A 73-year-old grandmother walks out onto the throwball court to applause from 15,000 spectators. Her daughter-in-law and granddaughter are on the team too and follow her accompanied by the rest of the team. It’s the throwball final at the Rural Olympics, part of the Isha Gramotsavam, an annual event organized by Isha Foundation. This year, 640 teams and 7680 players have participated in the lead-up to the event, which will culminate in the volleyball and throwball finals at Coimbatore on September 4.

Olympics, rural style!

The games are an integral part of Action for Rural Rejuvenation’s (ARR) efforts in introducing sports and recreational activities in the villages of Tamil Nadu. Daily gatherings on the volleyball court are helping to renew a sense of community by involving villagers old and young, men and women, from all castes and economic levels. Playing together fosters a healthy spirit of competition, which translates into higher self-esteem, improved communal harmony, better health and enhanced productivity.

Adult women and especially older women, playing games was unthinkable just a few years ago. “It makes such an enormous shift in them – just playing games and having inter-village tournaments. You must be in these villages to understand the excitement. They forget all their miseries, their half-full bellies and everything. Suddenly they are a new kind of people”, says Sadhguru. “People were coming with the inspiration that they want to change their lives and live in a different way, in a more inspired way.”

Other “Lagaan” type changes have also taken place – albeit not in the filmy three hours! In past years, at the volleyball finals, it was remarkable to see cheers come for a volleyball player, the villagers forgetting that the boy who is a champion in their village, was from the so-called “untouchable” caste. Other competitive sports scheduled for the day include throwball and many traditional rural games like kabaddi, uriyadi (blind-folded pot breaking), tug-of-war, rekla-race (bullock cart races), fun games, valukku maram (greasy pole contests), and slow cycle races, which carry on till sunset.

Having a Ball

“After Isha came to our village, our life has changed. They teach us yoga for free. Then we go for games. Yoga helps us with our physical and mental strength. Because of the games, we don’t resort to alcohol to forget our worries”, is the general consensus among villagers touched by ARR’s activities.

In the last decade since its inception, over 10 million people have participated in the annual Gramotsavams. The scale of the event is quite breath-taking, something one would think possible only for governments and large corporations. But thanks to Isha’s dedicated volunteer force of 2 million, the events go off without a hitch.

The first Gramotsavam in 2005 saw the then Tamil Nadu Governor Shri Surjit Singh Barnala attend. Seeing the turnout of 100,000 exuberant and joyful people from 900 villages, he commented to Sadhguru, “Such crowds came together only for Mahatma Gandhi.”

Isha Gramotsavam 2015

As usual, this year’s Gramotsavam is the subject of much attention among the villages of Tamil Nadu. Which teams will win the Isha Rejuvenation Cup for volleyball and throwball? After several hard-fought Round 1 matches, conducted in 32 locations, the victorious teams battled it out in Round 2. The teams that emerged from this neck-and-neck competition will now meet at the finals on September 4.

The finals will be played in the presence of Sadhguru and Chief Guest Sachin Tendulkar, who will present the trophies. The event is open to all and entry is free. In addition to the games, village folk dances, music programs, a food festival, and recreational games are also planned on a grand scale.

We invite you to take part in this momentous and exuberant event.