History of Sports in India

India may not be the first country you think of for sports prowess. In fact, India has been home to sports for thousands of years. Some sports such as kabaddi, badminton, polo, archery, chess, wrestling and hockey are believed to be created in India.

Early Indian Civilization

Early sports in India served the purpose of developing the physique, fighting and self-defense. They were also seen as a way men develop their personalities.

The playing of sports in India date back to 3200 B.C. During this period, the people inhabiting the Indus Valley enjoyed dancing, singing, swimming, hunting, boxing, playing board games and playing with dice, marbles and balls.

During the Vedic period from 2500 B.C. to 600 B.C., both men and women participated in chariot races, swimming, playing with dice and balls. Girls played catch and “hide and seek” while boys and men did boxing.

The Hindu Era

In the early years of Hinduism (600 B.C. to 320 B.C.), many sports and games came about because they were played by Krishna and the other Hindu gods. In addition to the ball games, playing with dice, swimming, chariot-racing, and horse-riding, the game of chess was invented along with gullidanda, a game played by the god Bhima that involved two sticks and resembled present-day cricket.

During this time, hunting was a sport reserved only for the wealthy.

Shortly after this period, disc throwing became popular as well as rope fighting due to their popularity with famed Hindu gods. 

Towards the first century A.D., chess, and gambling with dice was being played in monasteries. Garden games, swimming and water sports were also popular sports pastimes.

In the later Hindu period from 320 A.D. to 1200 A.D, there was once again an explosion of sports in India. This time sports were the result of the openings of India’s first universities. Archery, wrestling, mountain climbing, yoga, and partridge, ram and elephant fighting were popular pastimes.

The king during this time, Harshavardhana, himself was an accomplished sportsman and encouraged his subjects to participate in sports.   

Recent History and Today

The game of cricket was introduced to the people of India in 1721 when a group of British sailors played the game there.

India’s oldest soccer club was formed in 1889 and India competed in its first Olympic Games in 1920, where it has won 28 medals to date, including nine gold medals.

In other world competitions, India has been world champions in kabaddi, chess, cricket, wrestling, hockey, badminton and billiards.

Shooting sports have become popular among men and women in India, thanks to India’s first medal in trap shooting in the 2004 Olympics and the country’s first gold medal in the air rifle at the 2008 Olympics. In recent years the National Rifle Association of India hosts five shooting championship events within the country.

Below are the various sports played in India today:

  • Gilliland: It is a sport played using one small stick called 'gilli' and one long stick called 'danda.' It is mainly played in the villages of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana.
  • Kancha: A type of marble game that is played during the ‘Makar Sankranti’ festival.
  • Badminton
  • Bandy: Played in northern India where there is snow and ice.
  • Boxing
  • Cricket
  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Ice hockey
  • Kayaking
  • Kabaddi: A popular game played in villages that originated in India.
  • Tennis
  • Mountain biking
  • Rugby
  • Throwball: A sport rising in popularity amongst school-aged and college-aged students that is also played in Nepal, Pakistan, Korea and Sri Lanka.
  • Volleyball
  • Shooting: air rifle, air pistol, trap shooting

Indians also enjoy the outdoors, participating in non-traditional sports such as camping and fishing.

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