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
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 - fighting.
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
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 games.