Poles apart? From Wrestling and Mallkhāmb to Pole Yoga

  • Patrick McCartney Nanzan University


Mallkhāmb (malla-khāmba, “wrestler-pole”) is today popularly referred to as “Pole Yoga” and it is recognised as the so-called “Authentic Indian Sport.” However, its history is confusing to trace. Some speculate that the source of pole yoga is neither the Marathi mallkhāmb nor the similar Sanskrit mallastambha, or neither stambha-śrama (“pole-exercise”). Rather, myths of Śiva’s stambha are imagined across dissonant and dislocated biographies, which appear to be poles apart and appear to represent an ever-increasing historical polarity. The aim of this chapter is to provide clarity about, and if possible pin, mallkhāmb’s connections to haṭhayoga’s suite of āsanas (“postures”). This thorough analysis of mallkhāmb’s primary textual sources is based on a close reading of the Mallapurāṇa and Mānasollāsa, through which it is determined that the wrestler’s āsana has very little, if anything at all, to do with the contemporaneous concept of āsana as stretching. Instead, it serves as an integral part of a wrestler’s path towards defeating his opponent.

Author Biography

Patrick McCartney, Nanzan University

Patrick S. D. McCartney (PhD 2016, Australian National University) is a Phoenix Fellow at Hiroshima University, Japan (2023–2026), a Research Associate at Nanzan University, Japan, and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University. He is trained in archaeology/art history, classical philology, sociolinguistics, and cultural-economic anthropology. Some of his more prominent publications include “Politics beyond the Yoga Mat: Yoga Fundamentalism and the ‘Vedic Way of Life’,” “Spiritual bypass and entanglement in Yogaland: How Neoliberalism, Soft Hindutva and Banal Nationalism Facilitate Yoga Fundamentalism,” “Jhirī: A ‘Sanskrit-speaking’ village in Madhya Pradesh,” and “’Sanskrit-Speaking’ Villages, Faith-Based Development and the Indian Census.”

How to Cite
MCCARTNEY, Patrick. Poles apart? From Wrestling and Mallkhāmb to Pole Yoga. Journal of Yoga Studies, [S.l.], v. 4, p. 215 – 270, apr. 2023. ISSN 2664-1739. Available at: <https://journalofyogastudies.org/index.php/JoYS/article/view/JoYS.2023.V4.06>. Date accessed: 21 apr. 2024.