The history of sports in India is believed to be 8000 years old, from the time of Indus Valley civilization. Indians were one of the most modern and developed civilizations in the ancient period.
In fact, many historians are still astonished by the civilizations’ neat architecture, hygiene, and overall sense of town planning. However, they didn’t stop there. many pieces of evidence suggest that the people played an early form of chess and invented dice. The existence of seals recovered from the sites of Indus valley and other artifacts also proves the fact that hunting and boxing were practiced then.
Sports in Ancient India
In and around 975 B.C. the love for chariot-racing and wrestling was common in both in India and Greece, where the Olympics was first introduced.
During 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 an integral part of the history of sports in India.
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).
One 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 are a part of the great history of sports in India.
History of Sports in India during the Vedic Era
The history of Indian sports can be traced back to the Vedic age. During the era of Ramayana & Mahabharata, around 1900 BC – 7000 BC, men of status & honor 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 the traditional Olympic oath.
What India Gave to the World Sports
Sports in India: Chess or ‘Chaturanga‘
Apart from the concept of zero and the rudimentary theory atoms, India has given a lot many inventions to the world. The most prominent of them is Chess. Known as “Chaturanga” in ancient days, chess was invented by the Gupta Dynasty which lasted from 280 to 550 AD. Chaturanga literally means ‘four divisions’ or ‘four corps’.
It is then through the Arabians, who called the game ‘Shatranj’, that chess spread to the rest of the world and evolved in the form that it is today. Apart from the game of Chess, India also gave the world other popular board games like Snake and Ladder, Suits, and Ludo.
Sports in India: Kabaddi
The nation is also credited with contributing significantly when it comes to on-field sports. It is in ancient India that the world-famous sport of Kabaddi was invented. Although the sport’s exact origin still remains disputed, it is believed that Kabaddi was developed in Vedic India. While it is believed that the sport was played fondly by the Yadavas, an ancient community residing on the western side of the country.
A hint of proof can be procured from Mahabharata which contains an account of how Arjuna manages to sneaks into hostile areas and take out enemies unscathed. This is very much in line with Kabaddi’s gameplay.
However, despite the conflicting claims, India is still credited to have made increased the sport’s popularity by making it a competitive sport.
Sports in India: Wrestling or ‘Pehlwani’
Although wrestling is believed to have evolved in ancient Greece and the Roman empire, there is concrete evidence that the sport was also contested in ancient India. In fact, back then, it was called ‘Malla-Yuddha‘.
It is believed to have been practiced at least as early as the 5th millennium BC. In fact, there is an encyclopedia on the sport by the name Malla Purana. Developed in the 13th century, it was modern wrestling’s precursor.
Sports in India: Badminton
Although it had its origin in England, it is in India that the modern form of Badminton was evolved. The game got its modern form in the garrison city of Poona in the 1860s. In fact, it was popularly known as ‘Poona‘ itself when it was played by the Britishers.
Apart from these, other sports like Kho-Kho, Carrom, and martial arts forms like Kalaripayattu are also found in India.
History of Sports in India – Role of Buddhism
When we talk about the history of Indian sports, Buddhism has been quite vital in spreading the culture of sports and health in most parts of northern India.
Well, this seems obvious when the leader, Gautama Buddha, himself was a pro at Archery and Hammer-Throwing. Manas-Olhas, a classic written by Chalukya 850 years ago, mentioned Mallakhamb.
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 avid fans 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 Sports in India 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 the independence era and the grassroots audience used to replicate it turning the game into religion now. The game of Polo transformed into a rule-based form in Manipur during the 19th century. Later it found its path to Europe & North America in the 21st century.
Mohun Bagan, the oldest football club, was established in 1889 AD. It grew from strength to strength after 1911 when the Bengal crowd reacted to British jibes in a physical culture movement. This lead 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 the 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 an RTI filing. In fact, India has not declared any sport as the national game.
The 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.” These resemble the sentiments of the traditional Olympic oath: “…....For the Honour of my Country and the Glory of Sport”.
Modern Era Sports of India
Dominance in Hockey
In the 20th century, India emerged as a Hockey superpower. From its Olympic debut in 1928, the Indian Hockey team went on to dominate the competition for close to 6 decades, winning gold on 8 occasions. India is the only team to have won 6 consecutive Olympic gold medals. The team scored a massive 178 goals during this phase while conceding only 7 goals. No other team in the world has managed to come even close to rivaling such dominance.
Among others, the country has given the world such hockey legends like Major Dhyan Chand (who is considered as arguably the best player to ever grace the game), Sr. Balbir Singh, Udham Singh, and Gurbux Singh.
The Rise of Indian Cricket
In the latter part of the century, however, the downfall of hockey almost coincided with the rise of cricket in India. India won its last Olympic medal, a Gold, in 1980. Three years later, the cricket fever took over the entire nation when Kapil Dev famously lifted the 1983 World Cup (then known as the Prudential Cup ’83) in the Lord’s stadium.
It would be safe to say that the fever still exists, with the better part of the country closely following the Indian National Cricket team. Since 1983 high, the team has gone on to win another World Cup (2011), a T20 World Cup (2007), two Champions trophies (2002,2013) among other honors. The country has also produced cricketing stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble, MS Dhoni, and Virat Kohli among others.
