THE OLYMPIC SPIRIT
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
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 few
pages will take you on a journey back in time to the origin
of the Olympics and the powerful spiritual message that they
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
After the athletic games started, as Apollo
had ordered, the question arose as to what should be the prize
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.
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
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
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!!
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.
oneself is the most important victory. However, to be defeated
by oneself is the most humiliating defeat.
It is more
important and noble to conquer your own passions than to conquer
– Alexander, the Great.
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
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 in
We close this article by recalling The Olympic
Anthem, written by the Greek poet Kostis Palams in 1896 ,
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.