Mumbai, India

By Vivek Prakash

Mumbai has very few green open spaces. One of them is Shivaji Park, a large field in central Mumbai where people gather to play and practice a variety of sports.



GALLERY: INDIAN POLE GYMNASTICS

Tucked away in a quiet little corner of this park is a small building outside of which you’ll see some interesting performances if you walk past in the early mornings and evenings. There are ropes hung from bars about 20 feet off the ground and wooden poles about 8 feet tall – you’ll see kids suspended from the ropes and climbing up the poles to perform a variety of gymnastic postures that fall into the “can you really do that?!?” category.

This is the Shree Samartha Vyayam Mandir, which has been around for over 80 years, and the sport is called “Mallakhamb.”

The name is a composite of two Indian words – “Malla”, which means “strong man”, and “khamba”, which means a wooden pole.

I’ve always been curious about what exactly the sport is all about, so I met Uday Deshpande – whose day job is at the customs department – but who comes to the park mornings and evenings, seven days a week to conduct Mallakhamb classes. I mentioned that I was interested in doing a story on this amazing sport, and Uday invited me to photograph a number of demonstrations and classes. He told me the sport has been around for a long time – since the 12th century – but became more popular in the mid-1800s and now has a strong following in India.