India and badminton share a story stringed with colonial echoes, passionate players, and a swift rise to a global powerhouse. The sport has traversed continents, transforming from a courtly pastime to a national obsession. Let’s take a shuttle through time and explore the rich history of badminton in India, a journey as thrilling as the smashes and drop shots that characterize the game.
The Roots of Poona:
The story begins in the 1860s when some British officers stationed in Pune encountered an indigenous racquet sport, a blend of shuttlecock and battledore, played by locals. Intrigued, they adopted and adapted the game, adding features like the net and codifying rules. They called it “Poona” after the city of Pune. “Poona” soon made its way to England where the Duke of Beaufort introduced the game to his guests at a lawn party held in his estate. He called it the Badminton Game, after his estate which was named the Badminton House, the name which stuck with it till eternity.
From Colonial Pastime to National Passion:
Badminton being an easy sport to pick up and play for anyone of any age, rose to popularity rapidly in India leading to the formation of the first badminton club in 1877, the Bath Badminton Club. The sport having transitioned from a pastime to a competitive sport led to the formation of the Badminton Association of India (BAI) in 1899. The first national championship, held in Calcutta in 1934 marked a historic moment in the history of the game, igniting a nationwide passion for the sport.
The Rise of Legends:
The 20th century saw the emergence of iconic players who catapulted India onto the badminton world stage. Prakash Padukone, also regarded as the father of badminton in India, is one of the most important figures, not just in badminton but also in Indian sports. The nine-time national champion was a pioneer, paving the way for many young shuttlers in the country. He became the first Indian to win the prestigious All England Badminton Championship and reach world no. 1 in men’s world badminton ranking in 1980, etching his name in history. Prakash Padukone’s success served as a beacon of light, lighting the way for the next generation of badminton legends. India witnessed Syed Modi, a seven-time national champion lead the way on to the next phase of badminton in the country. After which, the baton was placed into the hands of Pullela Gopichand, who became the second Indian, after Padukone, to win the All England Badminton Championship in 2001.
Women on Winning Streak:
The Indian badminton story wouldn’t be complete without the extraordinary women who shattered stereotypes and dominated the court. Saina Nehwal, the “golden girl” of Indian badminton, stormed onto the scene in the late 2000s, becoming the first Indian to win an Olympic medal and reach the World No. 1 ranking. P.V. Sindhu followed suit, winning an Olympic silver medal in 2016 and complementing it with a bronze in the 2020 Olympics. Sindhu also went on to win the BWF World Championships becoming the only Indian to achieve the feat.
The doubles format of the game has also brought India international glory. The dynamic duo of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa became the first Indian women to win a World Championship medal in 2011, inspiring a generation of doubles players. The young pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are currently making waves, reaching the World No. 1 in the BWF world rankings and clinching medals in numerous prestigious tournaments, including a bronze medal in the BWF World Championships.
Present and Future Talent:
In current times, top talented Indian badminton players including Lakshya Sen, H.S.Pronnoy, and Kidambi Srikanth have been consistently doing well at top badminton tournaments. The historic Thomas Cup win in 2022 is a testament to India’s badminton prowess. Alongside, the young shuttlers have also been smashing at the junior-level tournaments across the world. Such achievements highlight the rising popularity and talent of badminton across India.
Beyond the Stars:
While iconic players grab headlines, India’s badminton success hinges on a robust ecosystem. The Badminton Association of India (BAI) has played a crucial role in talent development, organizing tournaments, and providing infrastructure. Academies like Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy and Gopichand Badminton Academy, founded by the legendary players themselves, have nurtured upcoming talents.
The Legacy Continues:
The story of badminton in India is more than just wins and records. It’s a tale of resilience, passion, and a collective dream. From the dusty courts of Poona to the dazzling arenas of international tournaments, the shuttle has travelled a remarkable journey, carrying the hopes and aspirations of a nation. As India continues to dominate the sport, one thing remains clear: the love for badminton burns bright in the hearts of millions, echoing across the courts and promising many more thrilling chapters in this extraordinary saga.