Uday Deshpande, Mallakhamb Guru, is a man on a mission. Passionate about his belief in ‘Samartha Bharat, Sashakt Bharat’ and a healthy Globe ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’, he introduced Mallakhamb, the traditional Indian physical practice to millions around the world.
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It was in the early 1970’s that the then 18-year-old Uday pledged to dedicate his life to revive, revitalise and propagate Mallakhamb. He knew that it contained the magic formula that could almost completely satisfy the human quest for vigour, vitality and eternal youth and Deshpande worked with fervour and focus to this end. Cognizant of the unique ability of the sport to use all major, minor and macro-minor muscle groups, without exerting undue pressure on the heart, he viewed Mallakhamb as a wonder sport with its unfailing formula of health and fitness. This, he believed, would be India’s gift to the world.
His first step was teaching students at Shree Samartha Vyayam Mandir (SSVM), a pioneering sports institution, established in August 1925, in Mumbai. This Charitable trust thrived under his leadership bringing thousands out to exercise. He conducted Mallakhamb demonstrations with workshops, offering detailed descriptions of its health benefits. He slowly broke barriers of urban-rural, normal-challenged, young-old, bringing everyone together on the exercise ground.
Uday Deshpande took Mallakhamb outside the mainstream to orphans, delinquents and the differently-abled, especially making a mark with visually-challenged boys and girls. The opportunity to climb the pole/rope, to those who were hitherto never allowed physical activity, opened whole new horizons. Improved mobility resulting in better appetite, sleep, and weight control enriched their quality of life. Aggression was channelized. The courage, confidence, improved self-esteem, helped several such students scale the heights of success. Mallakhamb workshops across India for marginalized Adivasis and Vanvasis gave them good health and a sense of achievement. Today, Uday Deshpande is the chief coach of JSW Projects and guides teachers from 50 tribal schools, to teach Mallakhamb.
At the time when exercise was the social norm for men, Uday Deshpande brought women into the exercise ethos. This ensured exposing entire families to the exercise culture besides improving their strength, stamina and attention. Gender bias was challenged and equality ensured.
Unlike western exercise systems which require expensive equipment and large space, Uday Deshpande highlighted the benefits of exercising on one pole/rope. He took the rich Indian physical culture tradition to the youth and developed in them a sense of national pride. He reached out to a diverse population of adults. Artists, circus performers, yoga enthusiasts, jawans, commandos flocked to Mallakhamb to become flexible, strong and fit. Uday Deshpande himself travelled to almost every district, every state in India, establishing and rejuvenating several Mallakhamb centres. Mallakhamb Associations were formed and its visibility increased manifold.
Competitions were used as an important medium of outreach. Their primary goal was health awareness as Mallakhamb players did not receive any monetary benefits then. Uday Deshpande instituted competitions and encouraged sportspersons to play competitive Mallakhamb, resulting in improved health, positive occupation, improved productivity of children and youth and better public health.
His writing and talks brought foreigners from 48 countries to SSVM to learn Mallakhamb. Uday Deshpande used every opportunity to promote this exercise culture overseas, making Mallakhamb training a regular feature, creating global coaching facilities across six continents and reaching millions.
A force multiplier, Uday Deshpande has created generations of students, who became passionate honorary teachers like him. He introduced education pedagogy to Mallakhamb, encouraged research and designed ‘Teachers Training Courses’ for the rapid spread of expertise, from District to International Levels. One lamp has lit several others, assuring continuity in work.
A Ted speaker, Uday Deshpande has effectively showcased the immense value that India has to offer the world through Mallakhamb. He has meticulously documented all that happens in the field and has thus created a body of knowledge ensuring that the History, the Science and the Art of Mallakhamb will be available for posterity. Through this, his message is loud and clear – Practice Mallakhamb to create a healthy, thriving world.
Health through Mallakhamb is a goal that has consumed his life. This once non-glamorous, less-known sport, often tagged a ‘game of the poor’, which had been made obscure by colonization, has grown to international acclaim, thanks to his tireless efforts. It is today the state game of Madhya Pradesh and the Central Government has given grants to develop over 100 Mallakhamb centres nationwide. Needless to say, Uday Deshpande has received many awards from the government of Maharashtra and other National and International Institutions.
With unflagging zeal, he has rendered more than 50 years of Honorary service to the society. Previously employed with Customs and Central Excise, he retired as Deputy Commissioner in 2013. Today at 70, he continues to be unstoppable in his aim to get the world to adopt Mallakhamb as the means to elevate humankind, to help human potential to unfold and evolve, and to reach new heights.
To lose health is to lose life. Understanding this, Uday Deshpande brought the magic of Mallakhamb to the world of health and fitness. Given the extremely fast-paced life of today, he was aware that people needed an engaging exercise, that has immense benefits in a relatively short time. From a few hundreds and on to millions, he was instrumental in getting people to practice Mallakhamb. A direct outcome of this were health benefits at the level of the individual and a strong and fit community, thus achieving his goal of health for all and an increased quality of life for humankind.
