As I mentioned before, weightlifting was the preeminent sport in India from about the 15th Century through the 17th Century, and was a sport in which many people around the country participated far earlier than that. The reason for this, as I also mentioned, is that there exists in India no Cartesian duality, that is to say a separate mind-body relationship, in the minds of Indians, who rather believe that the one is a reflection of the other. Thus, they lifted weights because they literally thought they'd die if they didn't.
"Activity is life, while stagnation is death. Exercise brings healthful activity to every organ, gland, and cell of the body; it makes the entire body actively and radiantly alive with a feeling, energy, and well being that make one so buoyant and alert that you feel like running and jumping.
Exercise is the best insurance against disease or sickness. It builds a fund of resistance of healthy blood-corpuscles, which can attack and overcome any disease germs which come in contact with the body.
Lastly, exercise builds confidence; for there is no road to supreme confidence as sure as the knowledge of one's physical and mental ability. It cultivates power of will and determination; it gives you complete mastery over your physical and mental self; it promotes personal efficiency and all desirable mental characteristics" (Mujumdar xvii)
For the religious amongst you, this should speak fairly strongly to you, for it makes far more sense than most of the bullshit you hear out of "spiritual" people: "You were meant to have a fine looking strong and super healthy body. God cannot be pleased with the ugly, unhealthy, weak and flabby bodies. It is a sacrilege not to possess a fine, shapely, healthy body. It is a crime against oneself and against our country to be weak and ailing"(Ibid).
Though I am rarely so eloquent, that seems to echo my sentiments pretty much exactly, and should resonate with the lot of you as well. This is the type of shit Indians thought before the Brits clipped off their balls and sent them back to join the rest of the crown jewels- they were badasses because they thought they would drop dead on the fucking spot the second they gave up in the effort to become hard as titanium nails, and then they would burn in hell thereafter for pissing off their gods with their suckitude. The crazy thing here is that you'd never expect that sort of attitude out of the Indians these days- certainly, you could see a mustachioed, Rasputin-looking Russian Orthodox priest screaming fire and brimstone at Dmitri Klokov on Sundays, insisting that if he failed to snatch a world record the following week that Jesus would suck out his soul and shit it into the worst hell imaginable, but you can hardly imagine a potbellied Indian defending physical culture with the same vigor. They did, however, and with a vengeance for the better part of a millennium, becoming a nation of legendary wrestlers that were often emulated but never duplicated, like the Bulgarian weightlifting teams of the 1980s and 1990s. That, my friends, is how hard motherfuckers are made, and that's how Indians rose to prominence as the fittest, strongest people on Earth before Western technology fucked India harder than a six year old male swimsuit model at a NAMBLA convention.
Indian exercise methods can be broken down into two distinct types:
Gymnastics: Though Cracked recently blew the butt cheeks off of the concept of yoga as an ancient form of exercise, they weren't really 100% accurate. According to Cracked, "Yoga as we know it today -- a set of postures (asanas) combined with breathing techniques -- dates back to around the grand old year of 1960"(Coville). Hatha yoga has never, in India, been considered to be exercise. Instead, that shit was used by yogis who basically tried to remain still as they starved to death. Hatha yoga dates to the 15th Century and was apparently invented so monks could stand around and just breathe, and was later introduced to the West as a codified series of movements taught by people wearing pastel and speaking with a ridiculous, super-chill affectation in their voice in the mid-1900s. Western yoga is basically a combination of the standing around done by the ancient monks and their breathing exercises with a couple of traditional strength movements added in for fun, which is why people think it's "exercise" I suppose. The strength movements that form the basis of yoga have existed for about a thousand years thousands of years and are considered to be both gymnastics (mallakhamb) and bodybuilding exercises. Most of the movements you see in a yoga class at your gym arise out of basic mallakhamb asanas (postures). Mallakhamb was used by wrestlers and the average people since about the 1100s as a means by which to develop and maintain physical strength without equipment. Over time, the movements expanded in scope and it flourished, then fell from national prominence with as foreign powers took hold of India. There are two distinct types of mallakhamb in its current form, and neither of which is performed on the ground like modern yoga. What you think of as yoga, by the way, is about as much like traditional Indian gymnastics as the broad from Shrek is like Texas Alexis- nothing whatsofuckingever. The postures you assume in yoga are essentially the first baby steps toward doing real mallakhamb asanas, which are postures for which you have to be equal parts high-wire artist, balance beam expert, and loincloth-clad pole dancer. Oh, that's right motherfuckers- they do all that shit on top of a nine foot tall freestanding pole or hanging from a fucking rope .
