Picture: Olympic Torch, Olympia, Greece, May 2012
Olympics originated in Olympia, Greece in 776 BC and were stopped after one thousand years. It was started again about one hundred years ago and held every four years in different cities. This is what we read in encyclopaedias. But not many people know that the ancient Olympics were completely different from the Modern Olympics. In the early stage very few games were held for a day and olive wreaths were given as prizes. But if we look at the prizes offered in India around the same time for winners, no one will have any doubt that India was the pioneer in this field. We gave gold coins and women as prizes. We have enough proof for this in Tamil and Sanskrit literature. When Janaka held a philosophical contest the prize he gave Yagnavalkya was gold coins tied to the horns of cows. When a poor Tamil poet Dharumi went for a poetry contest in the court of Pandya king he was given one thousand gold coins. When Krishna recovered the famous diamond Syamantaka by his heroic deeds he got two women Sathyabama and Jambavati. Yadhava Tamils won girls after bull fighting. So the prizes in ancient India were gold and women, not Olive branches!!
If all the Hindu mythological characters are alive today Krishna would have won gold medal in Discus throw, Parasurama and Kartikeya in Javelin throw, Hanuman in weight lifting, a Tamil in Bull fighting and Rama, Arjuna and Tamil chieftain Ori in Archery (in different Olympics), Bheema and Ghatotkacha in wrestling. Our literatures were very clear about who was good at what. Look at the following proofs and you decide whether we gave this idea of Olympics to the world or not.
1. Contest in Mahabharata: Arjuna-Karna clash (1400 BC)
Mahabharata, the longest epic in the world wais very clear in describing the archery contest held at Indraprastha. A lot of people contested and when Karna came forward to challenge Arjuna it was declared that an ordinary man can’t challenge a prince. Immediately Duryodhana declared Karna as the ruler of Anga Desa. Karna was loyal to him forever for this face saving measure. We know from this episode contests were held in certain games where Kings from different countries participated. In ancient Greece also not all the men were allowed.
2. Discus throw of Krishna: Lord Krishna’s most famous discus was named as Sudarsana Chakra/ wheel. Unlike other discusses it will come back to him like a Boomerang. Probably Krishna only knew some tricks like googly balls (in Cricket). He beheaded Sishupala with his Boomerang when he made the 100[SUP]th[/SUP] insult against Krishna. Krishna would have easily won discus gold medal.
3. Weight lifting by Krishna and Hanuman:
For weight lifting gold medal we have two contestants, but in two different Yugas. Hanuman would have lifted the gold in Treta Yuga for lifting Sanjeevi hill and Krishna would have got it in Dwapara Yuga for lifting Govardhana Giri.
Don’t think that all these are myths. They did something great and so they were remembered. There may be some exaggeration.
4. Krishna’s wrestling with a Mallan
Krishna like Greek hero Hercules did win all the contests. He was to fight with a woman wrestler called Bhutaki whom he crushed to death.
5. Bull fighting of Krishna
People of cowherd caste (Yadhavas) started this sport in ancient India. In Tamil it was clearly written two thousand years ago that the person who tackled the bull will be married to the daughter of the chieftain. Krishna also had to fight with a bull, which he threw away on a tree like a stone.
6. Bheema’s Gathyudha and Ghatotkachan
Mace fight was one of the sports practised in the ancient world. Bheema and his son Ghatotkacha were champions of this art.
7. Ram’s bow trick: seven trees at one go
When Sugreeva wanted to test the strength of Ram to see whether he was fit enough to fight his brother Vali, he asked him to pierce seven trees with his arrow. Rama did win the contest. This shows that in ancient days however big your name may be, they did test every one before entrusting a task. Contests were there in everyday life.
8. Rama’s javelin throw: Kakasura
Rama threw his javelin (spear) against an anti social element called Kakasura and he had to fall at the feet of Rama to escape from it.
9. Runners to bring sea water
Tamil inscriptions boast about Indian kings bathed in waters of two seas or four seas at the same time. They wanted to show that they have control over the land stretching from one end to another end. Great Gupta king Samudra Gupa also said in his inscription that he controlled the vast land in between two oceans. To get the water from two seas in the East and the West , they had hired runners. The runners did a relay race and brought the water from two seas for the king to bathe. Mayan civilisation also had some runners. They were like the Marathon runners.
10. Breaking the pot
During Krihna Leela celebrations though out India all the sports enthusiasts assemble and climb the oil smeared polls to get the money that was tied at the top. Then they go and break the pots with sticks. It was not an easy job. The people will lift the pots beyond their reach. Whoever wins at the end will get some gold coins or some money.
11. Chariot race: Rituparna
Chariot races were held in ancient India. Rituparana, father of Damayanti of Nishada country was a great charioteer. His chariot was faster than modern Formula one Race cars. Dasaratha was a great charioteer whose chariot can travel in dasa/ Ten directions. At one time Kaikeyi drove that chariot and won the war for him. Vedas mention chariot races.
12. Arya Panan visit to Tamilnadu
Tamil Nadu was a place where all arts and sports were supported. We have references to visiting musicians, gymnasts (Arya Kuthadi) and wrestlers (Arya Porunan) in Tamil literature. This is a very clear reference to travelling sportsmen from North India challenging everyone around the country.
13, Great wrestlers of Mahabharata period
Jarasandhan, Bheema and Ghatotkachan were great wrestlers of ancient India.
14. Wrestling schools in Maharashtra
Following the ancient tradition Maharashtra started wrestling schools in every town.
15. Horses and elephants riding
Kings and princes must learn horse riding and elephant riding. They gave special names for the royal horses and elephants which are in Tamil and Sanskrit books. Krishna’s horse was named Ucchaisravas and Indra’s elephant was named Airavata. More names are found in our Sanskrit and Tamil books.
