Amid all the discussion on one of India’s worst ever showings at the Olympics, a question arises about the Indic proclivity for Sports. As one foreign commentator recently asked, “Why is India so bad at the Olympics”. While we should not forget the legitimate point that the Olympics is no stranger to skullduggery, as the entire Russian Olympic Team and poor Narendra Yadav can attest to (his case should be reviewed again by an independent commission of concerned citizens), self-reflection is also critical.
Our own people have made attempts to understand. Others, to analyse. Interestingly enough, the Chinese have already conducted an analysis. And if it is authentic, it seems fairly spot on—after all, no one knows you better than your own shatrus, declared or undeclared.
Of course, by now, we’re all familiar with Indian twitter’s flooding of fading C-list celebrity Piers Morgan’s TL.
The more embarrassing aspect, of course, wasn’t Piers Morgan (unceremoniously fired from his pathetic hosting at CNN ) and his blunderbuss badinage. Rather it was that Indiots still clamber after the 2 pence opinions of a brit “nobody-cares” after 70 years of Independence. See what nationality brought it to this professional troll’s attention in the first place.
Why do we care whether they care? Why do we care what they think? Rather than be upset about what they said, do something about what they see…next time. It’s not his place (or any foreigner’s place) to tell us, but he is right…be embarrassed. All praise to not only the two medalists Sakshi and Sindhu, but all the fourth placers like Abhinav Bindra (former gold medalist) and hardscrabble athletes who fought against all odds (Dipa Karmakar). But while giving them credit, criticise yourself. You are to blame.
If you only obsess about one sport and don’t give viewership or patronage to others…you are to blame. If at 36 years of age you still divine over the chicken droppings of yester-year celebrities of a certain sport, yes you are to blame. And if you still obsess over genetics rather than training, yes you are to blame. All these things breed and re-emphasise inferiority complexes, because only being good at one thing and useless at everything else, makes for good poodles, but incompetent individuals.
The root of this, frankly, comes from continuing to prize colonial culture (English—see the undistinguished Germanic dialect in which I must write this article, literature, and of course, cricket) long after those with self-respect have stopped caring. The root of the Indian lack of self-respect comes from lack of leadership. And the root of the lack of leadership comes from lack of team spirit and team sports. Even if the other team is better than you, it is only the Indiot who publicly accepts it and publicly self-flagellates about it, instead of privately doing something about it. It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog. All the more so if he works as pack.
In any event, the obsession with the colonial game of cricket aside, it does lead to a natural question—have Indians been traditionally averse to Sports? The answer is an obvious NO (even the traditional 64 Arts mentions “Skill in youthful sports” as one of them). For social media gyaanis on public journeys of self-discovery: there have been entire books written on this matter. Nevertheless, this rather ridiculous question is primarily due to the modern tendency in the knowledge-based economy to only focus on two aspects of traditional societal Dharma. That physicality and team collaboration are required by the other two are well-known, and in all likelihood, explain the current decline for internal collaboration and penchant for external cooperation. Until the concept of “win as a team” is beaten soundly back into the heads of headstrong, overly-proud know-it-all yet “under-informed” Indians, such embarrassing showings are all but predictable. The repeated failure of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi to work together for national honour is one such example.
That is why culture is so central to the problem Indic Civilization faces. The same hypocritical hindus who whine day in day out about why medieval Indian kings didn’t work together, are the least likely to do the same today. But as we covered in our previous article on the Dharma of Collaboration, it is not some single “delicate genius” who diffuses victory through sheer, incomprehensible levels of self-proclaimed “IQ”, but a competent society dedicated to team success. In fact, we specifically used the example of the American Olympic Men’s Basketball team in our Post on Collaboration above.
Individually brilliant people who don’t work together, will, time and again, be defeated by average people who work together very well. Not just the players, not just the organization, but society and civilization as a whole should serve as secondary and tertiary support structures. The problem is while stuffing their face with hakka noodles, most Indians would in fact rather watch and play “kircket”, a near individual sport, with tennis, an actual individual sport, filling the remaining void.
