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India hosts first 'yoga on a pole' world competition

China Daily | Updated: 2019-02-18 08:56

A young visually impaired Indian gymnast performs a rope version of the Indian ancient sport Mallakhamb at the Shree Samartha Vyayam Mandir in Mumbai on Friday. PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP

MUMBAI, India - Wearing only underpants, Pavel Kalina twists his body up a wooden pole before performing a handstand at the top in the first world championships of an ancient Indian sport.

The 55-year-old from the Czech Republic practices Mallakhamb, a gymnastics-like discipline that originated in western India in the 12th century and is often described as "yoga on a pole".

"I do it because I'm a crazy man," Kalina said.

"To be honest, it is like torture but I have to do it because I need to spend my energy," added the former gymnast who took up Mallakhamb 10 years ago.

Kalina was among about 100 competitors from 15 different countries taking part in the Mallakhamb World Championships in Mumbai over the weekend.

The sport, first mentioned in Indian texts in 1135, is popular in western Maharashtra state - of which Mumbai is the capital - but is little known outside India.

"Malla means wrestler and khamb means pole," explained Uday Deshpande, the organizer of the event and India's most renowned Mallakhamb practitioner.

"The pole is 2.6 meters in height. It is smooth, well polished and tapered at the top. Different acrobatic exercises and yogic postures are performed on it.


On day one of the event - held in Mumbai's Shivaji Park - men, mostly in swimming trunks, and women, mostly in leotards, wowed a crowd of several hundred with gravity defying moves.

Onlookers clapped and cheered as a competitor from Spain stretched out on his front like Superman on the top of the pole, which had a circumference of just 35 centimeters.

Competitors from France, Germany, Malaysia and Vietnam also took part.

Deshpande, 65, said Mallakhamb helps people mentally as well.

"When you perform yoga on the ground you get lots of benefits - meditation, breathing, concentration.

"When you perform yoga at eight feet high, you get the same benefits but you also develop your confidence, your courage," he said.

Deshpande organized the championships to promote Mallakhamb globally and dreams that one day it will appear at the Asian Games and then even the Olympics.

"We want to spread this traditional Indian culture abroad," he said.

Agence France-Presse

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