Ernakulam Gymnasium: A storied hub of Kerala's fitness legacy

The gym was built under the Travancore-Cochin Literary Scientific and Charitable Societies Registration Act, 1955.
Ernakulam Gymnasium
Ernakulam Gymnasium

KOCHI: The Gatta Gusthi sport was at its prime in Kerala between 1945 and 1970. Though the gusthi events were organised in various parts of the state, Kochi was a major sports hub. The last ruler of Cochin provided land in 1946 for the development of gusthi and other sports like gymnastics. Thus began the Ernakulam Gymnasium, one of the oldest gyms in Kerala. 

“In the beginning, it was just a makeshift shed, built near the present Ernakulam South metro station. It was officially established in 1951 and the foundation stone of the present gymnasium was laid by then Kerala governor Dr Ramakrishna Rao in 1957,” says Sibin B, president of the Ernakulam gymnasium and an EREPSI, ISSA-certified fitness coach.

Under the leadership of prominent personalities including, T C Gopala Menon, Sahodaran Ayyapan, Joseph Chakola, Dr B M Ambadi, P M Isaac and Laser Mamballi, on December 27, 1963, the new Ernakulam gymnasium was inaugurated by then defence minister, Y B Chavan.

Former agriculture minister A L Jacob who was the Kerala Sports Council president and founder president of All Kerala Weightlifting Association, was the president in its initial years. The gym was built under the Travancore-Cochin Literary Scientific and Charitable Societies Registration Act, 1955.

Compared to other multi-facilitated gyms, what makes the Ernakulam gymnasium stand out is its meagre fee. Telson Sebastian, 58, is a building maintenance worker and a regular at gymnasium since 15.

“The entry fee is Rs 1000 and we just have to pay Rs 50 monthly. From bank managers to hotel boys, the affordability factor has made it easily accessible to the updated facilities,” he says.  

Retired police officer and a lifetime member of the Ernakulam gym, T G Xavier, was a wrestling champion and has practised in the gym without any monthly fees for almost 3 years as he won matches at the state and national-level contests.

“I have been working out here since 1979. Back then, the entry fee was only Rs 15 and it was just Rs 3 per month. If we won in district-level matches, we didn’t have to pay the fees for two months. If we won at the state level, then we had free access to the gym for an entire year.”

Where it all began

In the 90s especially, the fitness enthusiasts of Kochi heavily relied on Ernakulam gym and interestingly it was a turning point for many.

“In a way, the Ernakulam gymnasium was the base of all other gyms that cropped up in Kochi later. In fact most of the trainers, instructors, and the owners of other gyms in the city received their first lessons from here,” says Sibin. 

The facilities were also sought after by women who were interested in kalari and gusthi. “There has never been an open membership system for women here. In the 1980s, women who participated in college events used to access the facilities under temporary membership,” says Sibin. 

Renowned among fitness aficionados, the Ernakulam Gymnasium stands as a beacon of excellence, with a distinguished roster of Mr India titleholders gracing its membership. They are M S Mohan Kumar, M K Babu, Xavier Joseph, Rabinson, Gifson Williamson, Varghese Ronald and Riju Paul Jose.

Even film actors were drawn to the gymnasium back in the day. The late actor Jayan visit ed the gym for workout and actor Benny Mathew is lifetime member

What’s happening now 

The gym now holds training for cross-sets, powerlifting, martial arts, and even a 15-foot rope climbing facility.

There & Then

Weekly column on historic, iconic places in the city. Send suggestions to xpresskochi@gmail.com.

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