Raising a stick to India's first sports star: The legend of Major Dhyan Chand on National Sports Day!

Narendra Modi paying a flower tribute to the Statue of Major Dhyan Chand during the "Run for Rio" flag-off for the Indian Olympic contingent

As the nation celebrates National Sports Day, a look back on the life and times of the great hockey legend major Dhyan Chand. This day is observed on his birthday to commemorate the everlasting legacy that he has left behind.

India was once a hockey powerhouse with an indomitable presence in the Olympic games, winning a total of eleven medals. Indian hockey's golden period started from 1920 and ran up till 1980 in which the team won 8 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals. This included six consecutive gold medals from 1928–1956. And one of the major reasons for this phenomenal record was Dhyan Singh.

Dhyan scored close to 400 goals in his international career spanning from 1926 to 1948, weaving his magic across on-rushing opponent sticks and leaving them spellbound with his wizardry and thereby earning the name of “The Wizard”. Chand played his final international match in 1948. And to honor his mastery, India celebrates his birthday every year as National Sports Day.

Tributes start pouring in

Former hockey players, sportsperson and other Olympians hold Dhyan Chand in high accord. And the persona and work-rate of this man inspire one and all for generations to come.

A translation:

“Major Dhyan Chad was a live example of true sportsman spirit and patriotism. He helped India in securing gold medals in Hockey in three Olympic games in 1928, 1932 and 1936. Other great players from other sports like cricket praised Major Dhyan Chand for his exemplar performances. The all time great cricket player Sir Don Bradman had once said that Dhyan Chand scores goals like runs!” Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing the nation in his Mann ki Baat bi-weekly radio programme.

Chandni raatein - The shining moonlight

Dhyan Chand is known for his on-field exploits and precise ball control. But his original name Dhyan Singh's name was appended with a 'Chand' which means the moon in Hindi. When people would wait for the moon to come out to romance and write poetry, Dhyan would instead pursue his romance with the stick!

After his duty, Dhyan Singh continued his passion for hockey, practicing in the dim light that made it somewhat visible to play. In an era where there were no flood lights , Dhyan Singh toiled in the 'Chand'. And hence, the name by his fellow players for practicing in the moon.

The building blocks of this epic journey

Dhyan Singh was born on the 29th of August, 1905 in Allahabad. And by the age of 16, he joined the Army in the year 1921. Initially, hockey was just confined to Army tournaments from the years 1921-1925. Dhyan got the necessary permission from the Army to represent the United Provinces, one of the five teams in the Inter-Provincial Tournament to select India's national field hockey team in 1925.

In April 1926, India's also made a successful tour of New Zealand where they defeated the Kiwis and Dhyan did the bulk of the scoring. With his clever stick-work, astute runs and defense splitting passes Dhyan Chand assured his place in the forward line and the Indian team. Later on, Chand was posted with the Punjab Regiment.

Tryst with three Olympics

Chand scoring a hat-trick in the Indian team's Olympic debut against Austria on the 17th of May winning 6-0 at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. India won the Olympic hockey gold on its debut at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Chand was the tournament's highest goal scorer with 14 goals from 5 matches, i.e. almost a hat-trick every match.

Dhyan Chand is rumored to have practiced ball control by balancing the ball on the track rail and sprinting along the length of railway tracks.

India successfully defended its gold at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, by thumping USA 24-1 in the final, a world record broken recently in 2003)! In fact, Chand along with his brother Roop were dubbed as the 'hockey twins', as they scored 25 out of the 35 goals scored by India.

India played 37 matches in a hectic world tour that followed the Olympics to recover their expenses, winning 34, drawing 2 and one match being cancelled. Dhyan Chand scored a staggering 133 goals out of India's 338!

Captaincy and world began to notice this legend in the making

In 1933, Chand's captained a very young team the Jhansi Heroes, his home team and won the Beighton Cup.

On March 2, 1934 he was appointed captain of India for the Western Asiatic Games. From Apr 13 to Sep 10, 1935 India made tours to New Zealand, Ceylon, Australia and India. India won every match with Dhyan Chand scores 201 goals out of India's 584 in the 43 matches he played out of the total of 48 matches.