Quite frankly, it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows much about India to find that Indians traditionally did their "yoga" atop a nine foot high pole while onlookers screamed like they were in the front row of a Metallica concert circa 1987- these motherfuckers have not one, but two individual traditional sports in which they fought horny elephants. Satha-Mari is a "manly sport in which foot-men irritate the intoxicated elephant. In this sport they try to save themselves by tricky moves from the excited elephant"(Mujumdar 296) The other "manly sport involving a horny elephant is Dag-Daree, in which dudes on horseback "try to irritate an intoxicated elephant and save themselves and their horse from the attack of the elephant"(Ibid). Let me repeat that- they fuck with an animal weighing between 4,000 and 11,000 lbs. by yanking on his tail repeatedly, while the animal is in heat, for sport. Try that with a golden retriever and see what happens- I cannot imagine the reaction from a Godzilla-sized stomping machine with massive tusks. If you think that sport is an anomaly in India, you can throw that on top of a pile of other "manly sports" like Vajra-Mushtee wrestling, which is mma with one hand clad in a weapon made of bone that looks suspiciously like brass knuckles; the Thai-style kickboxing in Benares I mentioned previously in which spectators routinely kill each other in hand to hand combat; Lathee fighting, which is basically unprotected stick fighting using a leather-wrapped billy club; Ban fighting, which is the most preposterous sport in this list- it's a massive bottle rocket battle between 100 people wrapped in wet canvas so they don't CATCH ON FIRE; and a whole shitload of armed combat sports with swords and garrotes. Shit was officially off the chain in India before the arrival of the British, so feel free to pee on a Brit if you see one. In any event, it should not surprise you that Indians think yoga's just as fucking stupid as the rest of us do in terms of exercising.
Getting to modern yoga, however, the most prominent of those exercises arose out of some of the oldest movements in traditional Indian exercise- the surya namaskar, or what your hippie friends refer to as the "sun salutation" during their yearly one-week detox from weed.
"Of all the exercises, Indian and foreign, intended to impart health, strength, and longevity, the Surya Namaskar Exercise is the first and foremost. The principal organs which keep the body fit are the brain, the spinal cord, the stomach, the heart, the lungs and the respiratory organs, All these organs and others as well are fully developed and strengthened by Surya Namaskars. If the Surya Namaskar Exercise is scientifically done daily and regularly with proper diet and rest by men and women, old and young, there will be no danger of any disease attacking them. They will enjoy superb health and strength throughout the span of their life. The Surya Namaskar Exercise also makes a body beautiful and with Dands and Baithaks added to it makes it graceful" (Mujumdar xxiii).
The face of patriotism?
The movement was actually invented with Indian cultural and national integrity in mind, as it combines traditional Indian gymnastics movements with meditation and stretching to basically make what the Indians considered the Superman of exercises. Though it seems like a fucking weird concept to modern Westerners, who believe our mind controls our bodies, the Indian lack of dichotomy between the mind and body led them to this conclusion: "In the beautiful and harmonized movements of surya namaskar, [the guy credited with popularizing the movement] clearly saw the harmonized body of a united Indian polity that would turn, collectively, away from the gross sensations of modern life—sex, drugs, power, pride, prosperity— and toward the pure experience of self-realization"(Alter 9-10). Thus, this hybrid movement, however maligned and embarrassing when viewed with modern eyes, was pretty much considered to be an exercise capable of resurrecting Indian pride when it was invented. It consists of ten individual movements, a couple of which are stages of the wacky Indian pushup known as dands. Frankly, I think they should have stuck with anything involving the pillar, as the pillar is the height of baddassitude. In any event, they went with the sun salutation, which goes a long way to explain why India's sucked at lifting ever since.
Even Indian saints are jacked- Samartha Ramdas is a saint in India and used to bust out 1200 surya namaskars perday, as did his disciples, one of whom got so jacked he subjugated the entire nation and founded the Maharatha Empire.
Though it appears at first glance to be exactly the sort of silly bullshit you'd see in yoga, the surya namaskar is actually considered a mass bodybuilding exercise- in other words it's intended to be performed in a large group with the express purpose of building muscle, such as in the military during calisthenics or kids in gym class, etc (Mujumdar 453). A national diet of namaskaras was actually prescribed to strengthen the Indian populace, with the daily regimen set at 25-50 namaskaras for kids aged 8-12, 50 to 100 per day for kids 12-16, 100-300 for people 16 and up. A cursory internet search showed that the maximum number recommended by yoga instructors in the US was 12, which really brings home exactly how far from actual Indian exercise "yoga" actually is. If they weren't so hot in those black pants, I'd say any time is a good time to punch a yoga instructor in the face for besmirching a culture of elephant-taunting bottle-rocket battling MMA fighters.
Up next, I'm going to cover the weightlifting portion, then touch on the Indian hygenic ideals, diet, and whatever else I can wedge into this series. If you haven't caught on yet, an Indian from the 15th Century would have torn your face off and fed it to you while chanting a hymn to Hanuman, just because he didn't like the color of your shirt. These people are to be studied in depth, or we may well meet the same, sad, potbellied fate of modern India.
India still has its redeeming qualities. Too bad their food still sucks.
Alter, Joseph. The Discipline of the Wrestler's Body. The Wrestler's Body: Identity and Ideology in North India. 12 May 1992. California Scholarship Online.
Coville, C. 7 'Ancient' Forms of Mysticism That Are Recent Inventions. Cracked.com. 6 July 2011. Web. 6 Nov 2012. http://www.cracked.com/article_19283_7-ancient-forms-mysticism-that-are-recent-inventions.html
Malinowski, Erik. Wince-Inducing Wonder of Mallakhamb, India’s Extreme Gymnastics. Wired. 20 Aug 2010. Web. 7 Nov 2012. http://www.wired.com/playbook/2010/08/mallakhamb-extreme-gymnastics/
Mujumdar, DC (ed.). Encyclopedia of Indian Physical Culture. 1950.
Vijayakar, Pradeep. Mallakhamb going places but not in India. Times of India. 23 Sep 2004. Web. 7 Nov 2012. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2004-09-23/mumbai/27168669_1_mallakhamb-jutta-schneider-yoga-forum