‘Gladiators’ fighting for survival
Men from Mala Mashti and Madiga Mashti communities showcase their martial art skills and strength for a living
This nondescript hamlet in East Gonagudem located on the outskirts of Korukonda mandal headquarters, about 30 km from Rajahmundry, is home to two nomadic communities — Mala Mashti and Madiga Mashti — who survived for over 300 years by showcasing their martial art skills.
Like Roman gladiators who fought men and beats in the arenas to entertain people, men from the Mala Mashti and Madiga Mashti communities are known for their excellence in the art of fighting. While the Roman gladiators are now confined to the pages of history, men from these communities still continue to showcase their martial art skills and strength, albeit for a living.
The unique skills of these men include prompting an adult ram to slam into their bare chest at full speed, throwing a 50-kg object into the air with a shoulder nudge and performing multiple somersaults without the support of a pole.
In the emperor’s army
It is believed that the legendary emperor Sri Krishnadevaraya had recruited men from these communities as soldiers in his army for their sheer strength and endurance. It is said the men used be well over 6 feet tall and weighed anywhere between 100 and 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 Sri Krishnadevaraya, who certified them as dedicated soldiers of his army.
However, as time went by things have become difficult for the communities and they now depend entirely on the Mala communities for their daily bread. They exhibit their skills in various SC colonies for a living. While men from the older generation are now bed-ridden with injuries and disability, the younger generation is in a state of flux and their future looks uncertain.
The Mala Mashtis, after four years of agitation and with the help of social workers Soorisetty Bhadram and Kaki Barnisala, of their community, got a piece of land where the existing 63 families live.
“No one is concerned about our lives or our future. Only two from our community have enrolled for post-graduation and another 20 are going to school. We have no permanent shelter,” says Malisetty Lakshmana Rao, who is the first graduate from the community in the last 300 years.