There was a time when Hockey held the status that Cricket holds in India today. An era when people used to wake up at 4 am just so they can hear hockey match commentary on the radio, or walk for kilometres just so they can play hockey. That was the era of Dhyan Chand! But before we speak of Dhyan Chand’s greatness, let us understand in plain numbers how great he was in his game. For a better understanding, let us make a comparison with the greatest sports icon of our times – Sachin Tendulkar. Now you know the kind of phenomenon we are talking about.
Some Secrets About Dhyan Chand
Born on August 29 1905, Dhyan Chand was the eldest son in a family of hockey players. His father Sameshwar Dutt Singh was part of the British Indian Army and was also part of the army hockey team. He had two brothers Mool Singh and Roop Singh.
We know Dhyan Chand as the greatest name in the game of hockey, so it comes as a surprise that he never played any serious game of hockey till he joined the Indian Army at the age 16.
His friends called him ‘Chand’ or Moon. But do you know why?
He was called moon because he was so devoted to the game of Hockey that he would often be seen practising in the moonlight after his daily duty hours assigned by the Indian Army was over.
In his initial fours years with Indian Army Hockey team Dhyan Chand played 21 games. The team was so good that out of the 21 games that they played, they won 18 matches, drew 2 and lost only 1. Dhayan Chand’s performance was exemplary and for his performance he was soon promoted to the rank of Lance Naik.
His greatest achievement came when India won the Olympic Gold Medal in hockey in 1928, the year when hockey was made an Olympic sport.
But that was not all. After winning the first Olympic Gold medal, Dhyan Chand’s India would go on to win the Gold in the next two Olympic events as well, played in 1932 and 1936. For more than a decade after that, India would continue to dominate Field Hockey. A popular Indian narrative about Dhyan Chand is how he rejected an offer made by Adolf Hitler, while he was in Germany. After winning his third Olympic Gold medal, Chand went back to join his regiment and from there on largely played only Army Hockey till 1939, when World War II broke out. It was during these four years that Chand was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
Dhyan Chand’s magical ball controlling and dribbling abilities are known all over the world till date, with many accepting the fact that no one can every match ‘The Wizzard’s’ calibre in Hockey. His International Hockey career lasted 26 years, and in those 26 years, Dhyan Chand not only won 3 Olympic Gold Medals but also scored over 400 goals – a feat which no one has been able to match till date.
The Sad Part
After Dhyan Chand retired from Army in 1956, he took up coaching. He even held the position of Chief Hockey Coach for several years, but then preferred to settle down in Jhansi and enjoy his retirement. But as with all great sports legends of yore, the nation slowly forgot ‘The Wizard’. Once he went to a tournament in Ahmedabad and they turned him away not knowing who he was.
He was pushed to a lonely existence where he soon fell short on money and, after years of ignorance, died of liver cancer in a general ward at AIIMS in New Delhi.
India realised Dhyan Chand’s worth after his death and, with the passage of time, honoured his family for his unparalleled achievements. In 2002, India named its highest award for lifetime achievement in sports after him. That same year, the National Stadium in Delhi was renamed Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
Dhyan Chand’s birthday is celebrated as National Sports Day with many prestigious sports awards like the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award and Dronacharya Award are given out this day annually.
Now Let’s Talk About The Bharat Ratna
The highest civilian award of India, Bharat Ratna, was finally extended for people who excelled in “any field of human endeavour” in year 2011. Dhyan Chand’s name was always on top of the list for being the first sporting personality who should receive this award.
In 2013, his name was recommended for 2014’s Bharat Ratna with the hockey legend receiving a lot of support and backing. But Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and scientist C.N. Rao received the honour that year. Though Sachin deserves it, let us not forget that phenomenal achievements of Dhyan Chand should have made him the first sporting icon for the honour.
Even Milkha Singh opined that Dhyan Chand should have been conferred the Bharat Ratna first.
There was a huge political outcry about the matter with Dhyan Chand’s son Ashok Kumar and other hockey players even expressing their disappoint in many interviews that they gave. Unfortunately, politics over the Bharat Ratna has still kept it away from the Godfather of Hockey.