A Ball Can Change the World

Isha Gramotsavam is part of a larger vision – that of a society where people full of joy and enthusiasm become sources of transformation for those around them. The games foster friendships, unity and a healthy vibrant community.

The People of Gramotsavam

Sharings and Experiences from those who have participated in Isha Gramotsavam

From Teammates to Friends

Today landlord and laborer play on the same team. Families that have feuded for years now cooperate to win. Friendships made on the court have lasted years – one group of girls who played as a team when they were 13 are now married and settled all over Tamil Nadu, but every year they come back to renew their friendships and play the game.

Three Generations Empowered

Nagamani, now 75 years old, has been playing throwball for the past 12 years. She says her life began with throwball. Such has been her enthusiasm that now she has a daughter, daughter-in-law and granddaughter playing on the Kolapulur village team, which has been a 3-time winner and 3-time runner-up in Gramotsavams over the years.

A Winning Streak

Champions of throwball 8 times running, the ladies of Muruganpudur Village pack a punch! The men in their families are so proud of the prowess of these women that they coach, cajole and support them to greater and greater proficiency every year. One of these women has just delivered her first child a month and a half ago. But when she heard that Sachin Tendulkar will be giving away the awards, she’s determined to compete!

Transforming Rural India

Stories from communities revitalized through participation in Isha Gramotsavam

A Village Inspired

Today, with a 30-member inter-caste community and a corpus of Rs. 1 lakh, Kaliyur village hosts its own tournament every year. Dedicated to Isha, the event brings in 60 teams to an all-day, all-night festival of sport every Makar Sankranti, where thousands of spectators from surrounding areas gather to cheer!

Changing the Game for Rural India

Sport has been the key in bringing exuberance and oneness into the rural villages. It has become a tool of transformation, weaning villagers away from addiction, breaking caste barriers within the community, bringing women out of the home and empowering them and reviving spirit and pride in individuals and the village as a whole.

Only One Taker

In 2004, when Sadhguru invited the people of Anna Nagar for a yoga program, there was only one taker. Even when Sadhguru said, “If not yoga, how about just a game?” only a few showed interest. But that one man, Sellakumar, touched and inspired, was enough to cause a revolution. Being a man from the so-called higher classes, he faced social ridicule and near ostracism, but still chose to spend all his energies to bring his village together through sport. Because of his dedication, the games have now grabbed everyone’s attention!

Kaliyur Village Transformed

The sporting events on Mattu Pongal day 2014 started at 8AM and were set to last for at least 24 hours more the next day. Each year, on this day, this tiny village called Kaliyur near Satyamangalam, which is about sixty kilometers from Coimbatore, serves as a massive hub and a grouping place for all nearby villages.

The first Isha volunteers from the local welfare team would have had a hard time believing this sight if someone had predicted such a change thirteen long years ago. Indeed, this tiny village has traveled a long way from a rather uneventful beginning. During the volunteers’ first visit to this village, the offer was made to set up a sports team. At that time, the volunteers did not hear even a grunt of disapproval – they were simply ignored. The ground reality of the people and village then and what was being proposed were at loggerheads. It would take one long year of repeated visits to this thousand-strong village to first obtain a volleyball and a net to go with it.

The sound of ball hitting the earth has its own attraction, and slowly a team of about seven to eight people formed and began playing regularly. It was not all a bed of roses for them either. The nearby houses often had their roof tiles broken by the volleyball. One amusing story goes that one of the ladies confiscated the volley ball. She later complained to the village president about the nuisance this volleyball team was becoming. Fortunately, the team lived on – with the president’s blessing!

Slowly but surely, the momentum gathered. Today, a volleyball committee has formed. The committee takes up fundraising on a yearly basis and collects close to one lakh rupees every year. There is often a surplus of funds post the committee activities involving organizing the yearly festival. Once, the funds were used for replacing the village temple roof. Another time they were used for setting up a village library. Whatever still remains as surplus is used for handing out micro loans for villagers in need.

The biggest attraction still remains the yearly festival on Mattu Pongal day. What started as four teams thirteen years ago now serves as a sporting venue for sixty villages from the surrounding villages. The event lasts all day till 10AM the next day. Even ladies stay overnight without any concerns about their safety. The event includes snacks throughout the day and annadhanam for all – all coming from the corpus.

Can a ball change the world? We will leave you to your conclusions!

