Guest Writings
23/09/04 Vedic Olympics by Satya Sagar

I have finally figured out why the Indian sub-continent, home to over a billion people, does not produce a single gold medal winning sportsman or athlete at the Olympic Games.

Some people (usually pseudo-athletic intellectuals) mistakenly think it is all about low nutrition levels of the masses, lack of infrastructure and state support for sporting activity, poor training et al but for me the reason is quite simple- Olympics is Greek to Indians.

By 'Indians' I mean of course, upper-caste middle-class Indians who are the only ones in our land with time, money, opportunity to pursue sporting activities in any meaningful way. The under classes are too busy doing several forced decathlons every day to keep those above them contented

And as far as elite Indians are concerned, despite Alexander the Great's brief intervention two millennia ago, most sports events at the Olympic Games are completely alien to their entire history, philosophy and ethos.

I am serious and what I am about to say just now has important implications for India's future strategy in the world of sports in general and at the Olympics in particular. If only the sports authorities woke up to my analysis I can guarantee that one way or the other we will surely get all the gold available at the next Games (plus more!).

To begin with we have to understand a few simple facts. There is no such thing as a universal sport- every sport has a unique history, is suited to a particular way of life, worldview and is easily understood and practiced only by those who conform to its cultural demands. An Indian attempting a Greek sport is as dubious as a Greek trying to sing an Indian song.

If that is too confusing let me give the example of the 100 meters track event in which, barring a very few exceptions, India has never produced any promising athletes in its entire sporting history. My contention is that this has nothing to do with lack of training or stamina or any general deficiency of the Indian physique as such- it has to do with motivation.

No privileged Indian, worth his salt, will run a 100 meters very fast just because somebody promised him a piece of gold. They know it is a trick of some kind. The Greeks invented the trick in ancient times, the Americans and Russians fall for it repeatedly in our times and the Chinese are fast catching up but the Indian approach to getting gold is very, very different.

We know from our ancient sages that the best way to obtain gold is by sitting down calmly, breathing deeply, meditating and removing all thought of the shiny metal from our consciousness- whereby all the gold in the world will mysteriously land all by itself at our feet. Failing which of course one can always buy the damn thing and smuggle it back home. Only a fool or a thief would run for gold and as they say a fool and his gold are soon parted. (I am not so sure whether this adage applies to the thief though)

Of course, I am not denying there are other reasons also for Indians not winning gold medals at such events. The fact is that we are too polite a people to get ahead of other people using brute physical force.

Given the general level of chivalry that exists among Indian men I will bet our best male runners will never get past even average women athletes from another country in any race. Sad but true, our gentlemanliness is the cause of our downfall when it comes to sporting competitions.

Another example of how the uniquely Indian approach to the world hampers our ability to win gold medals is that of the hurdles event. For civilizations that derive their origins in ancient Greece a hurdle is an obstacle that can be physically overcome by simply making an effort and jumping over it.

Not so simple with the highly cerebral Indians- for whom first of all philosophically all hurdles, anywhere, are but illusions and exist only in the mind of the observer. Secondly even assuming there is this illusion of an obstacle that one is faced with, the solution is not to try and jump over it like a horse or a donkey. Isn't it wiser to first lower the bars and gently step over or even better to go around the obstacle while smiling wisely at those foolish enough to waste their bodily energies leaping over them?

These above were specific examples but overall the differences between the Indian and Greek approaches to sports go much, much deeper and have to do with attitudes of their ancient peoples towards the human body itself.

For the Greeks the body was something to be developed, made stronger, fitter and finer whereas much of Indian thought has been directed towards negating the very fact of physical existence. Whereas the ancient Greek's greatest ambition was to run on the treadmill of life for as long as possible the ancient Indian sought not just to jump off this sorrow-producing device but also prevent it from going around in cycles forever.

Given all this it is not surprising at all that we don't win gold medals at the Olympic Games. As they stand right now they are a conspiracy against our entire civilization- based as they are on the cultivation and worship of the ephemerally material body.

So what is the way out then? Are we to write off ever coming back with gold from the Olympic Games?

No need to be so pessimistic. I think, one possible solution could be to force the Olympic organizers to change their events and rules. (Easy, we point our nukes at them)

Some of the changes to the current Olympic system and its rules for example could include making it compulsory for all athletes to recite the ancient Gayatri mantra before commencing their efforts at winning the gold. While our competitors stand tongue-tied we can easily amble past them to the finishing post. This would fit in perfectly with the ethos of the Rig-Veda- a rigged sporting event.

Another possible rule, keeping with other fine aspects of Indian tradition, is to allow 'twice-born' athletes to run only half the distance in order to be declared the winner. Given that no other country produces this variety of human being we will dominate the Olympics all the way into the distant future. Surely our fellows can make it to fifty meters before their competitors do a hundred?

Apart from this the organizers must allow our country's learned sadhus and gurus to attend the Games – not to compete of course but just to make their presence felt. They should be provided with necessary infrastructure to start a small fire, a loudspeaker to chant their mantras, fans to blow the smoke towards the audience and hand out vibhuti to all athletes foolish enough to participate in the Olympics.

At the end of the Games I bet most if not all the winners, convinced of the futility of competition, laden with gilt and burdened with guilt will voluntarily deposit their medals at the feet of the sadhus. (Take that, you silly Chinese, who are selling your souls and 5000 years of history to 'catch up' with the West by imitating them!)

Another approach of course is to forge a new version of the Games altogether; based on principles of Indian philosophy- we can call it the Vedic Olympics. But to show that we are not a backward looking people, dreaming about ancient glory and exaggerating the virtues of our long history- the events must all be based on the various sports that have emerged in contemporary India. Here are a few possible events that come to mind:

Queue jumping: This is a subtle sport not for the crude and unsophisticated. For example those who win this game are not the ones who aggressively jump ahead of others in the queue by muscling their way through. The winner is required to feign an air of authority, wield a stick and pretend he has come to set the queue straight- at the end of which process he is mysteriously the fellow right in front.

Indian Fencing: In this innovative sport, contrary to the violence involved in its Western counterpart with a similar name, there will be no use of swords or of any force at all. Each participant will be given the same amount of material to make a fence and the winner is the one who can build a viable fence around the largest amount of public land he/she can grab.

Discus throw: Conventionally in the Greco-Roman version of this sport, participants are required to throw a UFO shaped object as far as they physically can. On the contrary in its Indian version the participant, on hearing the word 'discus' immediately gets prepared for a long dialogue of some kind, gently marshalling his arguments, facts and figures. And when it comes to throwing a discussion of any kind is there anybody who can really compete with our smooth-tongued fellow countrymen and women? They will keep throwing a discussion at you even if you throw a UFO shaped object at them in reply.

Hop-step-and-jump: In the Indian version of this sport there will be a mass transport bus from New Delhi that never stops but only decelerates at the sight of passengers waiting to get on. The winner is the one who can push the most number of old people, women and children en route to a seat on the bus. The referee/conductor blows the whistle to speed the bus on its way while the passengers are still trying to get aboard.

The aggressiveness demanded in this sport is a concession to those unruly foreigners who come from the muscular Greek traditions of Atlas and Hercules. It is also to acknowledge the fact that Alexander and his military ways did make a deep and lasting impression on at least some of our fellow-citizens in the national capital.

Satya Sagar is a journalist, writer, video-maker based in Thailand. He can be reached at

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