Sports in India (Part 1)

Sports and games are an integral part of Indian culture. In ancient mythological scriptures, battles have been won and lost over games of dice, and even the Mughal rulers enjoyed their games of live chess. Sports requiring minimal equipment and involving a large number of people are the most played, especially in rural areas, but there is almost no distinction between the sports played in the cities and the villages, save for their names. The plethora of people, languages and cultures have given rise to an abundance of regional and national sports, and many modern sports actually originated in India.

Most sports that are played require a team effort, except for a few such as archery. Archery is one of the oldest athletic activities in the world and owes its origins to India. Before being played as a sport, it was the main means of battle, and is documented in the Vedas, which are the oldest scriptures of Hinduism dating from 1700 to 500 B.C.E. The scientific and militaristic knowledge of archery is documented in detail in these writings, and the battle method has been passed down to modern days as a sport. It has become an everyday activity of the people of Manipur, and archery competitions are organized at every festival.

Some sports are common in certain regions during festival times, such as the harvest festival. One such sport in India, which dates back to 300 BC, is “Vallamkali”, or snake boat racing. Common in Kerala during the festival of “Onam”, or the harvest festival, it is a famous water sport and one of the main attractions of Kerala. It initially emerged as a type of war boat, but evolved into a recreational boating activity. Another pastime is “Kambala” or the buffalo race, unique to southern Karnataka. Right after harvest, when the fields are filled with water, farmers race their buffaloes in an event which pays tribute to the gods for protecting their crop. Much like the Spanish running of the bulls, “Jallikattu” pits crowds of men against raging bulls, and is the Tamil Nadu version of harvest festival celebrations, which are known as “Pongal”.

India has a range of sports which came about as means of combat. One of them is the field of martial arts, of which “Kalarippayattu” is the oldest. Originating from Kerala, it constitutes mainly of fencing moves. Unlike other martial art forms which state that offense is the best technique to protect oneself from harm, Kalarippayattu says that self-defence is the best way to save not only oneself, but the enemy as well. “Silambam” is another type of martial art which comes from Tamil Nadu. It is closely related to the martial art forms of countries like Sri Lanka, and just like Kalarippayattu, originated as a military art. Another weapon-based martial art is “Thang-Ta” (featured in the picture with the sword-wielding men), literally translating into “sword spear”. Popular in Manipur, it is performed in three ways – ritualistic, demonstration and combat. It is closely related to war dances, and is extremely similar to Myanmar’s “Banshay”.  Combat wrestling was also incredibly popular, with forms like “Malla-Yuddha”. This was extremely violent and involved grappling, joint-breaking, biting, choking and pressure-point striking. However, it is rarely practiced today, although it gave rise to other common Southeast Asian wrestling styles like “Naban”.

A gymnastics style which is common in India is “Mallakambh”. “Malla” means gymnast, and “kambh” means pole. The style was used by wrestlers for practicing their skills, but has gotten its own special identity over the years. The gymnast performs feats either standing on the pole or hanging from it.

Be sure to come back to read more about recreational sports in India!

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