Friday, 6 December 2013

When Hitler appreciated Malkhamb

These days, we are seeing a tug of war between the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The dispute between the two associations has nothing to do with any sport or sportsman but with sports administrators.
Both of them are sticking to their stand and the only losers will be sportsmen and not administrators and officials. One of the most shattering effects of the dispute is that sportsmen would not be allowed to participate under the Indian flag. If at all they are allowed to participate they can do so under the Olympic flag.
What this means is that our national anthem, Jana Gana Mana, will probably not be played in case our sportsmen emerge victorious in various Olympic events.
Strangely, the only time when Jana Gana Mana was not played in the Olympics was when India did participate but as a colony of the British till it became Independent in 1947. After 1947, the national anthem has been played at the Olympics. But did you know that the national song, Vande Mataram, has been played at the Olympics much before the Jana Gana Mana and that too when India was a colony of the British. India too had sent a contingent of athletes but they were all participating as a colony of the British. The Indian contingent comprised the hockey players whop were led by the redoubtable Dhyan Chand. Suffice to say, India won the hockey gold and Hitler was suitable impressed with the dribbling skills of Dhyan Chand.
However, what took Hitler’s breath away and left him highly impressed was a group of Indians who demonstrated the art of Malakhamb. The 35-member contingent of Malkhamb artistes from Amravati town in Maharashtra participated in the Olympics under a saffron flag when they marched behind the official Indian delegation.
During the course of the opening ceremony, a grand dinner was held by the organisers (Germany) and all the teams were invited. The athletes and officials of  each country stood to attention when their countries national anthem was played. When the Indian contingent was welcomed, they stood to attention when the British anthem was played.    
However, the 35-member Malkhamb team remained seated when the British national anthem was played. The then Education Minister of Germany, Bernhard Rust, asked the group why they did not rise when the British national anthem was played.
The Amaravati team replied that they considered Vande Mataram their national anthem. Rust asked if they were carrying a recording with them. When the Amaravati team said yes, they were carrying a recording of the anthem, Rust asked them to hand it over to the organisers who then played, Vande Mataram.
Thus, Vande Mataram was played at the Olympic banquet ceremony and this was decades before Jana Gana Mana.
A few days later, the Amaravati team, all of whom came from  an organisation called the Hanuman Prasarak Mandal, displayed acrobatic moves at malkhamb exercises. Newspapers across Germany and Europe wrote about the performance.
Word soon reached Hitler, who invited the team over for an interview. He spoke to the members and appreciated them and gave them medals.  
Even today, the descendents of the Amravati team that had been to the Olympics have photographs and medals of the event.

Today, this achievement is almost forgotten and the 1936 Olympics is best remembered as the one in which Jesse Owens triumphed and put Hitler to shame. But isn’t it a shame that a large number of Indians have forgotten an important slice of their history.   

1 comment:

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