Game On:  Sports from India

By Madhavi Pothukuchi

28 August, 2022

Who doesn’t love sports? Even watching a match of cricket, football, or an intense game of chess can be super fun! National Sports Day is celebrated to honour the birth anniversary of the famous hockey legend of India, Major Dhyan Chand. And while hockey is India’s game, let’s learn more about other Indian-origin sports.


Polo is mostly posh-looking foreigners on horseback, hitting a ball around. While the earliest version of polo was played in Persia, the modern game of polo originated in the northeastern state of Manipur. The British decided to promote the game when they saw locals play a sport atop horses, using basic mallets and a ball. Today, the sport is played worldwide and is regarded as the most coveted sport.

Kho Kho

Kho kho is one of the oldest outdoor sports and is played with two teams of nine players. The origin of the sport has baffled historians, but it is mentioned in the Mahabharata. Kho Kho grew in popularity after the First World War and was demonstrated on the sidelines of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Today, there are close to 25 national kho kho teams. 


“Kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi..” – doesn’t that just transport you to a kabaddi match full of energy? While nobody can pinpoint exactly when the sport was invented, kabaddi is a quintessential Indian sport about 4,000 years old. It was one of the sports showcased at the 1936 Olympics that received wide acclaim and acceptance. It has since become a popular South Asian sport. 


Chess or ‘Chaturanga’ as it was called in the 7th century, is an ancient game in India. Earlier forms of the game were called ‘Ashtapada’ (played on an 8x8 board) and Dasapada (played on a 10x10 board). But Gautama Buddha denounced chess as he believed it to be a cause for negligence, which led to it losing popularity. Though, it spread across the globe and made a comeback. Today, India still holds its special place in the sport with its many grandmasters. 


Another ancient Indian sport, mallakhamb, is a lost gem in the sports world. Essentially a gymnastics sport, mallakhamb involves holding complicated gymnastic poses around a pole or rope. The sport grew in significance with the Maratha empire, when wrestlers and martial arts experts would use the techniques to hone their skills. It has found prominence again in recent years and is practised across India.

Gilli Danda

Gilli Danda is a sport popular mostly in rural areas of India and South Asia. Over 2,000 years of evolving, it’s played with two sticks – one short and another long. The short stick is launched into the air and hit with the large stick by the player who has to run and score points – a mix of cricket and basketball. It isn’t popular in current India, but there is hope for revival. 


A sport said to be originating in Maharashtra, langdi is another game that seems to have faded today. It is a game of tag or catch, played with the chaser hopping on one leg. In the last few years, it has gained more popularity with the establishment of the National Langdi Championship. 

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