From an enriched cultural to soulful music to a wide range of sports, one can find anything and everything in India. We Indians live, breathe and eat sports. The history of sports in India dates back to the Vedic era. India is a land of sports and has given the world some magnificent athletes across a wide variety of sports. India has also given birth to games like Badminton, Chess, Polo, Bullfighting (Jallikattu) and so on.
In our country sports are more significant than any culture or religion, here we have a different culture, i.e. “culture of sport.” Sport in India is much like the country itself — random, ever-changing and yet never-changing. Be it under princely umpire or modern era; sport always had its own space in India.
Unquestionably, India is a Cricket loving nation, and it is the most followed sport in the country ever since our dominance in field hockey faded away. Talking about our pre-independence days, hockey was the most treasured and followed game, and none can forget the controversial 1936 Berlin Olympics. Led by hockey magician, Dhyan Chand’s team scored 38 goals, but only 1 goal was scored against them and won the gold that year. India won the gold in 1928, 1932, and 1936 (India won the gold at the 1936 games in Berlin by defeating Germany 8-1). The period between 1928 and 1956 was the golden era of Indian Hockey, as the country remained the Olympic champion, winning six gold medals.
Remembering our first post-independence gold medal which came just a year after India got freedom, i.e., 1948. On August 12, 1948 (only three days away from 1st Independence day), when the entire nation was busy preparing to celebrate our first Independence day, Indian hockey team got their fourth consecutive Olympic gold. The 1948 hockey team won Independent India’s first Olympic gold medal. The Indian men made history when the Tiranga (Tricolour Indian Flag) made its maiden journey to the top of the pole at the Olympics. Playing in the home of those who had ruled us for more than 200 years and procuring a heavenly triumph on the British soil is something the convoy would cherish for the rest of their lives. What an exalted moment that must be! We only have heard stories about it from our forefathers. The stories about heroes who brought glory like Balbir Singh Sr, Dhyan Chand and also how the defending champions got the warmest welcome as they walked into the Wembley stadium where the crowd of 20,000 gave them a standing ovation. We could only imagine the freedom, tipping on every team member soul’s heart and mind.
India has also made its name in other sports like football and track and field during pre-independence days. Born in Calcutta in British India, Norman Gilbert Pritchard was the first India-born athlete to participate in the Olympic Games and also to open India’s Olympic medal account. Though he was a football lover, sprint gave him a name which the world will never forget. With a very less knowledge or you can say no knowledge about Olympics, Pritchard created records in the 100m dash in the 1900 Summer Games in Paris. He was the first athlete from India and the first athlete representing an Asian nation to win an Olympic medal. He won two silver medals at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris.
Football and Cricket also had their fair share of fame and recognition. At one hand where Football in India dates back to the nineteenth-century Cricket, on the other side, can be dated as early as of 1721. Players like KS Duleep Singh Ji and Ranjit Singh Ji played as a member of the English cricket team, during the British Rule. The first football club was Calcutta FC which was established in 1872. But it was in 1911 that India made a mark in football when Mohun Bagan club won the prominent IFA Shield by crushing East Yorkshire Regiments by 2-1 in the final. It was indeed not an ordinary victory bust an extraordinary one as India defeated British at a time when the struggle for freedom was on the pinnacle. In 1936, Mohammed Salim, the legendary footballer became the first player from India to represent a European club. Celtic FC signed him after a trial he gave in bare feet and in front of 1000 club members. While playing his debut game he scored a goal through penalty, leading Celtic in a 5-1 victory against Galston.
Talking about Ranjit Singh Ji, the man who invented the famous leg glance and late cut never played for India but inspired many to join Indian Cricket Team. He was the first Indian to play international cricket and represented England and Sussex. Honoring of the greats of Cricket world, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) named its oldest first-class cricket tournament – Ranji Trophy. Ranji Trophy began in 1934 and is still India’s premier domestic tournament.
Today’s madness for sports is much more touted because of social media; however, this madness has always been there in Indians. The madness, insanity, chaos for sports has always been there and has always elevated us to a different level. Be it Cricket, Chess or a local Kabaddi match, we Indians always get puffed up watching any game for that matter.
Now we can clearly see how glorious our past is. Today there is an nth number of leagues almost a league for every sport. Sports like boxing, martial arts or wrestling which got its required fame much later was the primary source of entertainment during the Vedic era. So now we can say that eras be it Vedic or princely or Colonial, every era had pushed sports in its own way. However, the 21st century has seen the paradigm shift, but one can’t ignore the pre-independence period. Sports have their own way of celebrating openness, and they give us wings to fly so this Independence day let’s remember the souls who brought sports glory to India.