Poles apart? From Wrestling and Mallkhāmb to Pole Yoga
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.