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."
The founders of the Olympic idea had India very much in mind when they were deciding on the various disciplines. There is
a fascinating link between Greece and India which stretches back to 975 B.C. The zest for chariot-racing and wrestling was
common to both the countries.
In India, dehvada or the body-way is defined as "one of the ways to full
realisation." In the day and age of the Rig-Veda, Ramayana and Mahabharata men of stature and circumstance were
expected to be competent in chariot-racing, archery, horsemanship, military tactics, wrestling, weight-lifting, swimming and
The guru-shishya (teacher-pupil) relationship has always been an integral
part of Indian sport from time immemorial. Indian sport reached a peak of excellence when Buddhism held sway here. In Villas
Mani Majra, Tiruvedacharya describes many fascinating games, namely, archery, equitation, hammer-throwing and chariot-racing.
In Manas Olhas (1135 A.D.), Someshwar writes about bhrashram (weight-lifting), bhramanshram (walking)
and also about Mall-Stambha (wrestling).
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.
1. Cricket 2. Hockey 3. Kabaddi 4. Kho-Kho
5. Martial Arts ( please click the links to know more details )
Sports in ancient India
Physical perfection has been an integral part of Hinduism. One of the means to fully realize one's Self
is defined as the body - way or dehvada. Salvation was to be gained through physical perfection or kaya sadhana,
possible only through perfect understanding of the body and its functions. The capstone of Hatha Yoga is strength,
stamina and supreme control of the body functions. The zenith of the whole experience is the fusion of meditation and physical
movement. The ' eight - fold method ' encompasses techniques associated with breathing control or pranayama, body posture
or asanas, and withdrawal of the senses or pratyahara. Religious rites provided the needed impetus to physical
culture in ancient India. Many of the present day Olympic disciplines are sophisticated versions of the games involving strength
and speed that were common in ancient India and Greece.
During the era of the Rig - Veda, 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. Arjuna and Bhima, two of the mighty Pandavas, excelled in archery and weightlifting
respectively. Bhimsen, Hanuman, Jamvant, Jarasandha were some of the great champion wrestlers of yore. Women, too, excelled
in sport and the art of self - defence, and were active participants in games like cock - fighting, quail - fighting and ram
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.
In Villas Mani Manjri, Tiruvedacharya describes many of these games in detail. In Manas Olhas ( 1135 AD.), Someshwar
writes at length about bharashram ( weight - lifting ), bharamanshram ( walking ), both of which are established
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 travellers 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. 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, Raja Krishnadev was an ace wrestler and horseman, himself.
The Mughal emperors were keen hunters of wild game, 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.
Chattrapati Shivaji's guru, Ramdas, built several Hanuman temples all over Maharashtra, for the promotion of physical culture
among the youth.
Kerala's martial art form, Kalari Payattu, is very similar to Karate. Those who practice
it have to develop acrobatic capabilities, when using swords or knives to attack their adversaries, and even an unarmed exponent
can be a force to reckon with. With the advent of Buddhism, this art form spread to the Far East countries. Buddhist monks
who travelled far and wide, mostly unarmed, to spread the teachings of the Buddha, accepted this form of self - defence, against
religious fanatics, with alternatives that were suitable to their philosophy of non - violence. The relationship between a
student and teacher in the disciplines of Judo and Karate could trace its roots to the guru - shishya tradition, India
was, and continues to be famous for. It is quite possible that some of our martial art forms travelled to China, Korea and
Japan, but as in the case of Buddhism, atrophied in India.
The technique of Pranayama or breathing control, which is a prominent feature
of Tae - kwan - do, Karate, Judo and Sumo wrestling was one of the many techniques spread in the Far East by Buddhist pilgrims
from India. The idea that man enters into harmony with the five elements, through the science of breathing, is to be found
in the most ancient records of Indian history. If mind and body are one, the possibilities of development of one's physical
and mental capabilities are limitless, provided they are united and controlled. Using this as the foundation, Bodhidharma,
a Buddhist monk started a new trend in the Shaolin temple in China, from which probably stemmed most of the rules and precepts
which govern all martial art forms.
Festivals and local fairs are the natural venues of indigenous games and martial arts.
Post - Independence the government made special efforts to preserve and nurture the awesome cultural heritage, by setting
up a number of new incentives, and by heightening media exposure at the national level, to propagate and popularise indigenous