Mallakhamb: An Investigation into the Indian Physical Practice of Rope and Pole Mallakhamb

By Jon Burtt.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The author argues that the contemporary Indian physical practice of mallakhamb is a unique embodiment of a complex and hybrid history which sees the influences of North Indian wrestling, yoga and British colonial gymnastics combine to evolve into a physical form which has emerged as both a national sport and an emerging arts practice which is now informing the work of contemporary aerial dance choreographers including the author and contemporary Indian choreographer Daksha Seth.

Mallakhamb is the name given to a little known style of physical culture practiced in India.Mallakhamb developed in the state of Maharashtra in India and the first reference to it is in the Manasollasa (1135 AD), a detailed instruction manual on the scholarship and military training of young Chalukyan princes written by the Chalukyan King Somesvara III. Mallakhamb was originally practiced to develop the strength, agility and flexibility of wrestlers and has now developed into a national sport with championships held annually at district, state and national levels throughout India.

Mallakhamb involves an unusual mix of wrestling strength training and yoga postures practiced on apparati including a wooden pole and a cotton rope. This paper presents an analysis of the form - the apparati, the training methods, techniques; the intersections and the cross pollinations between different influences which have led to the development of contemporary mallakhamb; mallakhamb’s current position as a sport and its emerging relationship to contemporary arts practice in India, and its relationship to the author’s own physical practice as an aerial choreographer. Finally the paper presents a possible future for mallakhamb.

Research material has been sourced from the author’s own field notes and video documentation filmed on location in India.

Keywords: Mallakhamb, Physical Practice, India, Yoga, Hybrid Form, Wrestling, Aerial Choreography, Gymnastics

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.29-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.694MB).

Jon Burtt

Director, Skadada, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Jon Burtt is an aerial and dance choreographer working in contemporary circus. He has a background in both dance and circus. He trained at the London Contemporary Dance school and performed with numerous dance companies in the UK and Australia. He is a co-director of the multi-disciplinary performance company Skadada. Major works, which have been performed throughout Asia and Australia, include Electronic Big Top, Aureo and Hive. He recently concluded an MA by Research (Performing Arts) at Edith Cowan University, Australia and is currently based in Montreal, where he is researching contemporary Canadian circus as well as continuing his ongoing research in South Asian physical arts practice through an investigation into the South Indian martial art of Kalarippayattu.


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