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Olympics return to GreeceThe 13th of August, 2004, is going to witness the beginning of the biggest sporting extravaganza on earth: The Olympic games. For the first time since modern Olympics started in the year 1896, they are returning to the country of their origin, Greece. For about a month or so sportsmen and athletes belonging to almost every single nation on the face of the earth are going to battle it out for sporting supremacy. In a spirit of cooperation, unity and fair competition, that is. One has to really concede that the Olympic games are a beacon of hope in these troubled times, when humanity is being torn apart by the divisive forces of war and terrorism. They are one more proof that man still has some sanity left in him.

Agreed, the Olympics bring a sense of hope to us. Agreed, they bring all the nations of the world together. Agreed, they encourage human excellence. But, if individuals or nations intend to really benefit from the games, it is important for them to go deep into the origin of these games and the intention with which they were started. Not the modern games started in 1896, but the actual beginnings of the Olympics in 776 B C. The next fewThe ancient town of Olympia pages will take you on a journey back in time to the origin of the Olympics and the powerful spiritual message that they carried.

The name ‘Olympics’ was derived from the place where the games were held: Olympia in Greece. History records that the games began in the year 776 B.C. However, the legend is that the games had started many centuries ago. The Greeks believed that Gods themselves had started the games and later taken up by heroes like Hercules!

The temple of Apollo at DelphiHowever, at some point after the fall of the Mycenaean culture, a horrible decline followed. Fights, civil wars, famines, plagues and natural disasters swept everything. It was in those years that the athletic games stopped. Moved by the suffering of the people, the King of Peloponnesus, Ifitos went to the temple of the Greek God Apollo to enquire Pythia, the medium, what they should do to overcome the disasters. Pythia spoke the words of Apollo: ‘Start immediately the athletic games!’

The rulers of Peloponnesus were perplexed : They were seeking advice for overcoming famine and misery and the oracle asked them to revive the long forgotten Olympic games! People thought that there probably was a mistake in the message and they returned to Pythia for verification only to receive the same emphatic message: ‘Start immediately the athletic games!’ Though the king could not fathom the reasons behind such a directive, his devotion and his faith in the Gods led him to start the Olympic games. His faith stood vindicated, for the games saved Greece from decline.

What made the Olympic games save a whole nation from decline, one may wonder. Before we see how it happened, it should be noted that all famine, all miseries and wars first find their place in the minds of men before they manifest as a physical realities. Make man’s mind a repository of peace and there will be peace on earth. That is exactly what the Olympics did to ancient Greece. They brought about a transformation in the attitude of the people by turning their attention towards spirituality and cultivation of character. The positive outlet that the games provided helped annihilate the hostilities. Olympics became sublimated warfare: no blood shed, no destruction. Instead of a war on some external enemy, the war was now with the internal enemies!

Spirituality was the very basis of the Olympics. The games were not merely some athletic events, but also a parThe temple of Zeust of a ritual of adoration to God. The venue of the games, Olympia, was a very sacred religious site of ancient Greece. The games were not seen as mere entertainment but as a duty that God had defined for man. God was at the back of every athlete’s mind all the time and everyone believed in the same God!

The ancient Greeks believed that victory , whether in games or war , depended mainly on Divine Will. Olympia had temples of Goddess Hera and the God Zeus. Zeus ruled the destinies of men. This belief not only decreased their arrogance in case of victory but also made lighter the pain of defeat because God was The statue of Zeusthe one who defined the outcomes. Talk about Karma Yoga!

Whenever there were Olympic games, the Greeks observed a holy truce that forbade wars for the next two months. The truce was to honour Zeus, who according to Greek mythology was the Father of all Gods and the cause of everything. The suspension of hostilities was as follows: A procession would start from Olympia to visit the various places of the Greek state at the time to announce the opening of the new Olympics. Wherever there was war, they would stop and sign peace treaties. In this way everyone was free to pass through hostile lands in order to reach Olympia and take part in the Olympic festivities. This was the greatness of the Olympic games: Men who were fighting each other were made to meet in Unity inside the sanctuary of Olympia to offer adoration to the same god and strive for a common goal.

An interesting fact about the games is that they always took place on the day of the full moon of July. During the full moon, it is believed that the energy our planet receives is greater due to its alignment with the moon. In July and August, the moon comes closest to the earth. So whatever one does during this period is strengthened and multiplied to a great extent. The Hindu festival of Gurupurnima too is celebrated on the full moon of July! Could this just be a coincidence?

During the period of the Olympic games, each morning and each evening, with the beginning and closing of the events of the day, there were prayers, adoration and offerings to Gods. On the first day before the opening of the games, a great ritual took place in front of the altar of Zeus where a sacred flame would be lit. The statue was 13 meters high and was sculpted of ivory and gold. It was considered one of the seven miracles of the ancient world.

H2H readers might recall an earlier cover story on the teachings of Plato and Swami. Plato stressed that education should consist of two basic components, Music for the soul and Gymnastics for the body. Music not only meant rhythm and melody but spiritual and moral education. Socrates said ‘When youth are educated through right music, their soul is guided gradually towards truth, goodness and beauty’. He further said ‘He who combines gymnastics and music and applies them on the soul in the right measure, he, without doubt, should be called the true owner of the art of harmony. Such men should be the leaders of the cities’. The Olympics, with their emphasis both on character and sporting skills, inculcated a sense of harmony in all the participants. They brought a great balance into their lives.

