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A mallakhamba team performs on the pole, 2015

Mallakhamba or mallakhamb is a traditional sport, originating from the Indian subcontinent, in which a gymnast performs aerial yoga or gymnastic postures and wrestling grips in concert with a vertical stationary or hanging wooden pole, cane, or rope. The word "mallakhamb" also refers to the pole used in the sport.[1] The pole is usually made from sheesham (Indian rosewood) polished with castor oil.[2] Three popular versions of mallakhamb are practiced using a sheesham pole, cane, or rope.[3] The origins of pole dancing can be traced back to the sport of mallakhamb.[4]

The name mallakhamb derives from the terms malla, meaning wrestler, and khamb, which means a pole. Literally meaning "wrestling pole", the term refers to a traditional training implement used by wrestlers.[5]

On April 9, 2013, the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh declared mallakhamba the state sport. As of 2017, more than 20 other states in India have followed suit.[6]


Chandraketugarh pottery (Dated 2nd century BCE - 1st century CE) with narrative figures carved on them show a couple exhibiting gymnastics by hanging on a pole like structure in the shape of a T which is held by another person. In 7th century CE, Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzhang provides evidence of pole climbing of the pillar cult which he witnessed at Prayagraj, he states that Hindu ascetics climbed the top of a pole situated at Prayagraj clinging onto it with one hand and one foot while other hand and foot stretched out in the air and watched sunset with their heads turned right as it set which indicates a solar rite.[7] The earliest literary known mention of mallakhamb is in the 1135 CE Sanskrit classic Manasollasa, written by a Western Chalukya king Someshvara III. A Rajput painting from 1610 CE shows athletes performing various acrobatics, including pole climbing while dancing to Raga Desahka.[8] A Mughal painting from 1670 depicts wrestlers or athletes practicing club swinging, weightlifting, and pole climbing similar to mallakhamb.[9] The art form since remained dormant until it was given a new lease on life by Balambhatta Dada Deodhar, the teacher of Peshwa Baji Rao II. During the first half of the 19th century, Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi learned mallakhamb with her childhood friends Nana Saheb and Tantia Tope.[10]

Mallakhamb as a competitive sport was first time developed by the Mallakhamb Federation of India in January 1981 and the rules and regulations were also introduced for the first time in the First National Championships held from 28 to 29 January 1981.

Performing mallakhamb
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Competitive mallakhamb at the national level first made its appearance in 1958 at the National Gymnastics Championships (NGCs) held at the Pahadganj Stadium, Delhi, India. The Gymnastics Federation of India (GFI) proposed to recognize the game and include it in subsequent NGCs. The first national mallakhamb championships were held in 1962 at Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, as part of the NGCs. Around 1968, the game was introduced in the All-India Inter-University Gymnastics Championships. The national mallakhamb championships were organized annually by the GFI until 1976. In 1977, these mallakhamb championships were removed from the GFI, and no major championship games were held until 1980.[11]

Bamshankar Joshi and other mallakhamb enthusiasts at Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, founded an all-India level organization named the Mallakhamb Federation of India. The first all-India national mallakhamb championships were organized by the new sports association in 1981 from January 28 to 29 at Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. The event brought in representatives from all over India; they participated in these championships and this organisation has been registered on 7 June 1984 as Mallakhamb Federation wide registration number 13752. The national mallakhamb championships have since been organized by different state associations affiliated to this federation.

Competitively, there are several versions but three variations of mallakhamb sport are in practice since 1937:

  1. Pole mallakhamb
  2. Hanging mallakhamb
  3. Rope mallakhamb

All are practiced by both men and women, though pole mallakhamb is more commonly practiced by men and boys, and rope mallakhamb by women and girls.[12] All mallakhamb competitions are organized under the rules made by the Mallakhamb Federation of India, and 28 states are affiliated to the Federation. Himani Uttam Parab won gold medal in rope long set in the first World Mallakhamb Championship 2019.[13]

Variations and specifications

Pole mallakhamb

In this variation, a vertical wooden pole made of teak wood or sheesham is fixed to the ground. The pole is smeared with castor oil, which helps to minimize excessive friction. Participants perform various acrobatic feats and poses while hanging on the pole. Wrestlers mount, dismount, and utilize the pole for various complex calisthenics designed to develop their grip, stamina, and strength in the arms, legs, and upper body.

There are a number of pillars, although the most common is a free-standing upright pole, some eight to ten inches in diameter, planted into the ground. The pole used in competitions is a straight pole made of teak or sheesham wood, standing 2.6 metres (8.5 ft) in height with a circumference of 55 centimetres (22 in) at the base. It gradually tapers to a circumference of 35 centimetres (14 in) at the top.