Genius and Genetics (and TFR) provide a baseline (pun intended). These keep you in the game and provide a reservoir of potential. But unless there is training,dedication, and above all, (internal) collaboration, this potential energy, cannot be turned into kinetic energy, let alone kinetic action. Feckless, penny-packet, eleventh hour-last minute efforts are no more advisable than an all-nighter before the JEE or the EAMCET. That is why the spirit of Kreeda, true Kreeda, team Kreeda, must be re-ingrained in the modern Indian.
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. 
Kreeda, of course, is most famous to us due to the infamous dyut kreeda from the Mahabharata. But Kreeda is more than just mere gambling or pass-time amusement. It in fact covers a range of activities, some mental, some physical, some recreational, and some martial. I am deliberately leaving out “kircket” because that colonial game is really an individual sport masquerading as a team one—and it is also one of the twin causes for the catastrophic decline in Indic competence…the other being mass masala films. However, I will purposefully add a non-native game, field hockey, because it is one of the sports that for a variety of reasons, must be emphasised, invested in, and encouraged today.
I should also note that full credit goes to our teammates over at Tamizh Cultural Portal for presciently recognising the importance of this and doing something about it long before we did. While we will build upon the foundation they laid, we recommend first a full read of their excellent section here.
For our purposes however, what are the various aspects of the traditional Indic culture of Kreeda? This list is by no means exhaustive and is meant to serve as a preliminary structure upon which we can continue to build.
- Martial Arts
Kreeda literally means “Sport” or “Play”. Yet despite including the harmless and the childhood amusement, it also extends to the violent and martial. While these may have had applications on ancient battlefields, or for self-defence, they can also be engaged in harmlessly by responsible adults, for recreation.
It is unsurprising that martial arts would be so closely related to sport in general. Just as neuroscientists assert that dreams help us simulate and deal with difficult scenarios in the future, so too do sports help us deal with the martial and security scenarios of life. One look at the Afghan game of buzkashi alone shows the type of tactics used by Central Asian horsemen on medieval battlefieds. Karate and Kung Fu are, naturally, more famous and more obvious in their applications. Lesser known, and more important, is that Classical Martial Art of India from Kerala.
The famed martial art of Kerala, Kalaripayattu has become the de facto classical Martial Art of India. Rooted in Dhanurveda and Ayurveda respectively, it demonstrates the Indic origin of the concept of vital points (marmas), showcased in a certain hollywood movie. Indeed, it is considered the origin of the great spiritual East Asian martial arts traditions, such as Kung Fu and Karate. Tradition holds that the Buddhist monks taught it to the Chinese at the Shaolin Monastery. This is considered by many to have led to the development of Kung Fu and the martial arts tradition of the East. 
Kalaripayattu is practiced to this day in its home state. Beyond the energetic and acrobatic armed and unarmed combat, it features both men and women practitioners hailing from different jatis, nationalities, and even age groups.
But why simply read about what you can see. Here is a well-known video of an elderly women trained in Kalari, fighting against a man half her age!
Malla Yuddha forever has a place in the hearts of the Hindus for the great wrestling bouts not only between Krishna and Chanoora and Bheema and Jarasandha, but even today. While the Olympics predictably favours greco-roman style, there are many wrestlers in India, both male and female, folk and entertainment.
There are some who might add pehlwaan, but it is about as Indic as qawwali. Malla Yuddha is our traditional name, and should be the terminology. There are none, however, who are more famous or beloved than the man who played Hanuman in Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan.
Wrestling historically takes place in Akharas, and there are many such even today.
With descriptions dating back to the ancient period, and texts such as the Manasollasa, Mushti-Yuddha is the traditional Indic art of Boxing. The Portuguese visitor Nunez was astonished at how ferocious the style of boxing was in the Great City of Vijayanagara. 
Boxers could routinely end up with broken teeth or battered eyes. While the modern era demands a bit more consideration for the health and safety of boxers, perhaps it is time to look to the past to take inspiration for our future.
