Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sandow's Dumb Bells of Mylar Rao

Lean boys in the street who showed off their pencil-biceps were teased by seniors "You think you are a Sandow, eh?"  Knitwear shops used to clarify "Sandow or sleeves?" when we went to buy our vests. I used to wear 'Sandow' vests for some years in my early teens.  I never gave a serious thought to this Sandow name in my younger days.  The next I heard the word 'Sandow' was long later, during my friendship in the 1980s with my Anglo-Indian friend Mr.Brown who was nearing 70.  His fondness for Sandow had never faded.  There was a special twinkle in Brown's eye whenever he took the name of Eugen Sandow.  Be it in the context of suggesting me some hand strengthening exercises or any story he had to tell about him, his tone suddenly took an energetic lift when he uttered 'Eugen Sandow'! It was from him that I came to know Eugen Sandow was in fact a very famous body builder in the late 19th century and still admired eight decades later!

[To enlarge, click on images]

Now I can relate. My great grandfather Mylar Rao and Eugen Sandow lived about the same time.  Mylar Rao was born in 1868 and Sandow, a year earlier.  Sandow had a 'premature' end at 58 and Mylar Rao died at 68. Mylar Rao was a fitness freak who was surely inspired by Sandow who had become world renown by 1900 itself.

  One can guess from the upright posture in many old photographs, most of which are when Mylar Rao was 45 plus, about how he had maintained his body.  The photo below shows him sitting to the right of Sirdar M.Kantharaj Urs, the then Diwan of Mysore [circa. 1920], but this does not reveal much!

Mylar Rao's century old diaries are very interesting.  His language is amazing as well and no wonder, because of the British influence in education which he was so fortunate to get here in Mysore!  He often mentions taking long strolls, exercising and bicycling. I show a few pages from his earliest diary of 1898 when he was 30.

This page is a jolly good read.  "I felt very jolly today and was inclined to become a sort of singing bird.  Temperaments are changing. Went out on a long walk of about ten miles in the evening."  
Ten miles is the distance between Mysore and Srirangapatna [16 kms.]!  I have measured that we take roughly ten minutes with a brisk walk to cover about one km.  At this rate he would have walked close to three hours!

"Tennis court, evening stroll, exercise..."

"Tennis, stroll" on the left page; "Long walk and running exercise" on the right.

These are a pair of wooden 'Indian Club bells' of Mylar Rao. In my guesstimate they are from the 1890s, so also the iron dumb bells.  Getting some hints from my elderly colleague Mukunda who was into body building, I too used them for some years, not to become like Sandow, but only to strengthen the arms and shoulder that helped in my cricket.

Here are a pair of cast iron dumb bells.

The next relic is "Sandow's Spring Grip Dumb Bell"
Eugen Sandow himself designed and patented it! 1899.

The above picture is of the tin box lid. Rust has taken its toll.  Mylar Rao must have procured these circa. 1900.

Sandow Patent - imprinted. "Nickel-plated with leather handles".

In the box

These became very well known very soon and became one of the hottest items among the strength equipment of that time.  It consisted of two dumbbell "halves" joined together by a series of springs, meant for crushing together while the rest of the exercises were done. I crush in the picture above.  Springs can be removed to reduce resistance.

Sandow's dumb bells were manufactured in many varieties and styles to suit gentlemen, women, youth and children. Advertisements of Sandow's firm claimed that if they were regularly used in the 'Sandow prescribed' manner, they also improved will power and concentration. This was something new and very appealing at that time.  They were light dumb bells but still amazing results were possible, as Sandow proved.

Besides the club bells and dumb bells Mylar Rao also used a 'Chest Expander' which would have looked like this in this picture I found from the web [yuku]- see the small high tension springs at either end, connected by a 5 tough ropes:

But what remains of it are just these three springs as the equipment had fully tattered away.  Mylar Rao did not pull it hard in anger!

Indian Manohar Aich - nicknamed as Pocket Hercules was Mr.Universe in 1952. He was a mere 4'11" Chest 54" Waist 23" at 97 years of age in 2010 [picture below]. He is still alive, a Centenarian.

Cheap imitation Sandow.

Two years ago, my friend Madhu, a little lean fellow posted a picture of himself for fun on facebook posing like a body builder.  This prompted me to turn to the web and discover about Mr.Brown's idol Eugen Sandow and why he had such a liking.  This is what I found:
[Click here]
It has some beautiful old images, an original 44-second film/video [by Thomas Alva Edison, one of the firsts of Edison!] and information on "The World's First Hulk", Eugen Sandow, strongman and 'body beautiful' from the Victorian times!

