Express News Service
VILLUPURAM: In an age of big-buck franchise cricket, traditional games often take a backseat. That, however, hasn’t discouraged 28-year-old G Adhityan from Villupuram’s GRP Street to put his best foot forward to pursue and popularize one of India’s oldest sports – Mallakhamb.
The first Tamilian in 30 years to be bestowed the title ‘Mallan’ for displaying remarkable skill in the sport, Adhityan has been teaching Mallakhamb free to children from poor families and disabled individuals for over a decade. One of his students, M Heamachandran, became the national champion at the All-India University Level Mallakhamb Tournament held in Rajasthan in April.
Mallakhamb is a portmanteau of mallar (wrestler) and kambam (pole). Back in the days of the Chola and Chera kingdoms, wrestlers used wooden poles to perform warm-up exercises and to perfect grips that they used on opponents. To climb the polished wooden pole is a Herculean task that requires years of practice and strengthening of muscles.
During the British era, Mallakhamb shed many of its martial features and evolved into a sport, pursued by many in modern-day Maharashtra, Karnataka, and TN. In Mallakhamb’s current form, one performs aerial yoga, gymnastics, and wrestling grips on a pole or a rope. Veteran Mallakhamb player Ulagadurai was instrumental in reintroducing the sport in TN from Maharashtra, said Adhityan.
Over the years, Adhityan has trained many disabled individuals in Mallakhamb. “At first, I was worried the sport might hurt them. But they showed interest. So far, I have trained over 20 to perform gymnastics in Mallakhamb. ”
Adhityan started learning Mallakhamb when he was barely five years old. His single mother enrolled him in a training center so that he grew up into a disciplined lad. Mallakhamb, however, did more than just discipline him; it kindled in him a passion for martial arts. His trainers, K Ganesh, M Janarthanan, and S Ramachathiran were all descendants of Ulagathurai.
“Mallakhamb helped me get a college seat under sports quota. That’s when I decided it would be my career, ”said Adhityan.Adhityan is now the owner of Mallan Fitness and Martial Arts Center on GRP Street, where he teaches, alongside Mallakhamb, various martial arts and gymnastics to children from poor and marginalized communities. “To me, it’s not just a game or martial art, it’s my identity and politics,” he said.
For young boys from GRP Street, it’s tough to practice sports professionally due to a lack of facilities, Haemachandran said. “Most boys in my area play other games but I chose Mallakhamb. It kept me away from habits like smoking and drinking. ” Heamachandran, himself is a ‘Mallan’ now.
S Sakthi, a 35-year-old from GRP Street, who supports and sponsors the players, told TNIE that most players in the locality are from families sharing a common crop of social issues. They hope to break those fetters by achieving something in sports, and Mallakhamb offers them a platform. “They look at the game as their own,” he added.