Kanimozhi from Muruganpudur Village

Kanimozhi is one of the members of Muruganpudur’s champion throwball team. She has been playing for the past 13 years, including moving from their village junior team to the senior team. For Kanimozhi, playing throwball has totally changed her life, affording her physical and mental capability she would not have attained without the games. Going through the wins and losses in the games, she slowly matured, and now she is able to handle the ups and downs of life with same joy and enthusiasm, just by playing fully. She shares:

Q – How did these changes happen?

First we saw it as a game. That made a difference. These are opposite team players, let them play well and win! Thereafter, this changed us completely. Ok, its our friend. Ok, let’s take care in the next ball. Even if the opposite team got tense, we used to tell them ‘Its ok akka. Its just a game’. As we kept playing, we were able to see it not as a game, but as an opportunity that gives us happiness.

Q: So you are encouraging the opposite team also?

Definitely! When we threw our ball the other side and the grandmother caught it, we will clap from here! If the grandmother threw the ball into the nets, we will be like, ‘Oh no!’ Even if it’s the final match, we will be like that. We will be happy and rejuvenated when playing!

Q: So if you get cup from Sachin, what will you do when you go back to your town?

The whole world will watch us. Definitely it’s a precious moment and a never before like opportunity. Its only because of Isha. If we’re meeting Sachin, we should have been blessed before. There will be many who would not know about this. This information should reach them. Isha is like this – definitely you should come play. If more people join this, there is no greater happiness than that.

Q: You’ve done it eight years in a row. Ninth year also?


Sports and Celebration in Perumugai Village

In Tamil Nadu’s villages, like most places in the world, the general feeling persists that playing games is reserved for children or for those adults who take up sports as a profession. The daily routine of most people includes eating, sleeping, their job and watching television during free time. Playing games tends to remain a fond memory of childhood. Especially in these villages, struggling to meet their basic necessities and lost in the transmissions of the TV, even thinking about a sport seems a luxury.

Sellakumar, from Gopichettipalayam, feels that games will not only improve the physical and mental health of the villagers but also create social change. He shares:

“I stay in Perumugai village near Gobi. I am a farmer and also a secretary of AAVIN milk cooperative, I have played many games, especially Kabaddi. There are people in the village who know and play all kinds of games, but nobody knew how to play volleyball. People who came from Isha stayed here with us and taught us the game. After playing volleyball, the unity within the team players and the village has improved greatly. If there is any game which is continuously being played in our grounds it is volleyball. We have been playing the game for the past 12 years. I am 42 years old now and have not suffered from cold, fever or any ailment.

Every year, under the guidance of Isha, we conduct ‘rural games’ in volleyball and other games meant for the children. Four years back we got an opportunity from Isha for participating in the Rural Olympics. The winning teams from various other villages in Tamil Nadu came and played with us in our village. After that, our village came under the spotlight. This made not only the players but also the elders very happy. We see this as a totally motivating recreation. The youth of our village hardly watch TV. It cannot be forgotten that the same people who were living with envy and infighting are living in good camaraderie now because of the game.

A number of my friends who have a habit of smoking could not perform well in the game. Their passion for the game made them drop the habit. Today, volleyball players are considered as assets. Presently 35 of us are playing regularly. Until Isha’s Rural Olympics, we hardly crossed the boundaries of our village. Today we enthusiastically travel to our neighboring districts also. It must also be mentioned that, two youngsters from the village who were consistent players have been selected into the Indian Army. The game has helped in the growth of good citizens with healthy physique, mental sturdiness and a fervor to serve the nation. Without this game many from our village would not have advanced so much in their life. The game unites the villagers in social festivities and in all other social activities also.

In a village we have to work for our survival continuously. Unlike schools or offices we do not have any holidays. We have to tend to the cows, take care of the ceaseless work in the farms, be it irrigation or weeding. We take a longer break only during the Pongal festival. Even then we work, but we are in joyful and celebratory spirits.

Pongal is an important festival for our cattle and us. Children also get holidays. Generally the womenfolk do not come out and participate much. Earlier they used to play Kummi (a traditional dance), but with the advent of TV this had disappeared. So we give more importance to the women and children during this time. During the last five years, we visit each house to invite the women and give them prizes for even participating. A lot of generous people come forward to give the prizes. It is so delightful to see all the winners. Whoever comes we just involve them in some game or the other. The exhilarating discussions remains to be the talk of the town for the next one month.”

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