Archery may be the most iconic and most common, but quite possibly no martial art remains as dear to the Indian imagination as Gadha Yuddha. Whether it is Balarama, Bheema, Duryodhana, or Lord Vishnu himself with his famous Kaumodhaki, the mace has a celebrated place in the hearts of Hindus. The rules for Gada Yuddha are simple…no hitting below the belt. But the rules for Dharma Yuddha demand the destruction of dushtas like Duryodhana, who himself cheated at Dice and committed injustice against Draupadi.
Like Kalariyapattu, Gatka (the great martial art of the Sikhs) is less for spectators and more for warriors. Nevertheless, the need for self-defence aside, it offers a number of potential competitive aspects beyond the obvious fencing. The Charkha (chakra) throwing aspects alone offer potential for competitive sport.
Officially dating back to the venerable Guru Hargobind Singh ji, “Gatka can be practiced either as a sport (khel) or ritual (rasmi).” It features aspects of armed and unarmed combat, as can be seen above. It is practiced to this day.
More importantly however, again like its Southern counterpart, Gatka is a direct connection to the ancient Indic warrior ethos. It is an outgrowth of traditional Sastra-Vidya, which in Punjabi is called Shastar Vidya ਸ਼ਸਤਰ ਵਿਦਿਆ, but has become a tradition in its own right. Sikh Dharma may be centuries old, but it draws from and is part of a millennia old Dharmic Civilization. Whether for sport or for safety, preserving and passing on its proud traditions remains important for Sikh, Citizen, and Soldier alike.
From Rama Dasarathi to the modern Limba Ram, archery has long been considered the crest-jewel of Indic Kreeda. Equally valuable on the pre-modern battlefield as it was before a bullseye (or as above, below a fish eye), prowess with a bow was prized by men and women alike. Draupadi may have rejected Karna despite his skills with a dhanush, but Arjuna still had to prove himself to her in order to win her hand.
“Boxing and wrestling are often referred to, but were not generally the hobbies of respectable young men…who performed for the amusement of an audience. The archery contest, however, was a much-loved amusement of the warrior class, and vivid descriptions of such contests occur in the Epics.”[2, 209]
Even Bhagavan Shri Ram had to demonstrate his power, by stringing the great bow of Lord Shiva. Such is the central place of Dhanurkrida, Dhanurvidya, and Dhanurveda in our culture.
Beyond martial arts, there are many traditional Sports that owe their origin to the Indian Subcontinent. Some are popular, some are regional, but all are part of the panoply of Bharatiya Kreeda.
Part-game, part-sport, all excitement, Kabaddi is instantly recognisable to the average Indian, and an increasingly profitable business venture. Well-known to children and adults of all ages, it is now on track towards becoming a spectator sport in India, and perhaps even, other counties.
Not only national leagues in India, but many among the diaspora are making their mark.
Kabaddi is a high intensity contact sport, with seven players on each side; played for a period of 40 minutes with a 5 – minute break (20-5-20). The core idea of the game is to score points by raiding into the opponent’s court and touching as many defense players as possible without getting caught; in a single breath. One player, chanting Kabaddi!! Kabaddi!! Kabaddi!! Charges into the opponent court and tries to touch the opponent closest to him, while the seven opponents maneuver to catch the attacker.
Banned by the Supreme Court on controversial and discriminatory grounds, Jallikattu is the traditional game of Bull-taming of Tamizh Nadu. While there are variants in other parts of the country, unlike Spanish bull-fighting, the animal is left alive and unharmed. It is only the players, who play voluntarily, who may be under any risk. Such is their veertha (warrior spirit).
This legendary sport was revived by the Chhatrapatis for the purposes of the Maratha Navy and its multi-masted ships, but Mallakhamba is the ancient art of pole gymnastics. It is conservatively dated to the medieval period, but in all likelihood, is much more ancient.
Mallakhamb dates back to the 12th century and finds reference in the classic Manasollasa (1135 AD) by Somesvara Chalukya. 
It is still done today by the Bombay Sappers of the Indian Army. There is a push to make it a more popular sport.
The distinction between Sports and Games is often very difficult to discern. There are many Sports with limited physical exertion (Golf) and many games with a surfeit of Physical Exertion, Kho-Kho. Which is which is a matter of subjectivity, but board games, card games, and school yard games, all fit the bill more for game than for sport.