The specifications of pole mallakhamb are as follows:

Range Height (senior group) Height (sub-junior group)
Above the ground 2600 to 2800 2400 to 2600
Under the ground 800 to 900 700 to 800
Neck 180 to 200 180 to 200
Top 70 60
Total length 3400 to 3700 3100 to 3400
Bottom 530 to 550 480 to 500
Below the neck 300 to 350 300 to 350
Neck 180 to 200 180 to 200
Top 350 300
Note: All dimensions are in millimeters (mm)

Hanging mallakhamb

This type of mallakhamb is similar to pole mallakhamb, but it uses a wooden pole shorter than the standard pole in pole mallakhamb.[14] The pole is hung with hooks and a chain, leaving a gap between the ground and the bottom of the mallakhamb.

The specifications of hanging mallakhamb are as follows:

Range Height
[clarification needed] 1700 to 1900
Neck height 180 to 200
Top height 70
Distance between bottom and ground 650 to 700
Height of the structure 4600 to 4800
Bottom 4500 to 5000
Neck 180 to 200
Below the neck 250 to 300
Note: All dimensions are in millimeters (mm)

Rope mallakhamb

In this variation, the participant performs exercises while hanging on a rope suspended from a support at the top.[15] The rope is typically 5.5 metres (18 ft) long, and approximately 1 to 2 centimetres (0.39 to 0.79 in) in diameter. The rope is caught by the performer in the gap between the big toe and the second toe, along with one or both hands. After climbing upwards on the rope, the performer ties the rope around the body through a sequence of steps. The performer then reaches various positions called Udi ("to fly"), some of which are imitations of standard asana.

Rope mallakhamb was historically performed on a cane, but due to the lack of good cane, a cotton rope is used. Performers are expected to perform various exercises without knotting the rope in any way.

The specifications of rope mallakhamb are as follows:

Dimension Measurement (Senior Group) Measurement (Sub-Junior Group)
Length 6000 to 6500 6000 to 6500
Thickness 18 to 20 12 to 13
Height of the structure 5800 to 6000 5800 to 6000
Note: All dimensions are in millimeters (mm)

Official international organizations

Official Indian mallakhamb sport national organizations

See also


  1. ^ Games, sports and cultures. Dyck, Noel. Oxford: Berg. 2000. p. 96. ISBN 1-85973-312-3. OCLC 44485325.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ Sport in the USSR. - Issues 1-12; Issues 286-297, pp.9
  3. ^ Sport across Asia: politics, cultures, and identities. Bromber, Katrin., Krawietz, Birgit., Maguire, Joseph. New York: Routledge. 2013. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-415-88438-9. OCLC 800447515.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ Kapur, Mallika (September 11, 2017). "Aarifa Bhinderwala: India's pioneering pole dancer". CNN. Retrieved August 15, 2023.
  5. ^ "Mallakhamb – History, Indian Gymnastic Pole, Information In English". Mumbai, India. September 12, 2018.
  6. ^ "Mallakamb: The art of aerial yoga". Hindustan Times. June 11, 2017. Archived from the original on November 14, 2018. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  7. ^ Irwin, John (1983). "The Ancient Pillar-Cult at Prayāga: Its Pre-Aśokan Origins". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. 115 (2): 253–280. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00137487. ISSN 0035-869X. JSTOR 25211537. S2CID 162953368.
  8. ^ "painting". British Museum. Archived from the original on February 15, 2019. Retrieved February 15, 2019.
  9. ^ Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. "Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art". Archived from the original on February 4, 2019. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  10. ^ Agarwal, Deepa (2009). Rani Lakshmibai: the valiant queen of Jhansi. New Delhi: Puffin. ISBN 978-0-14-333084-4. OCLC 666466167.
  11. ^ Ramendra Singh (August 31, 2020). "MP state sport, mallakhamb, makes it to Tokyo Olympics | Bhopal News - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved December 3, 2022.
  12. ^ Holland, Samantha. (2010). Pole dancing, empowerment and embodiment. Houndmills, Balsingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-230-29043-3. OCLC 688185171.
  13. ^ "From Shikhar Dhawan to Ankita Raina: A look at players who won prestigious Arjuna award this year". WION. Retrieved May 9, 2022.
  14. ^ "About Mallakhamb". Tamilnadu Mallakhamb Association. Retrieved December 3, 2022.
  15. ^ "Mallakhamb: Ancient Indian sport". MSN News. India. December 5, 2012. Archived from the original on January 16, 2013.
  16. ^ "India hosts first-ever World Mallakhamb Championship in Mumbai". February 20, 2019.
  17. ^ "India Win Team Event at Mallakhamb World Championship". February 17, 2019.
  18. ^ "Mallakhamb Federation Of India - About MFI". Retrieved April 24, 2023.
  19. ^ "VISHWA MALLAKHAMB FEDERATION". Retrieved April 24, 2023.
  20. ^ "Mallakhamb Federation Of India - World Chapionship". Retrieved April 24, 2023.
  21. ^ "Mallakhamb federation's president resigns over sexual harassment charges". The Times of India. September 20, 2022. ISSN 0971-8257. Retrieved April 24, 2023.
  22. ^ "Mallakhamba | Facebook". Retrieved April 24, 2023.

Further reading