Few people know that badminton ranks second in the list of most played sports in India, even fewer are acquainted with the fact that the roots of modern badminton can be traced back to British India.
It all started in the mid 1800’s in the city of Poona (Pune). Although the game of rackets and balls existed centuries ago, modern badminton owes its existence to Pune so much so that the game was originally named ‘poon’ or ‘poonah’. Battledore and shuttlecock was another similar game played by children in Europe which used shuttlecocks and cotton balls alternatively. Some claim that ball badminton which originated in Tanjore (Thanjavur) district of Tamil Nadu, ‘Hanetsuki’ from Japan, ‘Ti jian zi’ from China and Jeu de Volant from Europe were the forerunners of badminton. All their claims are acceptable to a certain extent as the exact origin remains unknown. But the above mentioned games were primitive and used dissimilar sports equipments, few used shuttlecocks and none used nets. Moreover none of these games became mainstream; most were meant only for kids.
‘Poon’ was the only game that bears utmost similarity to modern badminton. It was a children’s game which was popular in India and was a recognized competitive sport even before the 1860’s. British officers stationed in Poona fort were so fascinated by this game that they took it back to Britain and that is when ‘poon’ went international. In the 1870’s attempts were made to lay down standardized rules for the game in India. The game was well liked in England and spread to other parts of Europe. In 1873, the Duke of Beaufort organized a grand celebration in his mansion near Glouchestershire. He had a hall where the visitors were encouraged to play this new found game. His residence was known as Badminton House and hence the name: badminton. Soon professional tournaments were held first being the All England Open Badminton Championships (1899). Badminton’s reputation kept on escalating and soon spread to USA, Canada and New Zealand. Even in China there was a revival of this game in its modern form. This was India’s gift to the world of sports.
Sadly, similar to many other Indian innovations, badminton too has seen much neglect in its ‘home’ country. With the launch of ‘Indian Badminton League’ and the rise of Saina Nehwal as world number two in 2010 there has been a slight renewal of public interest in badminton and but India still has a long way to go with regard to international standards. The Badminton Association of India may paint a rosy picture, but the fact is that India has been successful in bagging only one Olympic medal in badminton (Nehwal’s bronze in 2012). This shows that there is much need for enhancement and encouragement for talented young players. Pune, the city where it all started, continues to produce a good number of national level players. With more support and sponsorship to players, India can be more optimistic about her performance in this sport internationally.