Traditional and especially Ancient India had many games of which to boast, but the king of them all was the game of kings: Chess.
Foreign deniers may be a plenty (with Europeans, Chinese, and even the Persians attempting to claim it), but there is no denying Chess originated in India. Bharatavarsha can boast of not only the ancestor to Chess (Chaturanga), which featured as many as four players and used dice, but the precursor to the modern version that “had developed into a game of some complexity, with a king-piece, and pieces of four other types, cor-responding to the corps of the ancient Indian army–an elephant, a horse, a chariot or ship, and four footmen. “[2, 208]
The earliest reference to Chaturanga is found in the Harshacharita of Banabhatta, dated to the 6th century. It is said to have spread to China and was the ancestor of many strategic games there as well.
“In the 6th century the game was learnt by the Persians and when Persia was conquered by the Arabs it quickly spread all over the Middle East, under the name shatranj, the Persian corruption of caturanga.” [2, 208]
While many have attempted to claim it, in whatever form, it is an Indian original, with the only distinction that matters being between the Indian version and modern Chess. The irony, of course, is that while Indians have produced Grandmasters and champions like Viswanathan Anand and Koneru Humpy, they continue to succeed at Chess yet fail at strategy. Perhaps it is time to view Kreeda as a way to win at life.
The Infamous Game of Dice naturally makes its place in the rankings. Gambling was obviously popular in ancient India. “Six-sided dice have been found in the Indus cities, and the ‘Gamester’s Lament’ of the Rg Veda testifies to the popularity of gambling among the early Aaryans“. [2,207]
“The word aksa in the context of gambling is generally roughly translated ‘dice’, but the aksas in the earliest gambling games were not dice, but small hard nuts called vibheesaka or vibheedaka; apparently players drew a handful of these from a bowl and scored if the number was a multiple of four.” [2, 207]
Played on the chaupad board, it was a popular recreation not only between rival kings, but those other famed competitors in life: husband and wife.
Dice may have been popular in Ancient India, but it remains relevant even in the modern Era.
We all may be familiar with the childhood game of Snakes and Ladders. Less familiar, however, is how it originated in India.
Even the traditional game of snakes and ladders had a traditional name “Mokshapatam”. The roles of the devas are likened to it, as fulfillment of one’s role results in promotion up the ladder of creation. It was, therefore, based upon the principle of Karma. The Jain version was called Gyan Chaupar.
Often called Ganjifa, Kreedapatram is the ancient name for Indian card games, of which there were many. Traditional Indian cards were round, but the variety of games were plentiful, and it is still a popular pass time to this day. Here one effort to revive one.
The game of kho kho is very simple and can be played by all ages. It is thought to have originated in Maharashtra, and it is considered one of India’s most popular traditional games. It is described as a “modified form of run and chase“. 
Each team consists of twelve players, but only nine players take the field for a contest. A match consists of two innings. An innings consists of chasing and running turns of 7 minutes each. Eight members of the chasing team sit in their eight squares on the central lane, alternately facing the opposite direction, while the ninth member is an active chaser, and stands at either of the posts, ready to begin the pursuit. Members of the chasing team have to put their opponent out, touching them with their palms, but without committing a foul. All the action in Kho-Kho is provided by the defenders, who try to play out the 7 minutes time, and the chasers who try to dismiss them. A defender can be dismissed in three ways: 1) if he is touched by an active chaser with his palm without committing a foul, 2) if he goes out of the limits on his own, 3) if he enters the limit late. 
Well known to children in school yard throughout India, Gilli-danda is a game of sticks.”The bigger one is called “danda” and the smaller one is called “gilli“. The player then uses the danda to hit the gilli at the raised end, which flips it into the air. While it is in the air, the player strikes the gilli, hitting it as far as possible. Having struck the gilli, the player is required to run and touch a pre-agreed point outside the circle before the gilli is retrieved by an opponent.” 
It may not have applications to stadium spectator sport, but Gilli-danda remains another Iconic game of Indic Civilization.
