The Maratha Light Infantry Regimental Centre (MLIRC) has the unique distinction of giving mandatory training for their recruits in Malkhamb, a traditional form of sports popular in Belgaum and the Maharashtra region. Every recruit who gets enrolled with the MLIRC is put through rigorous sessions to master Malkhamb, a treat to watch when performed individually or as a group.
According to Subedar Major Shivaji Mulik, the Malkhamb instructor, the recruits initially find it difficult to get used to the highly-flexible moves needed on the pole. “Recruits from this region are normally well-versed with Malkhamb, but those coming from other parts of India find it tough. It takes two weeks normally for a beginner to get the balance right,” Mulik said.
For the MLIRC, introducing Malkhamb into their curriculum is a way of giving the recruit an opportunity to learn a popular sport of the region. “It brings in freshness and fun. Passing the Malkhamb test is mandatory for every recruit. He has to reach the top of the pole using three grips. This exercise makes the recruits mentally and physically very agile,” he said.
Along with Malkhamb, the MLIRC also trains the would-be-soldiers in Lezim, a folk dance form of the region. “Both Lezim and Malkhamb are traditions from Shivaji Maharaj’s time. Lezim is an entertainment programme performed during Ganhesha and other festivals. The Maratha Regiment draws inspiration from Shivaji’s courageous deeds and hence we want to pass on the tradition to every recruit who joins us,” Lezim instructor Hawildar Dileep Patil said.
For the recruits from Satara, Sangli and Kolhapur, passing the Malkhamb test is said to be an easy task. “Those from Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu struggle with Malkhamb. It is tough, but it’s possible. It’s all about applying the right kind of force at the right time. It’s also about balance. If you have the will, you can twist your body the way you want. You can make it listen,” said Havildar Dadasahib Sutar, Drill Master, MLIRC.
After learning Malkhamb, the recruits are said to have shown improvements in their running skills. “It helps to strengthen the leg muscles. Once you master the art, it’s an addiction,” says Sutar. MLIRC recruits have performed Malkhamb during various military functions across the country. They are also said to be in great demand during all joint training sessions with the foreign armies.