Games and Sports in Indian Art
Games and sports have been universally accepted as the best media to promote physical strength and mental development. Indians are noted for their love of games and sports. The story of Indian games is perhaps as old as the Indian race Games were so important that even the celestials took a delight in them. The highest of them the Mother and Father of the universe, Siva and Uma, are shown very earnestly playing chess in a magnificent sculpture of the Vakataka age in the Rameswara cave in Ellora, Devi is so pleased with her success that she raises her hand in wonder and almost taunts Siva who becomes a little shame- faced having lost the game. The joy in the beaming face of Parvati suggests the extra ordinary interest that the Indian mind has for games and they attempt to gain success. There is nothing that succeeds like success is illustrated here. Others may be taken as a foretaste of the pleasure derived in different sports and games. Celestial damsels search for the sapphire, emarald, ruby hidden in the gold, the game played as much in the land of the Yakshas in Alka as in the human sphere in India itself. It is still a living game. The small bowl placed with sand heaped over it and its identity and spot completely lost, the girl who is able to discover by placing her hand in that particular place to locate it, is successful. In the Meghduta of Kalidasa this game is described with a gusto. There are many games, the game of archery for example where Sidhartha wins one of the most magnificent in Barabodur in Indonesia. One of the earliest sculptures illus- trating feats of acrobatics is an outstanding example of the Bharhut rail in the Allahabad Museum of the 2nd century B.C. India is such a large sub-continent that there are as many games to satisfy the teaming millions in the country.
A favourite theme in India is Arjuna’s success in the almost impossible shooting of the piscine target by a look at its location in a basin of water down below to win the coveted hand of the beautiful princess of the Panchala kingdom, Draupdi. In Hoysala sculpture and early Vijaynagar painting, this theme has a prominent place. Indian literature abounds with references to various games playec by the children, the common man, the royalty and the village folk. Indian art collections are full of beautiful representations of games and sports in different disciplines-Pre-historic and Historic Archaeology, Numis- matics, Manuscripts, Paintings, Decorative arts etc. To commemorate and to coincide with the IX Asian games being held in India, an exhibition has been arranged in the National Museum, New Delhi with representative specimens from the Museum collections. This portfolio brought out on the occasion contain eight colour reproductions of Indian miniatures depicting various games and sports.
WRESTLING: Wrestling is one of the earliest and universally played games. The contest is between two persons who strive to throw each other to the ground. Indian Wrestling is of ‘loose’ ord.er where men facing each other are nude except for a loin-cloth. They manoeuvre wanly for a hold and to Win a fall, apply all possible strength and tricks to fix simultaneously both the shoulders of the opponent on the ground. Besides visual representations of wrestlers in Indian Sculptures and Paintings, there are also numerous references in literary works of different periods-in the Mababbarata about the physical strength and mastery of Bhima in wrestling with Jarasandha, in the Kathasaritasagara, of Somadeva, a wrestler of Varanasi who was richly rewarded and in Gulistan, a court wrestler who knew 360 tricks but refrained from teaching the last trick to his arrogant pupil who had to eat the humble pie for throwing a challenge to his tea- cher. Wrestlers were enjoying royal patronage at different courts in India from time to time which reached its climax under Akbar, the great. In his court, there were wrestlers (mallas) not only from different parts of India but also from Iran and Turan, among whom the best of the age were Muhammad Quli of Tabriz named Sher Hamla (lion attacker), Sadiq of Bukhara, Muhammad Ali of Turan and many others. The Muzhals were equally interested in witnessing elephant, camel, and ram fights. An example of such inte- rest’ may be seen in a sixteenth century illustration depicting emperor Babur shown watching the fights (Plate 1). The royal jharokha in the fort, over looking the vast plains used for animal fights was the convenient place for the emperor to have a clear view of these events.
ACROBATICS: Acrobatics is a Greek word which means to walk on tip toe or to climb up. It is a specialised ancient art of jumping, tumbling and balancing. It is very much allied to modern gymnastics which is a system of physical exercises practised for the development of the body and also as a sport. Whereas gymnastics is a competitive game and the effectiveness of the competition is assessed solely by the judgement of officials who have a knowledge of the technical rules and regulations of the game. acrobatics is the performance of difficult and sometimes even dangerous tricks by a team of persons, trained in the job. These persons move from place to place and collect spectators by the beat of a drum to show their performences. For this purpose neither an arena is required nor many sports goods are involved. The usual requirements are wooden poles, strong ropes, swings, rings, iron chains, pitchers, cycle-wheels, balls, barrels, etc. Sometimes sharp pointed daggers (jamadhars) are also fixed on the ground, while a person walks above on a rope, to show his mastery and perfection in the art. (Plates II and III)
HUNTING: The antiquity of hunting goes back to the primitive age. The discovery of a hunting scene in the rock shelter paintings at Bhimbetka in Central India is a fine example of human urge for this game, though at first mainly for food. The Nomadic Aryans, besides deriving pleasure’ and excitement from hunting, indulged in it for food and livelihood. In the Epic Age, training in archery was essential for the princes. Rama’s pulling the string of the mighty bow of Siva (at the time of his marriage) to break it to pieces, his piercing through the navel of the haughty Ravana with an arrow and Arjuna’s marksmanship in archery, have left indelible impressions on the Indian mind. To the glorious Guptas, mastery in archery was a matter of pride. Samudragupta and Chandragupta II as tiger and lion slayers and Chandragupta II and Kumargupta I, standing with bows and arrows in hands, are singular representations of archery and hunting in the Indian coinage. Hunting was the best amusement and recreation for the Mughals and the Rajput princes and princesses (Plate IV). Though various methods were adopted for killing or catching animals, deer hunt by bow and arrow, when brought within a comfortable reach by a beat, was quite common. These days, though fire-arms are safer and surer weapons for hunting, some tribals still stick to traditional method of hunting with a bow and arrow.