The Spirit of Kreeda, more than anything else, is one rooted in Team spirit. What is the Indic word for team?—perhaps therein lies the problem as most of our gyaanis seem to have forgotten it (if they ever knew it). Various words such as dal, vahni, and prayuj have been used. Due to a combination of semantic politics and narrative aesthetics, the last one is likely best suited for our times.
There are many, many, many more sports and games such as Boat racing, Polo, and various ball games which could be discussed here (and are discussed elsewhere). But either their origins still remain uncertain, or concision demands we focus only on a few here. Nevertheless, it is easy enough to see here that there has long been a tradition of Sport, a culture of Kreeda, throughout Bharatavarsha. The issue before us is not only whether we can revive them, but whether we can take inspiration from them to reinvigorate our approach to Modern Sports.
From Dhyan Chand to the recently deceased Mohd. Shaheed, India’s field hockey heroes are perennially over-shadowed and under-appreciated it. It is time we did them justice. Naysayers may argue that football should be the priority non-native sport stressed by Indians, but I disagree. Indians already have a strong traditional track record in Field Hockey. To see short term results, Field Hockey will give us the best ROI, and boost in national sports morale.
Football (also known as Soccer)
Quite possibly one of the most simple and most easily recognisable of games, Football is an international phenomenon. It does not carry weight because a nation of a billion people, and some former colonies and their erstwhile coloniser play it, but because the entire world plays it. Kick the ball into the goal, pass to your teammates, defend your territory. It is the simplest most elegant expression of team collaboration. Everything a certain wicket-based sport is not.
Football must be an important long-term investment for the Indian public not only because Baichung Bhutia was popular with the ladies (ok that’s a private reason for gents), but because it remains the uncontested “Global Sport”. To see much smaller countries and even non-South American/non-European/non-African countries be ranked and notable teams should be a national insult for India. This is the cost of cricket.
Non-native sport though it is, it is the unofficial game of humanity (at least at present) and even if a World Cup is unthinkable and a distant dream, it should begin to at least be an aspiration. Even if you can’t play, start watching these games, start forming football leagues, and start joining your kids in a sport that will actually help them in life, even if they can’t become the next Ronaldo.
Along with remembering our traditional sports and games, and the culture that drove them, it is also important to remember and honour the great personalities who contributed to our Sports culture. Such lists are usually subjective, but certain names tend to crop up, and thus, are mentionable either for merit or for fame. In any event, they should be remembered nonetheless:
India’s first female olympic individual medalist, Malleshwari Karnam hails from Andhra.
Anju Bobby George
Anushka Sharma may have played a wrestler, but young Sakshi Malik is the real deal. Champion wrestler and Olympic Bronze medalist, she deserves our respect (and a healthy fear for her strength…) for what she accomplished. She is proof again that the Bharatiya Naari may be seen as a pretty package, but packs a powerful Shakti too.
Dipa Kalmakar represents not only the potential reservoir of talent in India, but of simply how much of a difference a culture of training and support (institutional or societal) makes. That she was able to place fourth despite being the first Indian woman to even compete in Olympic gymnastics, speaks volumes about the greatness of her spirit, and why India citizens need to stop talking and start putting their money where their mouth is to support such athletes.
Dara Singh ji may be most famous for playing Lord Hanuman, but he was a great strong-man in his own right, in his own day. He may have been a champion Pehlwaani, but Dara Singh would have been right at home in traditional Malla Yuddha.
India’s greatest tennis player who never won a Grand Slam. Perennial top ten threat, international celebrity, and one of India’s most recognisable sports figures, Vijay Amritraj of Tamizh Nadu represents Indian Sports almost to the T. Full of talent, with many missed opportunities, and the potential to dominate, only if he trained like the Borgs and Connors and Mcenroe’s of the world.
Navjot Singh Sidhu
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Considered India’s greatest football player, Baichung Bhutia should be a household name simply for the effort he has put in to popularise the sport and give support to young talent. This now retired “Sikkimese Sniper” started a football school in Delhi.
Olympic and now up-and-coming Professional Boxer, Vijender Singh is an athlete to watch for. He hails from Haryana. With a current W-L ratio of 7-0, he is a true Mushti-Yoddha in the making.
