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In early India, games and sports were very much concerned about the development of the physique and for the art of offence and defence.

Also games were considered a kind of recreation, which played a vital role in the development of a man's personality. Important of them included indoor games, music, fishing and boating, singing and dancing, water sports, etc.

Fortunately India has a rich heritage of these activities as can be found in the archaeological excavations of Mohenjadaro and Harappa, the Vedic literature, The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Puranas, the literary works of Kautilya, Kalidasa, Panini and Dandin as well as a whole lot of Buddhist and Jain literatures. Various archaeological evidences like coins, inscriptions and monumental carvings support them.

Indus valley civilization (3250 BC to 2750 BC)


A statuette found in the Mohenjadaro Remains is that of a dancer, which points out that the important pastime of the people then was dancing and singing. The other important game was swimming which has strong evidence as to the presence of the "Great Bath" which is analogous to the present day modern.

Marbles, balls and dice were used for games and dicing was the important game as is evident from lots of dices unearthed. Besides, a type of board game resembling the modern chess was also prevalent. A cylindrical gamesman resembling the present-day game of Draught has also been excavated at Harappa.

Hunting was the next important game. Seals showing men using bows and arrows for killing wild boars and deers have been found. Punching or boxing was also played. A number of toys of children made of clay have been found which shows that children engaged themselves with lots of games.

Vedic period (2500 BC-600 BC)

indian swing
The Vedic women received a fair share of masculine attention in physical culture and military training. The Rigveda tells us that many women joined the army in those days.

A form of chariot race was one of the games most popular during the Vedic period. People were fond of swinging. Ball games were in vogue in those days by both men and women. Apart from this, a number of courtyard games like" Hide and seek" and "Run and catch" were also played by the girls. Playing with dice became a popular activity. The dices were apparently made of Vibhidaka nuts. From the Rigveda, it appears that the Vedic Aryans knew the art of boxing.

Early Hindu period (600BC-320BC)

The Ramayana

People took much interest in games during this period. Ayodhya, Kiskindha and Lanka the three great places related with this period were centers of many games and sports. Chariot -riding and horse- riding were popular. Hunting was taken as a royal sport. Swimming was also popular and it is learnt that Ravana had a beautiful swimming pool in Asoka Vatika where he used to sport. Gambling with dices was also well known. "Chaturang" or chess as we call it today developed during this period and India is proud to be called the homeland of this great sport. Ball games were popular with the women.

The Mahabharata

Special mention has been made of games and gymnastics during this period. Jumping, arms contracting, wrestling, playing with balls, hide and seek, chasing animals were some of the games prevalent during this period. Ball games were popular and it is said that Lord Krishna played ball-games with maidens on the banks of the Yamuna." Iti-Danda " or "Gullidanda" was also one of the games played and it involves one long and one short stick. Bhima was well versed in this and this is similar to the present day cricket. There is also a mention of the Kauravas and the Pandavas playing Gulli Danda in the Mahabharata.
Yudhistar had a great liking for dicing and it is known that he lost his whole kingdom, his brothers and his wife in this game to his opponents. People also enjoyed water sports. Bhima was a great swimmer. Duryodhana was an expert in swimming. All the Pandava and Kaurava Princes, on the invitation of Duryodhana, went to the Ganges for some water games.

The Puranas

The use of Discus was very popular. At times, the attack of sword was also rendered useless by the discus. The Munda monster is said to have used it.

Rope fighting or Pasi-Yuddha was also prevalent. The rope was the main weapon of some of the Gods and because of the use of rope, Varuna is called Pasi. The art of using silambu or long sticks, lathi and slings was also taught during this period.

Buddhist and Jain Literatures


The game of chess is found mentioned in the canonical texts of Jainism. Chess was found prevalent in the campus of Nalanda. Archaeological excavations have found gambling dice in monasteries and other Buddhist sites. Another item of amusement was swimming. The Viharas offered the pleasure of bathing pools. Boxing was also popular.

Jataka stories

Archery is found mentioned in the Jataka stories. The Bhimsena Jataka tells that Boddhisatva learnt archery at Takshila. Wrestling was popular and descriptions of such breath-holding bouts in wrestling are available in the Jataka stories. Two kinds of games called Udyana Krida or garden games and Salila Krida or water sports are also mentioned.

Later Hindu Period (320AD-1200 AD)

Great Universities like Takshila and Nalanda developed during this period. Takshila was famous for military training, wrestling, archery and mountain- climbing. In Nalanda, swimming, breathing exercises and yoga formed an integral part of the curriculum. Harshavardhana, of the Gupta dynasty was a great sportsman and he encouraged his subjects as well. Another great contemporary of Harsha, Narasimhan or Mamallah was also a great wrestler. He belonged to the Pallava dynasty.

Archery was also popular among the women during this period, as can be seen from the Ahicchatra images. Hunting, elephant fighting, Ram fighting, and Partridge fighting were the other important games of this period.

Yoga in early India

Yoga occupied in the cultural history of India, from times immemorial, an unparalleled and distinct recognition as the one and only practical system of physical, mental, moral and spiritual culture. In ancient India therefore, every known school of thought, every creed of symbolism and diverse traditions of religions in spite of their inherent contradictions accepted Yoga as the ultimate achievement in life metaphysically and theologically.

Yoga was one of the fundamental doctrines devoted to the means of attaining perfect health and mental poise. Hieun Tsang, the famous Chinese traveler, visited the Nalanda University to learn the "Yogasastra".

The process of imparting knowledge on yoga, the science and art of living has been in vogue for thousands of years. A statue excavated from the Indus valley civilization shows a man in a yogin attitude, which further justifies the old age of yoga. . The yoga art flourished under its own intrinsic vitality, guarded by the Yogins who handed down the treasure of knowledge to their disciples.

In the later Vedic and post -Vedic age, yoga had been an integral part of the ancient civilization and blossomed during the later Vedic period in the forests. This fact has been aptly illustrated in the verses of the Yajurveda.

In the post-Vedic times, the practice of Yoga was developed into a formal system with detailed textbooks. Buddha himself revels in the terrain of yoga and his biography reveals the existence of yoga techniques. Between 4 BC and 4 AD, yoga literatures with a definite methodology were available. The Bhagawad Gita itself is considered as a great Yogasastra.