Developing a ‘physical education curriculum’: A view from Bombay Presidency

Namrata R Ganneri

(Assistant Professor, Research Centre for Women’s Studies, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai- 400 049)



Sports were introduced and moulded within the public schools’ curriculum during the nineteenth century in Britain. In the public schools, organised games were used as a means of social control as well as training of character. Through participation in team games like cricket, rugby etc, public school pupils were supposed to develop desirable character traits such as autonomy, initiative, self-sacrifice, effort, courage and emotional self-control, all important to the Victorian (heterosexual) masculine ideal. The educational ideology of ‘athleticism’ (Mangan: 2000) eventually flowed to the University and the larger society. Between 1870 and 1920, this cultural phenomenon spread quickly across the colonies and continental Europe, also helped by Pierre de Coubertin’s Olympic movement. Modern organised sports were transplanted into the colonies through two major institutions – the school and the military, all staffed by products of the British imperial system.

Meanwhile by the 1880s, a plethora of books, pamphlets and tracts began discussing the concept of physical education[1] in Europe and the Americas. Medical professionals and educationists were in the forefront debating the importance of systematic physical training particularly of the student body. The concept of ‘total health’ or ‘wholeness’, popularized by the Latin maxim mens sana in corpore sano, that is, sound mind in sound body highlighted the correlation, or rather, the interaction of body and mind. And the concept was crucial in shaping thought about human growth and conduct. Physical exercise began to be linked to health morally, physically and socially. While earlier some form of gymnastic exercise was seen as integral to physical education, a systematic exposition of the science of physical education began particularly in the US and Britain, and eventually lead to its establishment as a special subject in the school curriculum. Though what exactly was practiced under this umbrella term has been changing over time. Physical education curriculum, in most countries was individually shaped by debates about the body, eugenics, health concerns, nationalism and militarism, and interwoven in unique ways with class, gender and race.

In India, while imperial diffusion of ‘games ethic’ was accompanied by the establishment of colleges such as Aitchison, Daly, Mayo and Rajkot, local initiative was also considerable. By the turn of the twentieth century the body of the Indian student became the distinctive focus of various pedagogical regimes. The clinching evidence of this assertion is that some form of physical training was introduced in various institutions across the ideological spectrum. Madan Mohan Malaviya’s BanarasHinduUniversity made appropriate arrangements for physical training. Similar emphasis on physical culture prevailed in a distinctly indigenous experiment in the field of education – Swami Shraddhanand’s Gurukul Kangri which was established in 1902. The Darul-Uloom Deoband also had drill and physical training in its curriculum. There is little information about the exact nature of the physical training regimens practiced by students of these institutions though.

Simultaneously, by the 1880s the colonial government had also begun reporting on the facilities for physical training in its various primary and secondary schools, as well as sanctioning special grants for gymnastic equipment and apparatus when demanded. However there emerged no concerted policy in this period, the promotion of sports in schools largely depended on the initiative of individual headmasters. So the emergence of state policy on promotion of sports and physical education in the school curriculum is an important part of the overall story of modern education in India.

This paper seeks to map the experiments in physical education in Bombay Presidency. Precisely how did physical education become a school subject? The paper will focus on the development of pedagogical and curricular content through institutionalization and professionalization of physical education. While work on college and university sports exists, this paper seeks to look at the broader context in which physical education emerged.

Western India, home to a rich indigenous tradition of physical culture saw a proliferation of gymnasiums and physical culture clubs at the turn of the twentieth century. Traditional akharas, however, were getting transformed in terms of patronage, space and spectatorship, through middle class intervention. The ‘new’ akharas increasingly being referred to as vyayammandirs and vyaymashalas were experimenting with a range of exrecises, apart from wrestling and its traditional allied exercises. Physical culture enthusiasts were evolving new pedagogical manuals and publishing was an important aspect of sports proselytism in this period. Most importantly, they were keen to transform even the space of the akhara in the light of current discourse on science and environmentalism. Alongwith this, the pedagogic model was also transformed. Traditional akharas were managed by gurus and vastads, modelled on the sage- teacher with disciples who probably lived with him to learn from him. There was no established curriculum and certainly no degree awarded. However the ‘new’ akharas dispensed off with the traditional model and instituted modern curricula. Further they began awarding diplomas called ‘vyayam visharads’ and the students from these institutions began to be placed with the secondary schools as gymnastic teachers and physical trainers. These were, thus, the earliest efforts at professionalization of physical education that occurred outside the colonial pedagogical ambit.

Nevertheless, on the colonial government’s side , since the Educational Policy Resolution of 1913, emphasized training of teachers, halting steps to train secondary teachers even in physical education were also undertaken. But the real thrust to physical education came after the transfer of education to provincial hands. A Committee on Physical Education was set up in 1927, and its recommendations were submitted in 1929, though these were never implemented, thereafter there were similar committees every decade. The 1927 Committee was lead by KM Munshi, himself a physical culture enthusiast, while the remaining two committees were led by Swami Kuvalyananda, who transformed yoga from an esoteric practice to the modern physical training activity as we know today (Alter:2004). These committees were composed of doctors, physical culture enthusiasts as well as educationists and evolved a comprehensive plan of physical education for Bombay Presidency. This paper seeks to comment on the curriculum of physical education that was fashioned particularly for a three year degree programme in physical education. A Training Institute of Physical Education (hereafter TIPE) was established at Kandivali, Mumbai in 1938 precisely to train government school teachers in physical education. This was purportedly an important state initiative in physical education and there were plans to subsequently convert it into a National College of Physical Education. However, in independent India enthusiasm for physical education rapidly ebbed and the state withdrew from this initiative by 1952. This paper finally seeks to recover the history of TIPE to comment on the trajectory of the evolution of sporting practices in Bombay Presidency.

[1] Physical Culture, physical training as well as physical education were not quite synonymous but were used indiscriminately in the nineteenth century. ‘Physical Culture’ was the broader term and the term used more by non-professionals. ‘Physical training’ tended to be the preferred term among those who were interested in its educational dimensions. ‘Physical education’, a term that has a long history, increasingly replaced ‘physical training’ in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Physical education is the formal inculcation of knowledge and values through physical activity. A more wide-ranging definition of physical education would encompass ‘instruction in the development and care of the body, from simple calisthenic exercises to training in hygiene, gymnastics, and the performance and management of athletic games. Historically, it has focused on diet, exercise and hygiene, as well as musculo-skeletal and psycho-social development’. (Chandler, Cronin and Vamplew, 2002:153)