In the span of 50 years, thousands of Mallakhamb training camps were conducted in India, reaching across socio-economic groups to those most marginalized. Uday Deshpande taught children, the visually challenged, Divyangjan children with special needs, orphans, adivasis, vanvasis and tribals, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and across six continents to spread the message of ‘health through Mallakhamb’. Permanency and consistency in this practice is his significant contribution. His work with those differently-abled resulted in immense cognitive, emotional and physical development, and improvement in self-esteem and self-control. His work with children from Arunachal Pradesh not only took the health message to the remotest corner of India, but also helped in mainstreaming and national integration.
Traditionally it was believed only children could learn Mallakhamb. Uday Deshpande coached adults and senior citizens for the first time. He broke glass ceilings and welcomed girls and women into the male-dominated sports arena, thus indirectly impacting the health of the women and their families. He also broke the social taboos of the hitherto male bastion of pole Mallakhamb by encouraging women to perform on the pole as well. Inclusivity was integral to his aim of ‘Health for all’ through Mallakhamb.
Lose a tradition and you lose identity. Colonization had wiped out the rich Indian traditions and culture of physical development. Several Indian sports were becoming obscure. Yoga gradually revived, but Mallakhamb was on the verge of dying out. The rebirth and transformation of Mallakhamb from a little-known sport to one that has a global presence is a huge social contribution of Uday Deshpande. His visionary approach and missionary hard work, helped Mallakhamb broadened its base all over the country and now globally too. He created a mass appeal for the sport and several young boys and girls are choosing Mallakhamb as an attractive and cost-effective exercise, competitive sport.
Mallakhamb exercises every part of the body, including the sinews, joints and the vertebral column, it develops powerful wrists, strong forearms and muscular biceps and triceps, the neuromuscular co-ordination sets tone to the ligaments of the spine, vertebral column, knees, elbows, ankles, neck and shoulders. Along with good health and physique, mental health benefits such as attention, concentration, focus, emotional intelligence, planning, goal-setting and positive thinking with a peaceful and calm mind are direct outcomes.
Uday Deshpande’s contribution goes beyond just teaching the sport and includes meticulous documentation and building a body of work to be available for posterity.
Impact of the work
Uday Deshpande introduced the magic of Mallakhamb, the health and fitness benefits of traditional Indian physical practice to millions around the world.
He conducted several Mallakhamb demonstrations with workshops, describing its health benefits, breaking barriers of urban-rural, normal-challenged, young-old, and bringing everyone together on the exercise ground.
He took Mallakhamb to the doorstep of orphans, delinquents, differently-abled, and visually challenged, enriching their quality of life. Aggression was channelized. The courage, confidence, and improved self-esteem, helped several such students scale the heights of success.
Mallakhamb workshops across India for marginalized adivasis and vanvasis gave them good health and a sense of achievement. Today, Uday Deshpande is the chief coach of JSW Projects and trains teachers from 50 tribal schools.
He brought women into exercise ethos. Introduced Pole Mallakhamb for girls. In a society where males are exclusively privileged to experience outdoor play, female participation in Mallakhamb increased. Entire families came to the exercise culture improving strength, stamina and attention. He promoted Gender Equality
The number of Mallakhamb Centres grew from a few to thousands in 50 years in all Districts in Maharashtra and States in India. Crossing the borders, Mallakhamb has reached to 6 continents, 48 countries, and 5000 foreign nationals.
Thousands of students, their parents, elderly got an opportunity to climb, swing, suspend…., the movements generally denied by the modern environment, yet enjoyed. Exercising the spine around Mallakhamb, the key to health promoted a healthy lifestyle, and improved community health.
Training the trainers
He trained several teachers, who reached several others simultaneously, speeding up the process of health gains. This ensured continuity in honorary service to the society.
Western exercise systems with expensive equipment and large space, were considered to be the best form of workout. Uday Deshpande highlighted the benefits of exercising on one pole/rope. He took rich Indian physical culture traditions to the youth and developed a sense of national pride in them.
He created a body of knowledge through extensive writing, translated into several Indian and foreign languages. He encouraged research and designed Teachers’ Training Courses for the rapid spread of expertise. His meticulous documentation has created a body of knowledge ensuring it will be available for posterity.
Gift of Mallakhamb
Mallakhamb once upon a time tagged as the ‘game of the poor’ is now promoted by many States, Government of India and has reached international acclaim.
समर्थ भारत, सशक्त भारत’ 'वसुधैव कुटुंबकम'
A true movement towards ‘समर्थ भारत, सशक्त भारत’ ‘वसुधैव कुटुंबकम‘ has begun, due to sacrifices of Uday Deshpande.