The history of Indian sports is believed to be 8000 years old, from the time of Indus Valley civilization. Many pieces of evidence suggest that Indus people played an early form of chess and invented dice. India is also the origin of many traditional sports/games like snakes & ladders, playing cards, martial arts of judo and Karate etc.
Ancient History of Indian Sports
In and around 975 B.C. the love for chariot-racing and wrestling was common in both in India and Greece, where Olympic was first introduced.
In Vedic India, dehvada or the body-way is defined as “one of the ways to full realization”. In times of Rig-Veda, Ramayana and Mahabharata, the men of stature and circumstance got competent with each other in chariot-racing, archery, horsemanship, military tactics, wrestling, weight-lifting, swimming and hunting.
From the time Indian vedic history is recorded, the relationship between the Guru (teacher) and his student (hisyo) has been considered as an integral part in history of Indian sports.
Sports in India reached new heights when Buddhism came into practice. Tiruvedacharya in Villas Mani describes many fascinating games. They are archery, equitation, hammer-throwing and chariot-racing.
During Manas Olhas (1135 A.D.), Someshwar writes about Bhrashram (modern day weight-lifting), Bhramanshram (walking in today’s time) and also about Mall-Stambha (the sport of wrestling).
Once can easily notice that today’s Olympic disciplines are sophisticated versions of ancient games played in India. Chess, wrestling, polo, archery and hockey (possibly an alter version of polo) are some of the games believed to have originated in India, and a part of the great history of sports in India.
History of Indian Sports during the Vedic Era
The history of Indian sports can traced back to our vedic age. During the era of Ramayana & Mahabharata, around 1900 BC – 7000 BC, men of status & honour were expected to be competitive in sports like Archery, horsemanship, wrestling, weight-lifting, swimming & hunting.
One of the Vedas, Atharvaveda, written 3000-3200 years back says “Duty is in my right hand and the fruits of victory in my left”. It essentially holds the same sentiment of traditional Olympic oath
“For the honour of my country (Duty) and the glory of sport (fruits of victory)” – Olympic Oath excerpt
History of Indian Sports- Buddhism
When we talk about history of Indian sports Buddhism was a key in spreading the culture of sports and health in most parts of northern India.
During Peshwa Bajirao reign after 700 years, this sport got wide publicity. The writings of Manas-Olhas also included archery (dhanurvidya or dhanur vinoda), duels with weapons (anka vinoda), and a game played on horses (vajivahyali vinoda).
Mughals were an avid fan of the game of polo and when they came to India they brought the game with them which became popular with many royalties. Not just polo, but the kings also embraced wrestling and boxers as a sport. One of the greatest personalities of India, Swami Vivekananda once said
“You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita”
Vivekananda was himself a fencer, boxer, gymnast and swimmer which was enough to understand the importance of sports and how it can improve lives.
History of Indian Sports during the British Era
In 1721 AD, a bunch of British sailors decided to play a game of cricket on India’s western seaboard, Cambay. Cricket became the first English sport introduced in India.
Our elites used to learn cricket in schools before independence era and the grassroots audience used to replicate it turning the game into a religion now. The game of Polo transformed into a rule based form in Manipur during 19th century. Later it found its path to Europe & North America in 21st century.
Mohun Bagan, the oldest football club, was established in 1889 AD. It grew from strength to strength after 1911 when Bengal crowd reacted to British jibes in a physical culture movement leading to a win in the Indian Football Association final. India has been a world champion at some point in Cricket, Kabbadi, Chess, Hockey, Wrestling, Billiards & Badminton.
We have won 28 medals since we first competed as a team in Olympics, 1920. Out of nine gold medals, India won eight of them in field hockey between 1928 and 1980. Field hockey is not our national game as recently pointed by a RTI filing. Infact, India has not declared any sport as the national game.
History of Indian sports gets the glorious past from the Vedic era. In the Atharva Veda teachings there are some well-defined values saying,” Duty is in my right hand and the fruits of victory in my left,” which resembles the sentiments of traditional Olympic oath: “…….For the Honour of my Country and the Glory of Sport” .
If you want to read more about Indian sport history, this book (Nation at Play – History of Indian sports) speaks about it in great detail.
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