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Sports

The history of sports in India dates back to the Vedic era. Physical culture in ancient India was fed by a powerful fuel–religious rites. There were some well-defined values like the mantra in the Atharva-Veda, saying,” Duty is in my right hand and the fruits of victory in my left”. In terms of an ideal, these words hold the same sentiments as the traditional Olympic oath: “……For the Honour of my Country and the Glory of Sport.”
Badminton probably originated in India as a grownup’s version of a very old children’s game known in England as battledore and shuttlecock, the battledore being a paddle and the shuttlecock a small feathered cork, now usually balled a “bird.” In the area of recreation and sports India had evolved a number of games. One would be surprised to know today that games like, Chess, Snakes and Ladders, Playing Cards, Polo, the martial arts of Judo and Karate had originated as a sport in India and it was from here that these games were transmitted to foreign countries, where they were further modernized. It is more than likely that many of today’s Olympic disciplines are sophisticated versions of the games of strength and speed that flourished in ancient India and Greece. Chess, wrestling, polo, archery and hockey (possibly a fall-out from polo) are some of the games believed to have originated in India.
Hockey, in which India has an impressive record with eight Olympic gold medals, is officially the national sport. Other popular games are football, cricket, basketball, volleyball and badminton. Cricket has become a very popular game in India. After the IX Asian Games in New Delhi in 1982, the capital city now has modem sports facilities. Such facilities are also being developed in other parts of the country. Besides sports and games included in the international sporting agenda, there are many which have developed indigenously. Among these are wrestling and several traditional systems of martial arts.
In early India, games and sports were very much concerned about the development of the physique and for the art of offence and defense. Also games were considered a kind of recreation, which played a vital role in the development of a man’s personality. Important of them included indoor games, music, fishing and boating, singing and dancing, water sports, etc. India has a rich heritage of these activities as can be found in the archaeological excavations of Mohenjadaro and Harappa, the Vedic literature, The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Puranas, the literary works of Kautilya, Kalidasa, Panini and Dandin as well as a whole lot of Buddhist and Jain literatures. Various archaeological evidences like coins, inscriptions and monumental carvings support them.
Several games now familiar across the world owe their origins in India, particularly, the games of chess, ludo (including ladders and snake), and playing cards. The famous epic Mahabharata narrates an incidence where a game called Chaturanga was played between two groups of warring cousins. The age when epic Mahabharata was written is variously dated around 800 BC to 1000 BC. In some form or the other, the game continued till it evolved into chess. H. J. R. Murry, in his work titled A History of Chess, has concluded that chess is a descendant of an Indian game played in the 7th century AD. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that we find the best authorities agreeing that chess existed in India before it is known to have been played anywhere else.
The game of cards also developed in ancient India. Abul Fazal was a scholar in the court of Mughal emperor Akbar. In his book, Ain-e-Akbari, which is a mirror of life of that time, records game of cards is of Indian origins.Martial arts by the name of Kalaripayattu were a native of Kerala. Kalaripayattu consists of a series of intricate movements that train the body and mind.
Indus valley civilization (3250 BC to 2750 BC)
A statuette found in the Mohenjadaro remains is that of a dancer, which points out that the important pastime of the people then was dancing and singing. The other important game was swimming which has strong evidence as to the presence of the “Great Bath” which is analogous to the present day modem swimming pool. Marbles, balls and dice were used for games and dicing was the important game as is evident from lots of dices unearthed. Besides, a type of board game resembling the modem chess was also prevalent. A cylindrical gamesman resembling the present-day game of Draught has also been excavated at Harappa.
Hunting was the next important game. Seals showing men using bows and arrows for killing wild boars and deers have been found. Punching or boxing was also played. A number of toys of children made of clay have been found which shows that children engaged themselves with lots of games.
Vedic period (2500 BC-600 BC)
The Vedic women received a fair share of masculine attention in physical culture and military training. The Rigveda tells us that many women joined the army in those days.
A form of chariot race was one of the games most popular during the Vedic period. People were fond of swinging. Ball games were in vogue in those days by both men and women. Apart from this, a number of courtyard games like” Hide and seek” and “Run and catch” were also played by the girls. Playing with dice became a popular activity. The dices were apparently made of Vibhidaka nuts. From the Rigveda, it appears that the Vedic Aryans knew the art of boxing.
Early Hindu period (600BC-320BC)
The Ramayana People took much interest in games during this period. Ayodhya, Kiskindha and Lanka the three great places related with this period were centers of many games and sports. Chariot -riding and horse- riding were popular. Hunting was taken as a royal sport. Swimming was also popular and it is learnt that Ravana had a beautiful swimming pool in Asoka Vatika where he used to sport. Gambling with dices was also well known. “Chaturang” or chess as we call it today developed during this period and India is proud to be called the homeland of this great sport. Ball games were popular with the women.