CHAUGAN (POLO) : Chauganbazi or polo play has been a popular outdoor game among the royal families in India since mediaeval times. Qutbuddin Aibek is said to have died of a fall from the horseback, while plying Chaugan in 1210 A.D. Akbar, the great, was extremely fond of this game. To his mind, it not only added to the splendour of the court but also revealed the hidden talents of the players. He had special polo playing grounds marked out and reserved at various places including Fatehpur Sikri, Agra. To enjoy the game in dark nights, he introduced fiery balls. Ladies of the royal household also used to play this game. Chandbibi of Ahmednagar, a contemporary of Akbar, the great, was equally adept in this game as shown in the illustration (Plate V). The game is played between two teams of five players on either side, riding hoseback with sticks having crooked ends. The ball is either carried slowly by the players to the goalpost or pushed forward by passes to be hit strongly through the post to score a goal.
SHATRANJ (CHESS): Chess, a game, more of skill than of chance, is probably of Indian origin. The discovery of Chessmen, not very different from those in use in modern times, from the excavated sites at Harappa and Mohenjodaro, is a clear evidence to this effect. As mentioned in the Shah Nama, a Persian work of the 10th-1lth century A.D., the game of Chess was sent from India to a Persian king who detained the person who carried it, for a week to explain the method of its play. During the Mughal period, the game of Chess was quite popular and was played both by the royalty, the nobility and the common man. The Rajput princes also were interested in the game is shown by one interesting Rajasthani painting in which Radha and Krishna have been depicted playing this interesting game (Plate VI). It is played on a board divided into 64 squat s, eight on each of the four sides. The contest is between two persons (though there are a number of supporters and onlookers) and each one has at his command 16 chessmen consisting of the shah (king), farzin (wazir), two fils (elephants), two faras (horses) two rukh (towers or castles) and 8 piyadagan (footmen). The object of each player is to capture his opponent’s king, even at the cost of losing a number of his units in action. The player check-mating the opponent’s king wins the game.
CHAUPAR : Chaupar has been a popular game of India since very ancient times. The famous battle of Mahabharata was caused, among others, mainly by Chaupar in which Yudhisthira lost his kingdom. It is played with 16 pieces of the same shape but every four of them must have the same colour. Three dices marked with dots from one to six are used in the game to decide the movement of the pieces. The playboard is prepared either on the floor or paper by drawing two parallel lines of equal length with two others bisecting them at right angles, forming little square at the centre, with four rectangles adjoing four sides of the square. Each rectangle is further divided into 24 equal spaces in three rows. A Chaupar, designed on cloth, is also used for the game. The game is usually played by four players, two contending against the other two. The rules as detailed in A’in-e-Akbari written during Akbar’s period, provided that each player would start his game by placing two of his pieces in the sixth-seventh places in the middle row while the seven and eigth spaces of the right row were occupied by the remaining two pieces. The left row was kept empty. Each player would move his pieces according to his throw till he arrived in the middle row. Thus being a pukhta (ripe he must get the exact number required to carry his pieces to the central square to win or become a rasida (arrived). Many illustrations in paintings are found. One such painting is illustrated here In which krishna is watching the ladies playing Chankpar (Plate VII).
ISHQBAZI (PIGEON FLYING) : It has been a favourite pastime of the Indians (see plate VIII) since very ancient time. In ancient days pigeons were kept as docile pets and useful messengers. Mughal emperors, - particularly Akbar, the great, was a keen observer of the fine qualities of this bird. A’in-e-Akbari is full of details on the subject. which has given different names for various breeds. The chief of the imperial pigeons of bluish colour, Mohana was presumably most attractive. The highest class of the pigeons was that of the khasa which included, Ashki (the weeper), Parizad, the fair, Almas (the diamond) and Shah’udi (Aloe Royal). They have a remarkable skill in performing Charkhs (a lusty movement of a pigeon forming complete circle in a flight and bazis (lying on the back with feet upwards and quickly turning round) after proper training. Other varieties, though not good in Charkhs and bazis were valued for their rare colours or peculiar actions. The Koka pigeon has a voice like that of a call to prayer; the Bagh utters a peculiar voice in the morning to wake up the people; the Luqqun struts about proudly waging its head, neck and tail; the Lotan goes through all the motion which a half-killed fowl does; the Rath carries letters; the Nishawari flies up but fallows its cage to whatever place it is taken. Some pigeons were merely kept for the beauty of their plumage an some were named after their colour-Chini (the porcelain blue), Shafaqi (voilet), Surmai (dark grey) and Kishmishi (brown).
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