You must read this and take oath to revive tradition of बल & शक्ति. शक्ति पर्व is a favorable time to act. जय माँ!

A note by mitra Aditya Dhopatkar . Do read.

This post is about traditional Indian Akhadas, and I am sharing youtube videos on traditional Indian Akhada culture here.

I extend the post by a frank comparison of the differences in exercise cultures of traditional India and the modern times… comments invited.

Traditional Hindu exercise was quite different from the modern gymming we see today.

1. It was done semi-outdoors; slightly semi-indoors for modesty of the men; slightly outdoors to avoid heat and odours.
Modern gymming focuses on indoor workouts in a high-decibel senseless filmy or Western music (based on your downtownness or upcountryness) airconditioned environment with lights, wasting electricity, sleazy massage sections, locker-room do’s-and-don’ts, deodorants, etc.

2. The focus was on getting both shakti and bal, both of which are translated into strength / power in English. Shakti (physical strength and outward skills) and Bal (spiritual strength, mental strength, purity, ethics, self-control) are different. Under Yoga, Saankhya, Bhakti and Ayurveda, Bal meant something of the sookshma shareer; not merely of the gross body or sthool shareer. There is emphasis on celibacy, abstinence / continence, fidelity and concentration. A lot of Hindu akhadas also were filled with powerful vegetarians who ate saatvik food with lots of nuts / dry-fruits.
In contrast, modern gymming focuses on only will-power and physicality. There is no restriction of what the gymmer does outside, whether he smokes or drinks or not, even whether he is a womaniser or gay or harlot or not (no Talibanic homophobic bias implied here, only talking about wasteful promiscuity here).

3. Hindu exercise was always with invocation to Hanuman. Instruments and the chief of the “Akhada” were worshipped on Vishwakarma Jayanti, Guru Pournima, Hanuman Jayanti, Paaadwa and Vijayadashami. SooryaNamaskaarand ChandraNamaskaar were spiritual exercises, not just physical exercises. Instruments were locally made with organically and locally acquired material like timber trees, locally smelted iron instruments, etc. The Hanuman Chalisa and Gayatri were used in Akhadas. Traditional exercises like Mallakhab and Kabaddi were part of Akhada training too, and we need to protect these traditional skills. Brotherhood amoingst tmembers was encouraged. Seniors took care of juniors.
Swami Samartha Ramdas used this as a base to set up Hanuman-Bhakt Raam-Bhakt Maths (Mutts in SouthIndian-ese) which network helped Shivaji. If this wouldn’t have happened, where were Shivaji’s maavlaa soldiers to come from? It also shows that regardless of caste, there was inclusiveness and this was all of Dharma!
The dust of an akhada had over time acquired a culture of human-friendly bacteria that helped heal wounds by competing with unfriendly bacteria; the akhada member developed a better immunity system too. The members wore nothing other than a langot, which also suppressed libido while protecting the vitals.
But in modern gyms, there is reliance on technology. Nothing wrong, but it means a higher investment for the proprietor and more fees for the gymmer member. Everyone has to wear shoes and, dress / gear have sky-rocketing prices.

4. The Hindu Akhada naturally took care of the human body’s need to have pliability maintained, rotator cuff muscles y regular use of the shoulder club (rotators are most prone to injury and their exercises are taught by only a handful of instructors in modern gyms), toughness of the spine, etc. Many traditional houses treated going to akhadas as a necessary sanskaar to be passed on to sons from fathers. A lot of Hindu households had the same Akhada exercises endorsed into a “sanskaar status”, ritually, by being recommended by the family priest (Brahman) himself, to the batu boy for a lifetime, THAT TOO DURING THE THREAD-CEREMONY ITSELF, as a mode of worship of Soorya Narayan.
Weapons were also taught in many Akhadas, and these were available during Dharma-Suraksha requirements.
Akhadas were the centres for preserving traditional martial arts and sports alike, with the concomitant sportsmanship and competitiveness spirit if handled by a good Guru.
Gurukuls of classical times which had their on-campus Akhadas trained Kshatriya princes to take on real-life competitions vide Swayamwars, Ashwamedha Yandya, etc.
Kusti or wrestling was the ultimate in physical endurance and skill! Today, Haryana, UP and Maharashtra have preserved this traditional culture the most.
Necessary skills like horsemanship, as well as a love for organic farming and welfare of livestock, jeeva-dayaa and use for suppressing the evil in society were all off-shoots of a village which managed its Akhada culture correctly, helping make a graam – a village a self-protective unit.
Another Marathi name that comes up after Swami Samartha Ramdas, is that of Sambhaji Bhide Guruji (who is extremely fit for his octogenarian status), who fused Akhada culture with devotion to Hindavi Swaraajya and preservation of the memory of Sambhaji Maharaj who was tortured- as pressure to accept Islam, but who never gave up Hindu Dharma!
Many women were encouraged to exercise too, but were kept out of akhadas to maintain the unigender Brahmachaarya atmosphere. Yet, women always have been trained by Gurus and other women too, as is evident in the demonstration of continuous 1000-count 12-step Soorya-Namaskaars by a Marathi woman follower to none other than Netaji Bose: Netaji was so impressed, he took her into the Azad Hind Fouj; this is something my late grandmother had told me.
In contrast, gyms have no connection with the outside.
Gymmers listen to songs via their headphones as they work out at cardio. They teach no duty and no gymmer would accept his paid instructor as a Guru either.

5. Traditional Hindu exercise knew the importance of both cardiovascular and stillness. The endurance achieved in akhadas allows an Akhada member to have a strong heart, and he is also encouraged to do Praanaayaam…
In cardio-vascular exercise, the aspirant has to keep his / her heart rate above normal for a period long enough to help his heart muscle get fit; there is a concomitant increase in respiratory rate. This is necessary.
But in Yoga, the focus is on reducing the respiratory rate,which requires reduction is heart rate, which requires reduction in mental activity and curbing of thoughts and impulsiveness too.
There is a return to fashionable Hatha-Yoga, disconnected from Hinduism, in modern gyms today, where Yoga is a milch cow giving money.

I dedicate this post to my late paternal grandfather who was a vegetarian bodybuilder, loving patriarch and an expert at Mallakhaamb.