Virtue was a very important aspect in the Olympics. That this was so becomes evident by going through the Oath the athletes would take on the first day of the games in front of the altar of Zeus:

I will contest according to the athletic laws and regulations.

I will contest with a spirit of fair competition along with other athletes, without any hostility.

My aim is not victory, but fair play, so the truth may shine in me.

This contest is not for material gain, but for virtue and the Olive wreath.

Whenever an Olympic winner returned to his city, his fellow citizens broke a part of the city walls exulting over his victory, saying:

A city with such citizens has no need of a protective wall !

This was the way they underlined the importance of virtue, bravery and spirit over weapons and material equipment! (Swami says very often: The country shall be protected, not by atom bombs, but by the cultivation of Sathya and Dharma!) The winner would then offer his prize, the wreath, to the statue of the God of his city. In this way, he would give up the egoistic attitude “ I did it”.

The doer and the recipient of all acts in the world is god himself. So perform every act with the thought: God does and God enjoys !                                                                                   -Sathya Sai Baba

After the athletic games started, as Apollo had ordered, the question arose as to what should be the prize forKotinos-The wreath of Virtue the winners. Once more, King Ifitos went to be guided by the oracle. The oracle directed that the prize should be ‘Kotinos’, a wreath from a branch of a wild olive tree. This constituted the highest honour for a Greek athlete: to wear the Olympic wreath in front of the sanctuary of Zeus, the father of all gods and men. A couple of stories bring forth how cherished the Kotinos was.

DiagorasDiagoras from Rhodes was a famous boxer who won at the Olympics several times. When he was quite old, his two sons continued the legacy of their father but in different games. They too were winners and received the Olympic wreath as the prize. As they felt gratitude for their father who brought them up with virtue and values, they placed the two crowns on his head, help him up on their shoulders and walked around in the stadium, while the spectators applauded. At that moment, a spectator shouted ‘You should die now Diagoras! There won’t be a greater honour than this!’ Moments later, Diagoras, with tears of joy rolling down his cheeks, bent his head and died!

In 480 B.C. the Persians had invaded Greece. That year happened to be the year of the Olympics and people from various cities of Greece were making a beeline to Olympia to attend the sacred event. The Persians arrested some of them and lead them to their King, Xerexes.

Where are you going ?

To Olympia !

What is so important that you ignore such a mighty army of mine?

Olympic games are going to take place.

What on earth are these Olympic games?

They are sacred games held in the honour of Zeus, the father of all Gods.

What do the winners get? Gold or Jewels?

Neither gold nor jewels. It is Kotinos, a wreath made from the branch of the Olive tree. It is a symbol of virtue!

Xerexes remained breathless with admiration. There was a long silence in the camp of the Persians. It was finally broken by one of the Persian generals:

Look what kind of people we come to fight against! They fight not for Gold, but for Virtue!!Fair competition

And the Persian army went back.

The word Kotinos is related to the ancient Greek word ‘Kotos’ which means anger and jealousy. ‘Kotos’ is to be transformed to ‘Kotinos’ i.e, the athletic games transform the rivalry and aggressiveness of the players into fair competition and virtue. They helped men to conquer their passions and rise above their self.

To conquer oneself is the most important victory. However, to be defeated by oneself is the most humiliating defeat.                                                                                                                                       –Plato

It is more important and noble to conquer your own passions than to conquer your enemies.
                                                                                                                                         – Alexander, the Great.

The Olympics become grander every timeAnother ritual of the ancient Olympics that carried profound meaning was the lighting of the sacred flame. The sacred flame was associated with the God Apollo, the God of Music and Light. As the light of the Sun enters everywhere and removes darkness, so does light from Apollo’s sacred flame enter into the human mind and remove the darkness of ignorance.

One could go on and on about the great positive symbolism of the ancient Olympics. Let us come back now to the present.

Today, when Olympics are set to return to the country of their origin, there is also a need to return them to the principles of their origin. It is been more than a century since the modern Olympic games started in 1896. There has been a considerable amount of progress in the way the games are held: spectacular venues, great facilities for the participants, more prize money for the winners, breath taking opening ceremonies and so on. The athletes too keep bettering many records of the past. But one wonders, whether the spirit of Olympics is getting subdued by all this. Do all participants still honestly believe in the oath they take before Olympics? Do they become better individuals everytime they participate in the games? Do they take the spirit of Olympics back to their countries and try sharing it with their fellowmen in other spheres of life? Has the world benefited in some way after a hundred years of the Olympic games?

We, in this article, are not interested in passing a judgement. Our interest lies in remembering and rekindling that Great Spirit with which the Olympics started in the first place. There is no harm in remembering the basics once in a while, isn’t it? That keeps us on the path to the original goal.

(Who knows? Someone from the Olympic fraternity may chance upon this article and it may strike a chord inSathyam Shivam Sundaram him!)

We close this article by recalling The Olympic Anthem, written by the Greek poet Kostis Palams in 1896 ,

Oh! Ancient Spirit Immortal

Pure Father of Truth, Goodness and Beauty (Sathyam Shivam Sundaram!)

Come down and manifest Your Divine Brilliance

To glorify your own land and Heaven…

No points for guessing who this anthem refers to! Any one who has heard of Bhagavan will know.


Volume - 2 Issue - 16 Radiosai Journal - PSN 2004