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Vyayam Mandals - A Crumbling Institution

These days, you can see fitness centers and gyms on each corner of your neighborhood. They boast of most modern equipment and promising bulging biceps and washboard flat abs while guaranteeing inch losses and muscle gains in a short time.

All these are focus on sculpted body cult and Adonis Roman physique. But all these gyms target aesthetics of body.


During my childhood such fancy gyms with hefty fees and selling whey proteins and super food bars were not existent. What we had were vyayam Mandals or exercise institutes run by dedicated people. Maharashtra Mandal, Samarth vyayam Mandal, Sanmitra Sangha were a few prominent names.


Six to eight groups with 20 students each used to exercise as a unit called a 'Sangha'. The group leaders were individuals fit young college going lads. The exercise was calisthenics based movements performed together in set of 8 to 10 repetitions. But before that, there was a run of about half a km as warm-up.



Some special units taught different exercises like hand stands, complex somersault cartwheels, mallakhamb, and so on. The mallakhamb was performed on a wooden pole, by clasping the pole with thighs, and contorting yourself to elegantly working on upward climbs.

This art is almost dying, especially in metro cities.This was men's domain and girls used to do rope mallakhamb, which is probably more difficult.


No fancy kits or expensive footwear was used for doing the exercises. Bare feet were used to do the exercise. While we held our movements, the leader instructor would come and correct our postures,arm and feet positions. Occasionally a whack on posterior, was common. Boys who would duck a more difficult manoeuvre by taking time out to use wash room, were made to redo the same.


The one hour exercise was followed by a common assembly where prayer was recited.

On one day in the week, it was games day, where Indian games,like, kabaddi and kho kho were played, sometimes even dodge ball. Kho kho needed extreme endurance ,and running out seven full minutes required extreme stamina.Diving at running opponents to catch him also resulted in injuries, bruises,and cuts. The game demanded craftiness,great team effort, anticipation, pure speed that too in bursts. This would probably outdo modern day's all high intensity interval training sessions. Weight training was also available,but for more seasoned grown ups.


Akhadas playing kustis or wrestling,was pure strength game. Rubbing red clay over the body and battling it out, in the middle of clay pit was for more serious machos. It was not today's mat wrestling, or winning on points,with shoes and special body wear. Akhadas still exist in rural parts of Maharashtra and in big cities like Kolhapur.




I attended Maharashtra Mandal,all throughout my school life, after 5th standard. Shivakaka, Bhalukaka, Ramesh, Bali, all of the Damle clan used to be there, sweating it out with us.They never moved around like owners,with their hands in pockets.


The session would end in assembly for prayers,and sometimes group game like - "Shivaji Mhanato" (Shivaji says). They would distribute, warm katoras of milk ( milk powder made). We didn't have super nutrition bars, and whey proteins, instead, mom would give us a pocket full of peanuts, a piece of jaggery, and few dry coconut kernels. And that was sufficing our protein requirements, for energy, during exercise sessions.


The whole idea of exercising together from childhood,was not only exercising together, but it imbibed, team spirit, camaraderie, respect for our team leaders, and expertise. It taught us social skills, sharing fun, irrespective of social standing,caste ,creed, backgrounds,and resources. All were same when you entered that campus,and even off it. I have known long standing friendships,albeit,different schools, and Family backgrounds, grown on common bond of Mandals.


We didn't come out with bulging biceps, thundering thighs, and open button shirts, flaunting chiseled physique. Nor did we require air conditioned fitness studios environment of wooden flooring, leotards,expensive gear, and rhythm of music. But we came out with overall development of mind, body and soul.


The idea here is not to demean or criticize today's gym system. In fact, with their proliferation, the awareness and urge to look fit and good, is promoting the cult through all strata of society, than yesteryear's.


Nowadays "wellness'" centers are coming up, and no more called as fitness centers, denoting gymming, yoga, relaxation techniques,and nutritional aspects being holistic part of well being, which is extremely good. But not forgetting that they are correction attempts,of our faulty and corrupt lifestyles and dietary blunders. The humble attempt here is to bring out the difference between whole approach,purpose,and goal of physical training and the ultimate goal of this aspect of life.


Keep fit, stay fit,stay healthy.


Disclaimer : Photos are for illustration purposes only. The photographs are not taken by me. Copyrights lie with the original photographers.

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