The Mahabharata
Special mention has been made of games and gymnastics during this period. Jumping, arms contracting, wrestling, playing with balls, hide and seek, chasing animals were some of the games prevalent during this period. Ball games were popular and it is said that Lord Krishna played ball-games with maidens on the banks of the Yamuna.” Iti-Danda ” or “Gullidanda” was also one of the games played and it involves one long and one short stick. Bhima was well versed in this and this is similar to the present day cricket. There is also a mention of the Kauravas and the Pandavas playing Gulli Danda in the Mahabharata.
Yudhistar had a great liking for dicing and it is known that he lost his whole kingdom, his brothers and his wife in this game to his opponents. People also enjoyed water sports. Bhima was a great swimmer. Duryodhana was an expert in swimming. All the Pandava and Kaurava princes, on the invitation of Duryodhana, went to the ganges for some water games. During the era of the Rigveda, Ramayana and Mahabharata, men of a certain stature were expected to be well – versed in chariot – racing, archery, military stratagems, swimming, wrestling and hunting. Excavations at Harappa and Mohenjodaro confirm that during the Indus valley civilization ( 2500 – 1550 B.C ) the
weapons involved in war and hunting exercises included the bow and arrow, the dagger, the axe and the mace.
These weapons of war, for instance, the javelin (toran) and the discus {chakra), were also, frequently used in the sports arena. Lord Krishna wielded an impressive discus or sudarshan chakra. Aijuna and Bhima, two of the mighty Pandavas, excelled in archery and weightlifting respectively. Bhimsena, Hanuman, Jamvanta, Jarasandha were some of the great champion wrestlers of yore. Women also excelled in sport and the art of self – defence, and were active participants in games like cock fighting, quail fighting, and ram fighting.
The Puranas
The use of Discus was very popular. At times, the attack of sword was also rendered useless by the discus. The Munda monster is said to have used it. Rope fighting or Pasi-yuddha was also prevalent. The rope was the main weapon of some of the Gods and because of the use of rope, Varuna is called Pasi. The art of using silambu or long sticks, lathi and slings was also taught during this period.
Buddhist and Jain Literatures
The game of chess is found mentioned in the canonical texts of Jainism. Chess was found prevalent in the campus of Nalanda. Archaeological excavations have found gambling dice in monasteries and other Buddhist sites. Another item of amusement was swimming. The Viharas offered the pleasure of bathing pools. Boxing was also popular. With the flowering of Buddhism in the country, Indian sport reached the very
peak of excellence. Gautam Buddha himself, is said to have been an ace at archery, chariot – racing, equitation and hammer – throwing.
Jataka stories
Archery is found mentioned in the Jataka stories. The Bhimsena Jataka tells that Boddhisatva learnt archery at Takshila. Wrestling was popular and descriptions of such breath-holding bouts in wrestling are available in the Jataka stories. Two kinds of games called Udyana Krida or garden games and Salila Krida or water sports are also mentioned.
In Villas Manx Manjri, Tiruvedacharya describes many of these games in detail.
Later Hindu Period (320AD-1200 AD)
Great Universities like Takshila and Nalanda developed during this period. Takshila was famous for military training, wrestling, archery and mountain- climbing. In Nalanda, swimming, breathing exercises and yoga formed an integral part of the curriculum. Harshavardhana, of the Gupta dynasty was a great sportsman and he encouraged his subjects as well. Another great contemporary of Harsha, Narasimha
Mamallah, the Pallava ruler was also a great wrestler. Archery was also popular among the women during this period, as can be seen
from the Ahicchatra images. Hunting, elephant fighting, ram fighting, and partridge fighting were the other important games of this period.
In Manasollasa – 1135 AD. – Someshwara writes at length about bharashram (weight lifting), bharamanshram (walking), both of which are established as Olympic disciplines at present, and mall -stambha, a peculiar form of wrestling, wherein both contestants sit on the shoulders of their ‘seconds’, who stand in waist – deep water throughout the game.
The renowned Chinese travelers Hieun Tsang and Fa Hien wrote of a plethora of sporting activities. Swimming, sword – fighting ( fencing, as we know it today ), running, wrestling and ball games were immensely popular among the students of Nalanda and Taxila.
Mughal period (after 1200AD)
In the 16th century, a Portuguese ambassador who visited Krishnanagar was impressed by the range of sports activity, and the many sports venues, in the city. The King, Krishnadevraya was an ace wrestler and horseman, himself. The Mughal emperors were keen hunters of wild animals and avid patrons of sports, especially wrestling. The Agra fort and the Red Fort were the popular venues of many a wrestling bout, in the times of Emperor Shahjahan.

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