16. Parasuraman’s javelin:
Parasuraman was a good javelin thrower. He threw his javelin against the sea and the sea went back in fear leaving him a new land called Kerala/ God’s own country. This was a symbolic language to say that he recovered vast lands or won a vast country with his javelin/ spear power.
17. Camel race
Camel race has been practised in Rajasthan deserts for ages.
18. Sanskrit Books on Games
Books on games are written in Sanskrit one thousand years ago. I don’t think any other language has such detailed books on games ( Manasollasam). Of the 64 arts ,one of them is about winning in the games. Chess, Gambling, Dice and such indoor games find a better place in Vedas and epics than out door games.
All these sports and the spirit behind it are equal to the motto of Modern Olympics.
1. Bull Fighting
Tamil book Kalitokai described the bull fighting in graphic details. It created lot of excitement among women watchers who will be marrying the winners. The bulls were groomed specially by the ladies for this purpose.
Kabadi is a Tamil game which is included in modern Olympics. Tamils have been playing this game from time immemorial.
Silambam was stick fight, but its modern version Fencing / sword fight, is included in the Olympics.
4. Kraunchabedanar: Javelin throw
Lord Kartikeya must have been an excellent javelin thrower. His spear broke the hill in to two and so he was called Krauncha Bedanar. The Krauncha pass ( also known as Niti pass in the Himalayas) is used by the migratory Krauncha birds from the Northern Siberia even today. Tamil and Sanskrit SKanda Purana praised him for this great task.
5. Ori’s Bow Trick
Like Rama pierced seven trees at one go, Sangam Tamil literature described how Ori’s arrow pierced five different animals at one go. Paranar praised his great skill in archery. He shot an arrow that went through an elephant, a tiger, a deer ,a boar and a forest iguana!! He would have easily won gold medal for archery. Another great archer was Ekalaivan of Mahabharata period.
6. Weight lifting: Idumban Kavadi
Weight lifting was done by Idumban, sage Agastya’s helper. Idumban was hired by sage Agastya to carry two hills and he laid them on the ground half way through his journey. When he tried to continue his journey Lord Skanda prevented him from carrying the hills and Idumban was made the guard of the hills at Palani, a holy town in Tamil Nadu. (Kavadi is like a balance-- a rod suspended on one’s shoulder which carried heavy things tied to both the ends of the rod--It is similar to weights in weight lifting on either side.)This story of Idumban is a land dispute between the locals and sage Agastya, but amicably settled in the end.
7. Hand Ball by women
Foot ball was invented by Mayans of Central America. But hand balls were invented by Tamil women. We have innumerable references to Tamil women playing hand balls in groups (Orai Ayam).
8. Water Sports: Pari Patal and Attanathi & Adimanthi
Water sports were described in great detail in ancient Tamil book Paripatal and Akananuru. A tragic incident was sung by two or three Sangam poets. Adi Manthi, daughter of great king Karikal Chola married a gymnast who was an expert in Gymnastic swimming. When he was displaying his skill in the river Kaveri during a festival ,something went wrong and he was washed away by the river. The entire crowd was in a great shock. His wife cried in pity and followed him along the river. At last he was saved by a Samaritan and he lost his life in the rescue attempt. This and Paripatal showed very clearly all the water sports like swimming and gymnastics were enjoyed by the Tamils .
9. Arya Porunan Vs Panan
Another tragic tale is about a wrestling contest. Panan, a wrestler from North India visited Tamil Nadu and challenged everyone for a contest. His friend Katti was also a North Indian. Tamil Nadu also had a great name in Wrestling –Kanaiyan. He was friendly with another northerner called Arya Porunan. At first Panan from the North challenged Arya Porunan, a migrant from north settled in Tamil country. Arya Porunan’s body was cut into two pieces. His friend Kanaiyan was shaking in fear and ran away from the scene. Now Panan became more arrogant and went to Uraiyur, the capital of Chola country to challenge Thithan Veliyan. Before entering the town he heard about big celebrations for Thithan Veliyan. People were praising his heroic acts. That gave Panan a big shock and now he was shaking in fear. Panan ran away without entering Uraiyur. Tamil poet Paranar made fun of him in his poems (please read my article The First Tamil Historian-Paranar)
10. Runners: Tamil runners who brought sea water from the west and the east were mentioned in several copper plates. (Details are given above)
11. Wrestling School: Like in Maharashtra , Tamils had wrestling schools in every town in ancient Tamil Nadu. The teachers were respected like heroes and strict discipline was maintained throughout one’s learning. These people took the art of Karate to the Far Eastern countries. The Buddhist monks learnt it for their self defence.
12. Horse riding:
Horse riding was part of a regular syllabus for kings and princes. Kari, the Tamil chieftain had named his horse Kari as well. Lovers riding the chariots were mentioned in Tamil poems.
13. Pandya king Javelin throw
Like Parasurama, a Pandya king was also credited with acquiring a vast country by throwing his spear into the sea. Needless to say that it is a symbolic way of saying he won a country across the sea by his javelin/ spear power. What interests us here is they use Javelin throw as a phrase to bring out a message. My conclusion is Throwing a Javelin was a common sport. The Pandya was Nilam Tharu Thiru Vil Pandyan (Vadivel Erintha Pandya)
Was It Olympics?
How can we call these games Olympics?
We can call these games Olympics because 1. General public were allowed to participate and watch 2.Prizes were given at the end 3.The motto of the games were friendship and culture 4. We did not spill blood like the Romans where slaves were mauled to death by tigers and lions and the Roman kings and the public cheered the Gladiators.