What are the Original Names and Predecessors of Badminton?

Badminton, the sport we all know and love, is obviously named after a house called the Badminton House which was obviously named after a city called Badminton in Gloucestershire, England. Oh, did you not know that? You should probably read about badminton’s origins then. But did you know that badminton in its infancy was not always known by its current name? Let’s take a look into badminton’s roots a little bit closer.

The original name of badminton is Poona, which comes from a city of the same name in India where badminton was popular among British military officers. The name and rules for Poona were first known to be made in 1873. Although badminton’s roots start from Poona, they are not exactly the same sport since Poona uses a ball instead of a shuttlecock, and is now called ball badminton. Badminton is in fact a mixture of Poona and another old sport called battledore and shuttlecock. Hence, arguments can be made that Poona, battledore and shuttlecock, or badminton itself is the original name of badminton.

Note, though, that badminton was known as different names in different regions in the 19th century. Some people in western India referred to badminton as tomfool during this time instead of as Poona. Tomfool was based on a combination of a local Indian game called tam tam and the word “phul”, which means flower (which describes the shape and look of a shuttlecock).

What is Poona?

Poona, Poonah, or Poonai is now known as ball badminton and was named after a city in India of the same name (which is now called Pune). Poona, unlike badminton, is played with a ball that is made of wool that weighs between 27 and 30 grams (1.0 to 1.1 oz) and has a diameter between 5 and 5.5 cm (2.0 to 2.2 in). It is played outdoors in a 5 versus 5 manner. Each team consists of 10 players but only 5 players on each team are active at any point in the game. Like in badminton, players use the same rackets and the court includes boundary lines and a net.

Ball Badminton Court
A ball badminton court

The size of a ball badminton court is 12 meters (39.4 feet) wide by 24 meters (78.7 feet) long, giving an area of 288 meter(3100 feet2). The dimensions of a badminton court, on the other hand, are 6.1 meters (20 feet) wide by 13.4 (44 feet) meters long, giving an area of 81.7 meter(880 feet2). This makes ball badminton’s court 3.5 times larger than a badminton court!

Matches in Poona are played a best 2 out of 3 games. A game is won by the team that reaches the 34th point first. Players on the teams change positions when either team first reaches 9, 18, or 27 points, somewhat similar to what is done in volleyball. Like how players serve in badminton, players alternate service between the left and right courts in Poona and must serve underhand and below the waist.

While Poona, or rather ball badminton in the modern day, is not as popular as badminton nowadays, it was a vital part in developing the ideas behind badminton. The entire idea of having a net, boundaries, and even being competitive (rather than cooperative, like in battledore and shuttlecock as described below) came from Poona! Competitions for ball badminton still exist in the 21st century and is mainly popular in India. If you would like to learn more about it, check out these videos of a ball badminton documentary and university match.

What is Battledore and Shuttlecock?

Battledore and shuttlecock, also known as drum-bat, is a game where players use a racket or bat to hit a shuttlecock back and forth in the air as many times as possible without letting the shuttlecock drop onto the ground. A battledore, although sounding like a weapon to bring to battle, is an old term for racket. The shuttlecock used in battledore and shuttlecock is similar to what you would now see in badminton but they would generally be larger and would not be produced at the same quantity and quality. 

Battledore and Shuttlecock

Battledore and shuttlecock actually has a very interesting history as to how it developed and eventually inspired the creation of badminton. Back in the 13th century, there was a game called “jeu de paume”, which translates to “palm game”, where players would use their hands to strike a ball back and forth as many times as they could. The balls were quite hard and heavy, making it easy for players to bruise or otherwise injure their hands. Gloves and eventually bats and rackets were invented to solve this problem.

The first documented use of bats and rackets was in 1505, where besides helping players protect their hands, also increased the speed of the rallies considerably. This use of rackets were revolutionary and opened up the world to the creation of many new racket sports. The 2 most notable modern day sports that eventually evolved from the sports created during this time are badminton and tennis. Although badminton and tennis have common roots, they do have considerable differences in rules, strategy, and much more, which may be enlightening to learn about if you’re new to them.

As the years went by, battledore and shuttlecock became more and more popular, especially because of its fondness among royalty and people of high social status – such as Queen Kristina of Sweden and Marquess of Sevigne of France.

Rules were first found in “The Art of Tennis Racket Maker” which was written in 1767 by François Alexandre Pierre de Garsault. It stated that players should use shuttlecocks that had bases that were 2 inches (5.1 cm) in diameter and with feathers that were 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) long. The game would be played indoors and accommodated up to 8 players but is best with 4 or 6. Lastly, a net would be placed between the players – which was not done previously – to make it more difficult to keep a rally going.

Like Poona, battledore and shuttlecock was crucial in the creation of badminton. It took centuries for it to develop and evolve. Nowadays, it is no longer played as the game is perhaps too easy because of its cooperative nature. Players are now much more excited and interested in the competitive badminton scene instead. And it’s not difficult to see why. Would you rather watch players clearing to each other for minutes straight or watch rallies of the fastest racket sport in the world?!

How are Poona, Battledore and Shuttlecock, and Badminton Different?

While badminton does find its roots from Poona and battledore and shuttlecock, there are major differences between them. Starting with Poona, we can see that Poona uses a ball instead of a shuttlecock and can be played outdoors competitively instead of exclusively indoors in competitive badminton. Furthermore, Poona court size is far bigger and it plays with 5 players on each side of the court while badminton can play with at most 2 players on each side of the court.

Battledore and shuttlecock, on the other hand, is similar to badminton in that it is played with a shuttlecock, but it is not competitive. Players are on a single team and simply try to keep a rally going for as long as possible. This may have been challenging back when rackets and shuttlecocks were relatively new, but that is no longer the case in the modern day. Battledore and shuttlecock also doesn’t have set boundaries and can support up to 8 players while badminton does have set boundaries and can support up to 4 players at a time.

Badminton, after all these years of discovery and development, takes the boundaries and competitive nature from Poona and combines it with the shuttlecock from battledore and shuttlecock to make it into an exciting and thrilling game. Who knows, maybe there will be another sport that is developed in the future that is even more enticing than badminton. There are already alternatives like AirBadminton and speedminton/crossminton – but we all know that badminton is where it’s at. Until that new enticing sport is discovered, we’ll continue following the amazing sport of badminton and we hope that you will continue with us on this badminton journey.

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