The gravity-defying traditional sport of Mallakhamb has seen not only a revival in recent times, but also widespread popularity. The word 'Mallakhamb' (Malla=wrestling, Khamb=pole/pillar) referred traditionally to a pillar used by Indian wrestlers to exercise stretches and twists to make their bodies lithe and their spines, supple. The name has come to signify a group of gymnastic sports, of which Pole Mallakhamb and Rope Mallakhamb are the most common.
In Pole Mallakhamb, the gymnast must balance on a standing wooden pole with a bulbous head. The gymnast performs twists and yogic asanas while balancing on the pole. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring part of this form of mallakhamb is the transitions betweens asanas and the foot-hold balance where the gymnast balances perpendicular to the pole. In the variant called Hanging Pole Mallakhamb, a shorter pole is suspended vertically from a mount, and the gymnast demonstrates his skill on this constantly moving length of wood. The key here is to maintain the center of gravity. In Rope Mallakhamb, a thick cotton rope is suspended vertically. The rope is grasped in the space between the big toe and second toe of either foot and the gymnast winds it around the body to perform some seemingly impossible balancing exercises and asanas.
The sport has its own National Championship in India and there are training centres primarily in the state of Maharashtra, where the sport originates from.
An edited version of the article was published in Culturama's July 2012 Issue.