Select Indian Sports, Games and Martial Arts

Some of the traditional sports, games and martial arts of India are as follows:

Bharashram and Bharamanshram

Bharashram and Bharamanshram are two Sanskrit words that corespond to the weight-lifting and walking. Both of these have been part of ancient Indian Martial arts and have been described widely. Both of them are established Olympics disciplines at present times.

Malla Khamb

Malla khamb is an ancient sport in which a gymnast performs feats and poses in concert with a vertical wooden pole or rope.  The sport is as ancient as our Epics. The players are required to have a unique technique and players mastering it can also excel in wrestling, gymnastics, pole vault and other sports. It was recently declared state sports of Madhya Pradesh.


Chaturanga is the ancient parent of Chess. In Mahabharta period, Chaturanga refered to the four limbs of the army viz. elephants, chariots, cavalry and infantry. The most reliable sources say that Chess originated in India during Gupta period from a game of Chaturanga that existed earlier. Chaturanga was played on an 8×8 uncheckered board, called Ashtāpada. A variant played on a larger ten-by-ten board is known as Dasapada.


Dhopkhel is the name of a traditional ball game of Assam. The game is played between two eleven member teams on a 125m by 80m field bounded by four flags. The players take turns throwing the ball at the opponent to knock them out of the game, while seeking to catch the ball and evade other players. It is a test of speed, stamina, and acrobatic skills. The game was once played to amuse Ahom royalty as a spectator sport. It is no longer widely played in Assam, though efforts are being made to revive it.

Asol Aap and Asol – Tale Aap

These two terms are related to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Asol means Canoe (Small and light boat; pointed at both ends; propelled with a paddle), and Aap means race.

Asol Aap is the Canoe racing and the Asol Tale Aap is Canoe Race on Sand.  These are two traditional games of the Nicobarese.

Vallam Kali

Vallam Kali is a Malayalam word meaning Boat Game. This term refers to the traditional canoe racing in Kerala, particularly as a part of Onam festivities.

The race of snake boats (Chundan Vallam) is the major event. Most spectacular of the boat races, are those held at Aranmula, Champakulam and Kottayam.

Kalari Payattu

Kalaripayattu is an Indian martial art from Kerala. It is one of the most ancient fighting systems that are even practiced today. It was originally practised in Kerala and some parts of Karnataka. Today it is practiced in Kerala, Tamil Nadu as well as Karnataka and some parts of Sri Lanka.

  • It originated in 4th century and reached its zenith in the 16th century, in the days of Thacholi Othenan – a celebrated chieftain of north Malabar. This art includes the physical exercises and mock duels – armed and unarmed combat.
  • It is not accompanied by any music or drumming, but is a silent combat, where style matters the most. Kalari Payattu is practiced by women also. Kalari Payattu is now seen as a method of physical fitness, and an empty-handed means of self-defence.

Yet, it is tied to traditional ceremonies and rituals. In recent years, efforts have been made to further popularise the art, with it featuring in international and Indian films.


Musti-yuddha or mushti-yuddha is “fist combat”. It seems to be one of the most ancient art, as we find its refernce in Rig-Veda. During Mahabharta, its variant was the Duel, called niyuddham, which were often fought to the death. Bheema killed Jarasandha in a Niyuddham only, which was planned by Krishna.


Jallikattu is the bull taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day. Jellicut is the name of a special breed of bull for this fighting.  The majority of jallikattu bulls belong to the pulikulam breed of cattle.

Yubi lakpi

Yubi lakpi is a seven-a-side traditional football game played in Manipur using a coconut. The game has some similarity with rugby.


Mokshapat means “Moksha” or “Patana” (fall). The game is Snakes & Ladders, which was invented by Gyandev.