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By Dr Hari & Hema

So the Olympics 2012 are upon us. The London games started off with a pretty good opening ceremony throwing open the way for thrilling competitions to begin. The Olympics Games are the largest sporting event drawing worldwide interest and participation. Every four years, the games remind us that the World is One Global Family- Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Every human being, every living being, both from the plant kingdom and animal kingdom belong to one Universal family.  This very philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is shared and practiced by The Art of Living enthusiasts in different parts of the world.

How Olympics made a comeback 1896

The modern Olympics Games, as known today, were revived in 1896 in Athens, Greece after a discussion between William Penny Brookes and Baron Pierre de Coubertin in a small town, Much Wenlock in 1866 in England. After the discussion Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894. Baron Pier de Coubertin, was instrumental in organizing the first Olympics in 1896 and is considered the father of modern Olympics

How the Olympics were revived

From L to R – Willwam Penny Brookes, Baron Pierre de Coubertin and the town of  Much Wenlo

The Ancient Times

The name Olympics is attributed to the fact that the ancient games were conducted at the town called Olympia in Ancient Greece between 776 BCE and 394 CE, close to 1000 years. It is said that the Olympic Games started as a festival to honor the Greek gods Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of Mount Olympus.

How the Olympics started

Ancient town of Olympia

The Olympics comprised competitions among representatives of different city states of ancient Greece. During this period, hostilities between the city states were dropped and truce was declared so that athletes, officials and spectators could travel and participate in the games in a conducive, friendly atmosphere. Thus the games ensured periods of friendship among the different member states of the Greek civilization.

The games at Olympia also provided a platform for politicians to merge alliances, for artists, poets and scholars to interact and exchange ideas. Much as it is today, the games provided a platform to one and all.

In 394 CE, Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned the games as a part of his campaign to impose Christianity as a state religion in Greece.

Games in Ancient Rome

Conducting large game festivals in ancient Europe was unique to Olympia or Athens, Greece. Similar sporting events, especially Race, were held in Ancient Rome regularly. A clear reference to this is available in thefamous play of Julius Caesar written by Shakespeare.

An interesting conversation between Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonious at one of the games, was that, if a runner touches a woman during the race, then that woman is blessed to give birth to a child. Julius Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia had not given birth to a child till then. So, Julius Caesar requested Calpurnia, to stand by the lane and asked Marcus Antonius to touch her, in course of the run and not to forget to do so, “in haste”.  Such games were very popular in many parts of ancient Rome and many beliefs were attached to them.

People in ancient Rome loved to play all kinds of games

L to R-Ball games, Naval games and Board Games were played frequently in Ancient Rome

Games in Ancient India

Similar games were also conducted in Ancient India, not just around the turn of the first millennium, when games seem to have become popular in Ancient Europe, but much much earlier in 3000 BCE itself. In the excavation, at the Kalibanga and other excavation sites of India that are contemporary to the Harappa and Mohenjo-daro period, similar stadium sites as of Greece and Rome have been excavated.

Ranga Manch

These ancient stadia, play fields of India, date back to 5000 years. They were referred to as Ranga Manch. Ranga stands for “colourand Manch for “platforms”. These were platforms to exhibit cultural pageants, dances and the sporting events of those days which included sports such as archery – Dhanur Yuddha, wrestling – Mal Yuddha, mace fight – Gadha Yudha, running and various other such games – kreeda, which found flavour in those times.

Lighting the flame

In modern Olympics, the first ceremony is lighting the Olympic flame. It starts with young women lighting the torch with the heat from the Sun.The flame is kept burning throughout the games.

Young women lighting the Olympic flame

young Women lighting the Olympic flame

This modern ceremony of lighting the Olympic flame evolved from the practices of ancient Olympics that were held in Greece, where the flame was revered and used as a mark to start the game. The modern practice of lighting the Olympic torch at Olympia, taking it to different parts of the world, and finally reaching it to the city where the games are to be played, culminating in the Olympic stadium, started at the games of 1928, at Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The flame ceremony has been respected across the world, during all times and in all traditions.

6 Vestal Virgins

Similar to the ceremony of the women lighting the flame in Greece, ancient Rome had the concept of the six vestal virgins guarding the flame.

In ancient Rome the fire was also worshipped

Vestal Virgins of Rome

Persia

Similarly, further to the east in ancient Persia, we have the concept of eternal flame, Azure. This was venerated and popularized by Zarathustra.

Azerbaijan

The modern day country of Azerbaijan, whose name comes from the word Azure, still has an eternal flame, burning to this day.

In Azerbaijan the fire is also sacred

The Eternal Flame at the Fire Temple in Azerbaijan

India

Further to the east in India, for the last 5000 years and more, the concept of flame in the form of Agni has been venerated through the ages. Agni is one of the primary divinities in the pantheon of divinities in the Indian thought..

In India the fire still plays an important role in worship

Homa Kunda

Since in practice, as found from archaeological excavations, Fire as Agni has been venerated in India, right through antiquity, in the mists of time, probably the concept of venerating Fire could be traced to Indian practice and knowledge system.

America

In America today, the main symbol of freedom is the statue of liberty. The figure in the statue carries a flame in her hand, symbolizing a similar ethos across times, across traditions.

Statue of Liberty also upholds a flame

Statue of Liberty holds the flame

Olympic Village

The Olympics and its tradition bring together practices, sporting excellences and people from all around the globe in a spirit of fair play and brotherhood.  The Olympic village where people from different parts of the world congregate and live together in fraternity, as well as every game played in all earnestness to compete and win laurels, bring forth an aspect of human nature — a multifaceted blend of competitiveness and friendship.

Olympic village 2012 in London

Olympic village 2012 in London

It is befitting that the primal human spirit of sportsmanship and brotherhood has been acknowledged this year by opening the One Planet Centre at the heart of the Olympic Village. The One Planet Centre is a reflection of the desire of London 2012 games to build a better world for future generations through information and activities about positive steps to be taken to build a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable future. Basically, what the folks at Art of Living have been talking about all along – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam!

The Art of Living sees the World as One Family: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

D.K. Hari and D. K. Hema Hari are authors, research collators and founders of Bharath Gyan.They may be contacted on bharathgyan@gmail.com and followed on twitter on @bharathgyan 

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2 Responses to “What no one told you about the Olympics”

  1. mkailkhura

    Great piece. Apart from a brief history of Olympics, what I find very interesting is that Dr Hari and Hema have given us great insights into the importance given to the eternal flame across all cultures.The Olympics Torch seems so much more personal now :-)

    Reply

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