Born Allahabad, 29 August 1905
The Padma Bhushan was conferred on him in 1956, and a year after his demise in 1979, the Government of India issued a commemorative stamp in his honour. The ‘National Sports Day’ in India is observed on his birthday, 29 August. In Vienna stands a statue of the Hockey wizard with four hands and four sticks. Such was the legend of Dhyan Chand, a lowly sepoy in the British Indian army who rose to become the darling of sporting fans the world over.
Dhyan Chand grew up in Jhansi, where his father was based, a havaldar in the British Indian Army. He joined the Army as a 16-year-old and, and his mesmerizing stick-work prompted them to allow him to concentrate on the game. He took part in the inter-provincials and made an immediate impact on the national scene. The Indian Hockey Federation was formed in 1925, and Dhyan Chand found himself on the ship to New Zealand and Australia for exhibition matches in preparation of the Amsterdam Olympics of 1928.
Playing exhibition matches in London before the Olympics, he netted 36 of the 72 goals India scored at the Folkstone Festival. At the Amsterdam Games, he scored two out of the three goals India pumped in against the Netherlands in the final. At the 1932 Olympics, when India drubbed USA by 24 goals to one, Dhyan Chand netted eight, and his brother Roop Singh scored an equal number of goals.
Adolf Hitler had sought to prove his theory of ‘Aryan Supremacy’ at the Berlin Games, in 1936. But he had not accounted for a ‘black’ named Jesse Owens, and the Indian Hockey team with its legendary striker, Dhyan Chand. He was witness to the finals between India and Germany, and was awestruck by the jugglery of the wizard.
The German players were themselves passive spectators as Dhyan Chand and his boys weaved magic around them and struck the boards at regular intervals. With their self-esteem at stake, the Germans resorted to rough tackles. One such tackle broke the wizard’s tooth. Returning after first aid, and after India were leading by eight goals - Dhyan Chand having scored six - he advised his players to a play possession game and teach the Germans a lesson in good, clean Hockey. It is said that Hitler met him after the match and offered to elevate him to the post of Colonel if he migrated to Germany, which of course, was politely refused by Dhyan Chand.
Playing in an exhibition game in Germany once, one of the spectators is said to have offered his walking stick to Dhyan Chand in exchange of his seemingly ‘magic’ stick. Playing on with the walking stick, the legend is said to have displayed the same skills and even scored a few goals!
Before the Berlin Olympics, Dhyan Chand led an Indian team on a tour Down Under, where they played 48 matches and scored 584 goals. Dhyan Chand accounted for 200 of them. The Cricket legend, Sir Donald Bradman is said to have inquired whether Dhyan Chand scores runs or goals!
Dhyan Chand retired from international Hockey in 1948, and was for a short time in charge of the National Institute of Sports at Patiala. His son Ashok Kumar played with a lot of credit for India in the 1970s. The legend expired on 3 December 1979.