mallakhamb Book of Knowledge. The curriculum at Mallakhamb Federation of USA, the body through which the duo are spreading the sport in the US, is derived from Pradnya’s book and split into Basic, Intermediate and Advanced skills in five categories, such as mounts, dismounts, balances, acro skills and intercepts.
How did they take Mallakhamb to the US?
Chinmay is an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, which he attended after graduating from Pune’s Savitribhai Phule University in 2000. He moved to the US in 2009 for work. This was the phase, which stretched from 2003 and 2013, when Chinmay did not teach Mallakhamb owing to work commitments. In 2013, Chinmay. Pradnya and a few others got together and invested in bringing Mallakhamb to the US from India. Training was held in the Patankar family’s backyard. “Group learning of Mallakhamb caught on, and began to increase to a size as a lot of strangers began to come to our home to learn,” he says. After most of the original founders left due to work or other commitments, the duo appealed to more of their friends to come forward and start a federation for Mallakhamb in the US. Today, Mallakhamb Federation USA is an official not-for-profit organisation and teaches a large number of children.
How does one popularise an Indian sport in the land of baseball and athletics?
“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 monthly 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 are the other 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 centres is solely dependent on fees collected through teaching. Current coaches and administrators do not earn money through teaching. The fees collected goes into rentals, maintaining liability insurance and other costs,” he adds. Opening a training space requires $7,000. “Through existing savings, it takes six to nine months to start a new centre. This can be accelerated if Mallakhamb supporters donate actively to the Mallakhamb Federation,” says Chinmay.
How far has the duo’s endeavour taken this sports form?
Chinmay has performed at the United Nations, and kept Mallakhamb in the spotlight through initiatives such as leading demonstrations at landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Lincoln Center of Performing Arts, Boston Children Museum and the Times Square. The Patankars have also started an initiative, Recreational Games Day in New Jersey, to teach children Kabbadi, Kho Kho and Kalaripayattu along with Mallakhamb. Next, Chinmay will compete in the second Mallakhamb world championship in July 2021 in Manhattan.
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