ANDHRA PRADESH

`Gladiators' wrestle with uncertain future

IN THE FACE OF DANGER: A Mala Mashti man facing a charging ram during a punlic show in a village near Seethanagaram in East Godavari district.

IN THE FACE OF DANGER: A Mala Mashti man facing a charging ram during a punlic show in a village near Seethanagaram in East Godavari district.  

B.V.S. Bhaskar

KORUKONDA (EAST GODAVARI): Roman history tells us of gladiators who used to fight men and beasts at public shows. In today's world, too, one can find such men.

Mala Mashtis, who live on the outskirts of Korukonda town, (30 km from Rajahmundry) risk their lives by exposing their bare chest for a ram to slam into with full force. They hit a 50-kg object into the air with their shoulders and somersault and vault without the support of a pole. Sometimes they do this trick in a pit with a 100-kg rice bag tied to each shoulder.

In the king's army

Mala Mashti and Madiga Mashti communities are nomadic communities that have survived for over 300 years by putting on show their martial arts. Krishnadevaraya had recruited soldiers from among the men of these communities, who stand enormous at 6 ft 5 to 7 ft high and weight 100 to 150 kg.

Mala Mashtis, who now live in a low-lying area near Korukonda, have even preserved one of the copper plates given to their ancestors by Krishnadevaraya, who certified them as dedicated soldiers of his army.

Mala Mashtis now depend entirely on the Mala community. They go to villages, visit the Mala families, and exhibit their skills in the SC colony. The old generation is on the deathbed, disabled and in pain. The younger generation is in transition and their future is uncertain.

No relief

After four years of agitation, with the help of the social worker Soorisetty Bhadram and Kaki Barnisala, of their community, Mala Mashtis got a piece of land and all 63 families now live there. "No one is concerned about our lives or our future. Only two of our community go to college and another five to school. We have no permanent shelter," said 80-year-old Patti Venkanna who lost his legs in one of the shows.

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