Most of these personalities are well-known enough that they do not require description. All of them, for the sake of brevity, are from India. But over time, we hope to add on to this and describe in greater detail.
India is not a sports averse culture. India does not lack a sports culture. India lacks a team sports culture. That is the problem today. The cure for its millions upon millions of middle class, mummy’s boy, spoiled brats, does not lie in Sachin Tendulkar, but in Dhyan Chand, who played a true team sport. It does not lie in importing yet another foreign coach (or foreign saviour), but in building in-house talent through team thinking.
‘Kircket” is not a team sport. It is effectively an individual sport played by a team, with very little equipe-wide coordination. But between fire-teams and the entire army, there are intermediate levels of multi-person units (company, battalion, division, etc). The problem with Indians is that they forever vacillate between tyranny and sycophancy. “Kick the person who licks, and lick the person who kicks”. This is the “team” motto of our iq obsessed, barely genetically male gyaanis. How about doing neither? How about respecting authority and treating subordinates with respect? Even the Indian Army’s officers could learn this simple principle.
The concept of the loyal lieutenant is utterly lacking. Rather than a first among equals, it is “I must either oppress or be oppressed”—how is unity, team spirit, and coordination possible in such a toxic atmosphere?
Kreeda also has been able to create awareness by documenting information on traditional games. “We can get a lead for a game from anywhere, even the most unlikely places. The history of some games are unknown and some have many versions, but we do everything to find and get to the bottom of it. I can give you the history, origin and rules of any game!” she beams. 
There are many efforts to revive not only traditional sports but traditional games today. Instead of just playing whatever Star TV tells you is “fashionable”, support these efforts and revive these games. Instead of snakes and ladders, play moksha-patam. Instead of playing hide-and-seek, tell your kids to play kho kho.
For all his obsolete lameness, Piers Morgan was right about one thing: Indians need training (just as he and his fellow brits need therapy). Even more pathetic than the 2 medals (Indian men, be ashamed of yourselves), is the fact that Indians not only don’t know how to conduct themselves, they don’t care to learn. “Absolute subservience. Or Unrestricted freedom of action and pontification”. No wonder Indians can’t get anything done unless it’s for a foreign MNC or for a paycheck or for punya…For anything else, it’s “Either I or my caste-brother is team captain, or I don’t play!”
This is why for all the gyaani obsession over “merit” (i.e. ability to read and regurgitate for marks), the focus for positions must be “competence”. Are you competent to do the job? Are you competent to contribute to the organization? Despite your knowledge, are you competent to work in teams? When it’s an idiot Indian movie and the theme is “me against the world” the concept of team disappears. When you are forced to work and win as a team, however, then questions of competence (rather than marks and parrot pedantry) come up. See, incompetence. The national slogan should be Work Hard, Play Hard. Not the present one: Work only if I have to, Play only if the mood strikes, and Eat & Drink always.
It is time to get rid of this recipe for incompetence. It is time to throw away the bipolar monkey of the past century and rebuild the national character. Bharatiya Kreeda is one way to do it. Pick a team sport (a real sport, kircket doesn’t count) or team game, and begin today.
Being a single-line sports country has made obstacles for development of other sports in the country. You might be able to name the whole team that represented the country at the 2011 Cricket World Cup, but most of you would not know who PD Chaugule was. Chaugule was the first Indian who represented the country at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Belgium and took that same oath: “For the honour of my country, and glory of my sport. 
Many of you may still wonder, why despite all insistence on the Indic, we have given pride of place to a non-native sport like Field Hockey. Beyond just ROI, beyond even national sports morale, it offers the potential for something else. Something that, amid all the religious wars, and caste wars, and petty feuds, gives a vision of greater possibilities. If divide et impera was the motto for foreign imperialists & native sepoys, then the one for all true patriots and rooted Indians should be simple….
I am no SRK fan, kintu…Chak De India.
- Traditional Indian Sports. http://sports.indiapress.org/ancient_indian_games.php
- Basham, A.L. The Wonder that was India. New Delhi: Rupa.1999
- Sreenivasan, Rajeev. The Buddhist Connection: Sabarimala and the Tibetans.http://www.rediff.com/news/dec/31rajeev.htm