Mallakhamba or mallakhamb is like a cross between gymnastics and yoga postures, performed with vertical or hanging wooden pole, or rope. The name of this sport is derived from the words ‘malla’, which means ‘wrestler’ and ‘khamb’, which means ‘pole’, as the pole was typically used by wrestlers as a training tool to improve their flexibility, strength and agility.
The earliest mention of mallakhamb is said to be dated to the 12th century; it seems to have remained dormant until the 19th century, when it was revived and used as a form of warfare training – it is said that Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi learned mallakhamb as a part of her routine when she was a child.
In 1958, mallakhamb received national importance when the game made its appearance at the National Gymnastics Championships in Delhi. Subsequently, the first National Mallakhamb Championships was held at Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh in 1962, as part of the National Gymnastics Championships. Later, the Mallakhamb Federation of India was formed in 1980, and it continues to organise championship events on national and state-wide levels.
The sport begins with fixing the mallakhamb pole in the ground, and applying castor oil on it to prevent abrasion and resultant injuries to the players. The player then mounts the pole and performs poses and postures that resemble yoga postures and aerobatic feats. Mallakhamb can be performed on one or two poles, and the height and orientation (vertical or horizontal) can vary. Sometimes, the sport is performed with the help of a rope as well.
Mallakhamb is considered to be a complete exercise routine because it helps to impart proper tone and form to every muscle. It also helps the performer gain perfect control over each part of his/her body. The performer also needs to regulate his/her breathing, which helps improve concentration and focus, circulation, and development of mental and physical faculties.