Murshidabad - Sports Arena

March 8, 2013, Fri 6:10 pm

Native Infantry Regiment

From the time of the Nawabs the martial music was meant for martial sports, when a group of armed men would fling themselves upon another, and would enjoy the sport of killing that was war. It was all sports, whether on the battle-field or in the secret chamber. The drums beat and the fifes blew such tunes that would encourage the forces to give battle either to win or die. But it remained always a fight between brawn and brain, with the directing maxim that there was nothing wrong in war and the battle-field served as the arena of sport. It was all sports, whether on the battle-field or in the secret chamber. They always took things easy, and participated in long drawn parleys, to bring the rival forces indulged in with martial music showing of brawn. Was there any kind of Indian sports in Murshidabad, when Murshidabad was the capital of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Perhaps there was no need of sports at that period. Physical culture was not meant for Nawabs and higher-ups. It was for those who served under the generals, the Hazaris and Panch-Hazaris, to practice wrestling. Sabre-Rattling[1], Javelin throwing, horse-riding and even firing the muskets. But every leader of the old community also practiced some of these martial sports particularly horse-riding and wielding the sword and the lance. During the reign of Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, the Malla Raja Gopal Singh of Bishnupur, got a land reward from the Nawab, as he rode a big stallion that required the service of sixteen syces (a servant employed to look after horses, drive carriages, etc) just to take the horse to its daily bath.

Individuals in those days of the Nawabs received encomiums from the Sovereign by showing physical feats and courage in the field of battle. The person, who held a mad elephant at bay or killed a tiger with only a sword in hand, was claimed as a great sportsman and a man of valiant disposition. He was fit for the forces and rose gradually to be a commandant of the forces, which gained for him fame and fortune, jagirs and Harems full of ladies. The Mughal Murshidabad had no necessity of having organized sports. The professional wrestlers were just a team of show-men like magicians. Someone came out at the top in a wrestlers Dangal (wrestling tournament), and the Nawab was pleased to award the Pahelwan with a Buruj or Silver mace, and of course a good cash reward.

In Mohamedan history we find instances of great physical feats by individuals. During Murshid Quli Khan's reign there was a general named Mirza Ajmiri, who was so strong that when the big cannon “Mulk-e-Maidan” (The Monarch of the Plains) struck in mud near Shakrigali. He lifted the heavy cannon up from the quagmire single handed. Raja Sitaram Roy was another person of that period who was famous for his physical strength. There were many Zamindars at that time who were good riders and sword players, and gained fame in the field of battle. Of all the generals of Nawab Sarfaraz Khan, Ghaus Khan had the reputation of killing an elephant with his sword. General Ghaus Khan was known to be the strongest man of that time.

But in old Murshidabad there were no arena for sports and gamers, and none cared for organized sports as it was in some other parts of the country. It was the English who brought sport and games to India. It was the English who brought sport and games to India, including all the games that are played at present. None will find a field, where some sort of sports and games were played at that time.

Native Infantry Regiment

After the Battle of Plassey the English got themselves well established in Bengal as the "King-Maker" with so many puppet Nawabs from Mir Jafar Ali Khan to Mubarak-ud-Daulla sitting on the Musnad of Murshidabad. The Europeans, both civil and military, stationed at Berhampore, taught local people various sports and games. The big ground lying on the east part of the Barraks, known as the Race Course (from present Berhampore New General Hospital upto Berhampore Stadium) was actually the silted-up bed of the Bhagirathi; a Polo ground was also started on this field and regular horse-racing and polo games were arranged for long years on this big field. Football, Rugger and Cricket were introduced to Berhampore and other district towns by the Europeans and the establishment of schools and colleges helped these games to be more popular with the student community, as the teachers in those days believed in the maxim that no games would make the boys really dull. Matches were played between civilians and military teams on the Barrack Square and there were taken as festive occasions. The student community copied these sport festivals and they too started football teams in many parts of this district under patronage of local Zamindars and Rajas, which resulted in preparation of many football grounds in this district. Upto the first part of the 19th century this district had nothing as organized sports, and as such sports arenas were out of question. Berhampore could boast of too big open fields at that time, but none of them were prepared as a play gound in the real sense. The Race Course was meant for horse racing and Polo games and this Race Course became well-known to sportsmen in the early 20th century as Sir Syed Wasef Ali Mirza, this sporting Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad, was an active participant in these equestrian sports. He was a Polo player of repute and was known as a three-handicap player at that time. But an incident between the Nawab Bahadur and a young Magistrate marred the continuation of this manly sport at Berhampore, and the Polo matches were stopped. Sir Wasef Ali was a great patron of sports. He transformed the field lying near the Imambara inside the Killa Nizamat into a football ground, and later organized a Football Tournament in which selected teams from the district and outside participated. The first final of the Nawab Bahadur’s Gold Cup was played between a Selected XI of Kanchantala and the then League Champions of Calcutta, the Linclon Regiment, which lifted the trophy winning by a solitary goal. The Nawab Bahadur was a lifelong patron of Indian wrestling and Wrestlers like Golam Pahalwan, Kaloo Pahalwan, Kakkar Singh and others came to Murshidabad at the invitation of the Nawab Bahadur, when many championships were held. Another great sportsman who did a lot for the betterment of sports and games in this district was Rev. Edward Montague Wheeler, Principal of Krishnath College, a great scholar and educationist. He played what the students must to imbibe the best sporting spirit among them. What Mr. Wheeler started at Berhampore for the betterment of organized sports, was folled by his famous lieutenant Mr. Josef Arulanantham, the Head master of Krishnath College School. Both Mr. Wheeler and Mr Arulanantham were team-mates in the National Association Football team of Calcutta and both of them did lot to train local students and young men in playing the games.

References :
  • Article by Kamal Bandyopadhyay 1965
  • [1] The ostentatious display of military power (with the implied threat that it might be used) Back

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