Sport is taken very seriously in India. From age-old indigenous sports like kabaddi to internationally organised sports on the professional circuit, you will be spoilt for choice as a spectator or a player.
Attending a sports match or joining in with a game is a great way to dive into the local culture. So go ahead, take part in a game of kabaddi in Punjab, get down and dirty with kushti in Delhi, sidestep the traffic in a gully cricket match with kids, or celebrate Indian style scoring in a football game in Sikkim, Goa or Kolkata.
Here’s a guide to the top sport in India:
Kabaddi is a team sport you start playing as a child in India. If you are staying in Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra make sure you try and witness or even play a game of kabaddi. But be warned – it requires the strength of an NFL linebacker and immense lungpower. It is an age-old game of tag and escape, with a unique touch; the person tagging has to hold his or her breath. Find out more about Kabaddi.
Kushti is a form of Indian wrestling very popular in villages. Pehelwans (kushti players) train at the hundreds of akharas (much like gyms) throughout India. Wrestlers from India’s akharas have won medals in international tournaments.
Kushti is popular in most places – but Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Cochin, Varanasi, Kolkata and Jammu have some great akharas. Organise a visit to an akhara to see wrestlers battling it out in a mud pit.
Cricket is more than just a sport, it is a religion in India! It is a national past time and an industry that generates billions of dollars. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the richest cricket board in the world.
Most kids dream of becoming Indian cricket stars, wishing to be become the next Sachin Tendulkar, India’s great cricket icon. All through the year, and especially during cricket season, kids come out on streets to play ‘gully’ or ‘paara’ (‘street’) cricket, dodging traffic.
If you want to watch a pro match, try the legendary Eden Gardens in Kolkata or Wankhede in Mumbai or the Dharamshala Cricket Stadium (in the Himalayas ); the highest cricket stadium in the world and the most beautiful. Several domestic and international tournaments are held in India. Check to see if anything is on when you visit – the Irani Trophy, the Ranji Trophy or the king of them all – the recently launched Twenty20 series with top international players drafted into its teams which are owned by India’s biggest film stars and richest tycoons. Visit the Indian Premier League site to find out about fixtures or learn more about the teams and players.
Cricket may be the national obsession but field hockey is the national sport of India. It is the country’s most decorated international sport; the men’s team has won the most Olympic medals for India, 11 including eight gold. The women’s team has won gold for three consecutive years at the Commonwealth Games, 2003 Afro-Asian Games, and the 2004 Hockey Asia Cup. Yet, hockey receives meagre coverage and money from the government, losing out heavily to cricket.
In the 2007 hit film Chak de! India, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan played the coach of a women’s hockey team which is pitted against the Aussies.
There are a number of hockey stadiums around the country where you can watch a game. The Dhyan Chand National Stadium, sometimes called “the temple of Indian Hockey” hosts major hockey events.
Indians have an incredible passion for football, almost at par with its craze for cricket. Consider this: The 2010 FIFA World Cup was watched by 63 million. There are 83 million football viewers and 55 per cent watch domestic leagues. International football clubs have begun to take notice. Manchester and Liverpool have opened football academies and Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid are following suit.
Football is played in most states but generates mass hysteria in Goa, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Sikkim. In Kolkata, footballers like Pele and Maradona have cult status. Just mention Mohun Bagan and East Bengal and watch a heated debate unfold on the merits of the two clubs. The neighbouring state of Sikkim has Bhaichung Bhutia, a torchbearer in the international arena. In Goa, football is a way of life.
There are often impromptu matches held in parks or on the beach and additional participants are normally more than welcome!
Unlike other sports, tennis has a ‘privileged class’ label in India. The people who play or watch tennis tend to come from upper economic strata. The most well-known players are Ramanathan Krishnan who put India on the international tennis map in 1962 when he came 4th at Wimbledon, and more recently, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi – the world no 1 doubles pair for ages, and Sania Mirza.
Other popular sports include boxing, badminton, table tennis, golf, shooting, archery, equestrian sports and lately motor car racing. There are always plenty of sporting activities to get involved in so ask around locally what events are taking place and immerse yourself in the enthusiastic cheering on of local sporting heroes.
Want to get involved? If you are a sports fanatic then get in touch with our reservations team who can help you plan a trip that coincides with sporting events or find out what is going on and help you get tickets.
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