He was then appointed captain for the 1936 Berlin Olympics where India thrashed Germany 8-1 after leading by a solitary goal at half time. It was also the only goal that India conceded in this Olympic tournament. Dhyan and Roop score 11 goals each out of India's total of 38 goals in the Berlin Olympic hockey tournament with Dhyan scoring 59 goals out of India's 175 on the world tour. The rare footage of the 1936 Berlin Olympics men's hockey final can also be watched here:


“When Germany was four goals down, a ball hit Allen’s pad and rebounded. The Germans took full advantage of this and made a rush, netting the ball before we could stop it. That was the only goal Germany would score in the match against our eight, and incidentally the only goal scored against India in the entire Olympic tournament. India’s goal-getters were Roop Singh, Tapsell and Jaffar with one each, Dara two and myself three.” Dhyan Chand in his autobiography titled ‘Goal!’ published in 1952.

Continuing his consistency of averaging a hat-trick in each match, Chand scored 33 goals in 12 matches in 3 Olympic tournaments! Unfortunately the Olympics were not held for the next 2 times due to World War 2 otherwise we could have seen this wizard make some insurmountable records.

Age is just a number

Chand was a man full of passion and determination and continued playing the gae when most would have hung their boots. He was appointed captain for the tour of East Africa from Dec 1947 to early 1948 where he scored 61 goals in 22 matches, at the young age of 43! After a hockey career that lasted 30 years, Dhyan Chand decided to call it a day and retired from hockey in the year 1949.

Coaching and his last few years

He tried his hand at many coaching camps and also headed the Chief Hockey Coach position in the National Institute of Sports in Patiala for few years. On December 3, 1979, Dhyan Chand passed away in New Delhi due to liver ailments. He was cremated at the very ground were it all started, i.e. the Jhansi Heroes ground in his hometown.

GoI issued a stamp and a First Day Cover in honor of Dhyan Chand exactly one year and one day after his death. As such, he remains the only Indian hockey player to have a postage stamp released in his honor.

Government of India (GoI) issued a commemorative postage stamp on December 4, 1980

The hockey wizardry that Chand displayed was enchanting and left fans and viewers rooted to watching the game. He mesmerized not only the spectators but his opponents too with his predatory goal scoring prowess, which was unheard and unseen off. He is by far the best to have taken the hockey field and is fondly remembered even now for his scintillating performances that brought lot of glory to Indian Hockey team.

Interesting anecdotes and the continued legacy of Dhyan Chand

Some select fun facts that confirm the legacy of this man.

He has accounted for a total of 395 goals and mind you this figure could have easily touched a 1000! However, it doesn't include goals he scored in the Army tournaments, domestic tournaments goals for his club Jhansi Heroes, the ones in practice matches before Olympics, and the goals in the many matches on the world tours.

Chand was not able to score a goal against the opposition team in one of the matches, mishitting many. He then argued regarding the measurement of the goal post with the match referee. And to everyone's surprise his claim turned out to be true and it was found that it did not comply with the official width of a goal post according to international rules.

Such was his wizardry that people doubted his real skills. On one such occasion in the Netherlands, the authorities wanted to check if there was a magnet inside his stick and hence broke his hockey stick. The autobiography of Hockey wizard Dhyan Chand 'Goal!', was published by Sport & Pastime, in Madras 1952.

Dhyan Chand's magical stick-work drew crowds from other venues to the hockey field. 'The Olympic complex now has a magic show too.' read the headline from a popular German newspaper. And then soon the city of Berlin was up with large sized posters reading: Visit the hockey stadium to watch the Indian magician Dhyan Chand in action.

Recognition worldwide

The Indian Embassy, in Berlin has organized an ongoing exhibition on the life and times of major Dhyan Chand on India's 70th Independence day that also marked the 80th anniversary of the 1936 Berlin Olympics final against Germany.

Clamour for Bharat Ratna

In 1951, Captain Dhyan Chand was honored at the National Stadium with the Dhyan Chand tournament. In 1956, at the age of 51, he retired from the army with the rank of Major. The Government of India awarded Major Dhyan Chand, the third highest (then second highest) civilian honor of Padma Bhushan in 1956 and as such remains the only hockey player to have been awarded this honor.

Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in Delhi.

India's highest award for lifetime achievement in sports is termed after him. Beginning 2002, the Dhyan Chand Award is awarded annually to sporting figures who especially contribute to the sport after their retirement.

However, the biggest honor that is missing from this legend's cabinet is the Bharat Ratna.

It is high time that he be conferred one posthumously as his exploits are unrivaled. Many sportspersons argue, if a Sachin Tendulkar can get this why can't Dhyan Chand? After all the rules were modified to include Sports as a category!

Former hockey player & Member of Parliament (MP) Dilip Tirkey and sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik are going t protest in a bid to demand Bharat Ratna for Major Dhyan Chand.

As the nation celebrates National Sports Day, here's raising a stick (toast) to India's first sport star. The legacy of this legend lives on.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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