Badminton – The New Cricket?
Apart from the legendary Prakash Padukone (the first Indian to win the All England Badminton Championships in 1980) followed by Pullela Gopichand (who also won the title in 2001), India did not have much to show for in the world Badminton.
However, this all changed when a 22-year-old Saina Nehwal won a bronze at the 2008 London Olympics, making her the first Indian shuttler to clinch a medal in the coveted competition. That moment is considered as the turning point for the sport’s popularity in the country.
A big contribution for the youngster’s epic triumph was that of Gopichand and his badminton academy. Over the following years, the badminton bastion would go on to produce world-class talents in the face of PV Sindhu, Srikanth Kidambi, and Parupalli Kashyap, making Hyderabad the country’s badminton capital. In 2016, Sindhu won the badminton silver at the Rio Olympics, thereby becoming the first Indian woman to ever achieve the feat.
The player’s podium finish opened the floodgates for Badminton in India. Scores of talented young shuttlers like Lakshya Sen, Anura Prabhudesai, and Sameer Verma are now expected to take the baton forward.
Wrestling – India’s New Olympic Stronghold
As has been mentioned earlier, wrestling was played in India since the early ages. However, the country had not been able to win big on the world stage. Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, a native Satara, was the first athlete to put India’s wrestling on the world map. KD Jadhav, as he was popularly known, rewrote history books when he won a bronze at the 1952 Olympic Games. He was the first individual Olympic medal winner of Independent India.
However, there was a big void in the wrestling world for the next half a century. However, things changed in the late 2000s. Sushil Kumar, a seasoned wrestler, fought against all odds to win a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Then, at the 2012 London Olympics, India won two wrestling medals, a Silver and a Bronze, through Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt.
In 2018, Bajrang Punia clinched silver at the World Wrestling Championships furthering their legacy. He is expected to be a big prospect for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
When it comes to Wrestling, Indian women have not been far behind. The revolution, that was pioneered by the now-famous ‘Phogat household’, is now turning into an unstoppable force. Sakshi Malik famously won the 2016 Olympics bronze medal to give the first proof of this. Promising next-gen wrestlers like the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat, Pooja Dhanda, Divya Kakran, Ahlawat sisters are ensuring that India’s game will go to the next level in the coming years.
Boxing is another sport that has seen a late bloom in the country. However, unlike other sports, India’s women were the flag bearers of the evolution of boxing in India. The most prominent of them all was Manipur’s Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom. Having won her first World Championship gold medal in 2002, the blazing boxer went on to win the yellow metal on 6 occasions, a world record in itself. She also won a bronze at the 2012 Olympics apart from winning the 2018 Commonwealth Games Gold.
Vijender Singh is another boxer who has made a name for himself in the world of boxing. The pugilist, who now plies his trade in professional boxing, managed to win the coveted Olympic podium finish on two occasions. With emerging talents like Nutlai Lalbiakkima, Sonia Chahal, and Lovlina Borgohain, the future of boxing in India is in safe hands.
If there is one sport that has the highest potential to reach the top in India, it has to be sports shooting. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, India’s current sports minister, started it all with a silver at the 2004 Olympics. However, the Abhinav Bindra upped the ante with a record-breaking Gold in the following competition. He was ably supported by other talented shooters Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai, and Heena Sidhu.
With the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, there will be high hopes from young stars like Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary, and Mehuli Ghosh who have all won medals at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
These names and many others have set a strong foundation and a big inspiration for the athletes of the future with their exceptional performances.
Sports In India Today
The IPL Model
Indian sports has experienced a vast change over the past few years, in terms of popularity, reach, and consumption. Gone are the days when only passionate people would follow sports. Today, sports has become a major source of cutting-edge entertainment. A major catalyst for this change has been the private-league culture that was brought about by the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The emergence of League Sports in India
The IPL model is not only financially rewarding but also a huge fan gatherer. It was thus not surprising to see other organizers applying the same strategy to monetize the respective sports. The Premier Badminton League (PBL), Indian Super League (ISL), and the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) are just a few examples.
All these have struck gold in terms of attracting crowds, thus the sponsors and ultimately the all-important money. Sports is the ultimate winner here, with the clubs providing all the necessary facilities for the development of the youngsters. Moreover, the acquaintance with seasoned international stars also makes for a good learning curve for the young players.
Also, the spiced-up versions of the game can also bring forgotten sports back to the fore in the zip of a time. Take PKL for example. According to the Economic Times, the league that was formed in 2014 managed to attract as many as 397 million viewers in 2018. The newly formed Pro Volleyball League (PVL) managed to attract as many as 147 million viewers in its first edition itself, according to the organizers.
Sports Goes Digital
The one thing that has changed the way people follow sports is the digital revolution. Today, sports fans who are not in front of the TV can still watch their favorite sports live through Indian sports websites and one of the myriads of online streaming routes. They can then comment about the same through
The deep penetration of smartphones matched by the cheapening of internet data has further augmented this revolution.
According to Star India, as many as 202 million fans watched the 2018 edition of IPL on Hotstar, a huge 55.3% jump from the previous editions. This is a huge sign of how sports consumption is changing in India.