Mallakhamb mourns loss of yoga guru BKS Iyengar

Mallakhamb mourns the loss of yoga guru B K S Iyengar, who passed away in Pune yesterday

Mallakhamb is the indigenous art of calisthenics on a rope or pole, is heavily influenced by yoga. In fact, Shivaji Park’s Samarth Vyayam Mandir’s director and mallakhamb coach Uday Deshpande says that mallakhamb is simply put, “yoga on a rope or pole.”

A boy demonstrates his balancing skills as he does mallakhamb on a pole
A boy demonstrates his balancing skills as he does mallakhamb on a pole

Explains Deshpande, “Mallakhamb practitioners need balance, skill and agility. Then, you can see that there are a number of asanas like the Padmasana and Shavasana that they practice on top of the pole or while suspended from a rope.”

Uday Deshpande at Shree Samarth Vyayam Mandir
Uday Deshpande at Shree Samarth Vyayam Mandir

Deshpande in fact, was in Pune yesterday, co-incidentally, when B K S Iyengar (96) founder of the Iyengar School of Yoga died in Pune. Says Deshpande, “I have so many memories of guru B K S Iyengar. An era in yoga has ended and it is time for a new chapter. I was always an Iyengar admirer though I have had no formal training in yoga.

It is an Indo-German treaty as Germans practice mallakhamb at Shivaji Park
It is an Indo-German treaty as Germans practice mallakhamb at Shivaji Park

I remember making trips to Pune when I was two-years-old or thereabouts. My mother would take me to visit her father (my maternal grandfather). I would watch my grandfather do Iyengar yoga early in the mornings and try to mimic what he was doing even at that age!” laughs Deshpande.

Childhood contortions translated to mallakhamb practice, as Deshpande grew older. Deshpande always wanted to meet the yoga teacher. “Nearly 40 years ago, I met him at his institute which he had just started in Pune. Then, of course, I met Iyengarji several times and I remember him always tremendously busy either writing books or teaching students.

Yet even with all that hectic activity, he always made time to meet me. He once presented me a book he had written. I remember that book becoming my bible.” Deshpande added that Iyengar would usually talk about yogic concepts, the beginning of yoga and the like in his discussions with him.

Shivaji Park locals will be familiar with the Samarth Vyayam Mandir. Some of them might remember participating in camps there, while they were children. For walkers and joggers, it is a long-standing squat structure from which emerge periodically mallakhamb enthusiasts, who shimmy up mallakhamb ropes and poles with unnerving ease.

As the morning sun shines down, these mallakhamb students do balancing acts on the apparatus, earning a quick applause or admiring glance from joggers who are circling the periphery, under merciless mercury. Occasionally, the Vyayam Mandir hosts functions and celebrations.

One such function was held in 1998, which commemorated the 100 year birth anniversary of one P L Kaleji, Deshpande’s guru. Says Deshpande, “We brought down B K S Iyengar as Chief Guest for that. It was such a golden moment.

As mallakhamb was earlier used as a base in wrestling, Kaleji was known as the Vyayam Maharishi, which would literally translate into guru of gurus of wrestling. Having B K S Iyengar at Shivaji Park at the function, led people to say, the Yoga Maharishi celebrates the birth centenary of the Vyayam Maharishi,” said Deshpande recollecting the flavour of the landmark event.

In fact, mallakhamb has a lot to thank Iyengar yoga for. Today, Indo-German mallakhamb collaboration is going strong (incidentally, this reporter has dubbed it as Dadar meets Deutschland) with Samarth Vyayam practitioners travelling to Germany to spread the art of mallakhamb every year and German teams coming to Shivaji Park to learn more about this Indian art. “This is because the Yoga Forum in Germany, which first invited us there, has a founder called Reinhart Bugle, who is a staunch follower of Iyengar yoga and lived in Pune,” stated Deshpande.

One standout quality that Deshpande remembers about the yoga guru is, “He differed from other teachers, because he backed up theory with practice. He used to demonstrate the asanas himself, not just use theory to explain,” said Deshpande who believes that Iyengar yoga will live on, given the way it has spread overseas, its huge popularity and the network it has put down all through the country.

This is not a one man show, his work is carried on by his daughter Geeta and the disciples he trained to be perfectionists, “just like him” signs off Deshpande, even as he props up a young mallakhamb student in a perfect Padmasana pose atop the mallakhamb pole, as a tribute to the behemoth BKS Iyengar, who used to tell people, “live happily, die majestically.”

About B K S Iyengar
B K S Iyengar, or Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar (December 14, 1918 to August 20, 2014), founded the style of yoga known as 'Iyengar Yoga' and was considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world. Iyengar was one of the earliest students of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is often referred to as 'the father of modern yoga'.

B K S Iyengar, live happily, die majestically, he used to say
B K S Iyengar, live happily, die majestically, he used to say

After modern yoga had arisen from the teachings of Krishnamacharya, it was Iyengar who established it. He has been credited for establishing and popularizing yoga firstly in India and then around the world. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1991, the Padma Bhushan in 2002 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014. In 2004, Iyengar was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.

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