Get to know your city: How badminton was born in Pune as a party for boring British officers, their wives

In March 1873, an English sports fan sent a request to The Field: The Country Gentlemen’s Newspaper England for information on the new ‘Badminton game Battledore’ which he heard was a favorite in India and which is increasingly evolving in Britain. “Can any of your readers give me details about the way it is played, what tools are needed, etc.?” asked the man, identified only as K, in a letter published in the ‘Notes and Inquiries’ section of the newspaper.

In subsequent issues of the magazine, readers ’responses were printed for the benefit of sports fans living in the English countryside, the constituency the newspaper served.

Most of the published answers were from Britons living in India and who had played a game that had been popular among British soldiers and officers for ten years. On The Field’s website, readers shared information about the new game as they played it or saw it play, and rules that are followed in places like Calcutta, Nagpur, Simla, Murree and Tanjore.

An illustration from 1874 published with the caption that ‘the new game of badminton in India’ is becoming increasingly popular.

In the same magazine five months later, Major Forbes of Calcutta shared a copy of the 3,000-word Badminton Handbook published by The Great Eastern Hotel Company in Calcutta, which describes the size of the average badminton court (28 feet x 20 feet), net 5 and a half feet), and rules of the game and the result.

These mentions of the game in The Field are considered to be the earliest records of badminton available today. However, the history of the game in India begins at least a decade earlier.

‘Poon Game’

Chroniclers of this game generally agree that badminton – as it is known today – originated in India in the 1860s, probably as a marriage between royal tennis and children’s ball games (such as ‘Tamfool’, ‘battledore and shuttlecock’, ‘Jeu de Volant ‘,’ feather ball ‘). Before the game was renamed ‘Badminton’, it was known among the British as ‘Poona’.

“Officers of the British Army were introduced to an indigenous version of the game, played for centuries, while stationed in India around the 1860s. They made their own adaptations to the sport, primarily adding a net and named it Poona or Poonah, after the city (Pune) where the garrison was located. The first informal set of badminton rules for the game was formed by the British in India. colonists in 1867. ”, reads the article on the official website of the Olympics.

According to the history of the game written by Bernard Adams, badminton began mostly as a social pastime, not as a competitive game indoors. In the first years, as many as eight players could play (four on each side). The shape of the courtyard was rectangular or hourglass.

A picture from 1743 showing a battledore game. Note that there are no nets or marked terrain. Here, players are collaborators rather than opponents.

The game was so popular among colonial officers that the Christian clergy of the time clearly saw in it a threat to Sunday church attendance. A February 1877 report from the Times of India quoted the Bishop of Madras as saying, “On behalf of my brother the chaplain and myself, I protest against Sunday badminton.” The report adds: “The issue of Sunday badminton, as typical of innocent entertainment, is undoubtedly serious … because, after all, if we leave aside religious views, it is mostly a matter of decency,” the report said.

Retired British colonial officers returned the game home to Britain in the years that followed and it captured the West.

According to one report, one fine evening in early 1873, annoying guests of the Duke of Beaufort decided to try a new game on his estate ‘Badminton House’ in Gloucestershire, England, and they liked it. A family friend of the Duke and regular member of the Badminton House John Lorain Baldwin, an athlete and writer of sports rules, is credited with standardizing the rules of the game, and also christened it ‘Badminton’ after the estate.

A memorial to the birthplace?

Uday Sane, a certified judge of the World Badminton Federation and a resident of Pune, aspired to the idea of ​​setting up a monument or museum to mark the place where one of the most popular games originated.

An undated picture of Brits playing badminton in India. Two Indian balls can be seen in the picture.

Sane, who believes the game was first played on the premises of an ammunition factory in Khadki, says: “It’s a valuable part of our history.” In 2008, when the World Junior Championships were held at the city’s Balewadi Stadium, Sane was a technical officer.

“There were many badminton players and fans from different parts of the world here and they asked me about the place where badminton was first played. I drove them in a vehicle, with 20 seats, to show them the Khadki ammunition factory. We went in front of the factory, but they brought us back because it was a restricted area. The guests were upset. Many mentioned that something had to be done to mark the place, ”Sane said.

“For the last 10 years, I have persecuted various people, from local MPs to MLAs, even private builders, asking them to share an area near Khadki so we can build a museum, maybe a court, to mark this part of our history.” said Sane Indian Express.

Gayatri Vartak, a city sports psychologist and former international badminton player, said she felt special while playing badminton after learning it was a game that originated in her city.

“It is very special when you play a sport that has a history, especially from where you are. Growing up knowing that Pune is the birthplace of badminton, accompanied by stories that our seniors and our coaches shared with us, changed our overall enthusiasm, ”she said.


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