Mr.Brown was a great fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and used to relate stories from his works frequently.  Also, Sir Arthur was a friend and dedicated follower of Sandow himself.  W.B.Yeats also was also a Sandow's follower in the same physical training school. Sandow was so famous that King Edward VII and later King George V befriended him.

Charles Atlas and Arnold Schwarzenegger came in later decades!

O==O    O==O     O==O

Some excerpts from the web:

The Prussian-born Sandow’s early career as a circus acrobat led to his first break, touring Europe as ‘The Great Muscular Phenomenon of the Century’. He made a sensational debut in London in 1889, thrilling audiences with his astonishing strength, somersaulting with 56 lb weights in each hand and even raising a grand piano with eight musicians sitting on it.

By 1893 he was pulling in the crowds in America with a daring pièce de resistance in which he supported the weight of a team of horses on his chest. Examined by an anatomist from Harvard, Sandow was pronounced ‘the most wonderful specimen of man I have ever seen’.


Here are some links where biographers have gathered and reviewed books on Sandow, the Father of Modern Body Building.  He was an icon and a widely idolized personality who had devised his own method of physical strength training, [physical culture] diet and several other things.  Sandow was also into other businesses with Sandow cigar, Sandow cocoa, Sandow baking powder, Sandow magazine and of course Sandow dumbbells.

A review in The Telegraph by Miranda Seymour on David Waller's book on Sandow "The Perfect Man". [Click here]
Helen Rappaport who reviewed that book says:  "The cover of David Waller’s entertaining story, with its compelling image of a short, stocky and perfectly formed man with only a strategically placed fig leaf protecting his manhood, leaves us in no doubt about Sandow’s massive appeal to hordes of puny young Victorian and Edwardian men, or the homoerotic power of his photographs today."

"Forgotten newsmakers" [2010].

This is a beautiful compilation - a review to a book released in 2011: [click here]

This link to a pdf takes you to the full collection of Chronological Events in Sandow's life. Very good work. [Click here]

Here is a link where some of the 'old time strongmen' who had their own unique physical training methods. [Click here]

The tips of my middle finger and thumb met around my biceps, but now they do not. :)


Susan Hirneise Moore said...

What a hoot! I had no idea about Sandow or any of this 'physical culture' stuff, Dinu! I repeat: What a hoot! I, in particular, love that the very prim women of that era kept pics of Sandow in their parlors!

Dinakar KR said...

I am so glad that every now and then you provide me with this conscientious stimulus towards our Roots!

Ah, how did the word "Sandow" get so into our Kannada vocabulary of a generation from yesteryear's? "Yeno Sandow antha thilakom bitti dane!" would be the constant inveigling from the uncles and elders in the olden days as one grew up.

Mention of Sandow brings two interesting thoughts a little closer. One was that he was born in Konigsberg. Konigsberg with its many bridges was the start to a resolution of a famous common sense/mathematics problem called the "Konigsberg Bridge Problem" by Euler. This resolution let to the discovery of what is called Graph Theory with its application to many wonderful things. Graph Data Bases are now suddenly looming as the next big thing in computer software.

The second looming thought is that films with Sandow were first brought out by the Edison studios. Yes, Edison is the name of that town that is now on the lips of all Indians. The Indians (from India) have completely usurped the city. It resembles a mini Bombay except that the Patels have also now been replaced by the Telegu Desam. Edison's towering office complexes are in a place called Metropark (also train station name). I happen to visit office there, once a week. ... continued......

Dinakar KR said...

..... continued from previous comment.......

I was curious on how Sandow connected with India and how it might have had a chance to make its way into local references. I found this interesting piece

Your illustrious grandfather's ancestral name is Mylara(iah). My Grandfathers name (father's father) is Mylara Jois. Both of us have connections to 'Mylara'. I am also wondering this Navarathri if 'Mylara....' is the name of a Saint/deity whom both of our ancestors worshiped? My fathers side relate to the village of Banavara near Sringeri. The village was named so after Rama/Lakshmana halted there on their way further south. Hence the name Banavara (one who carries the bow).

Anyway, keep it up, my fiend and brother. You have a very unique disposition and I pray that your pages will always be in the collective memories of eternal mankind.

P.S. Why is there a branch amongst BBC's with the name Jois? (ex: Chief Justice Rama Jois).

Warm Regards,
Vish [from "Parvati" - K.Puttu Rao/K.Srikantaiah - Rama Navami Music]