The consistent reason of pride for India has always safely rested in the arena of shooting and over the last few years, the country has produced some of the most prolific and promising shooting stars. With the coming of a fresh crop of immensely talented individuals in the form of Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhury, Mehuli Ghosh, Anjum Moudgil, the records have started streaming in once again as these athletes flew in with laurels from all over the world. With the Shooting World Cup set to begin from 20th February, 2019 in the capital city of New Delhi in the hallowed grounds of the Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range, there cannot be a better occasion to turn back the clock and recall the colorful personality who influenced the nation and planted the seeds of shooting in it’s raw soil.
Shooting wasn’t always a popular sport in India, to begin with.
Tracing back the decades to days when the first of the sun rays illumined the red-brick palatial forts of Bikaner and a certain Maharaja strode down the corridors, a certain Maharaja, who despite all his regalia, helped give shooting as a sport it’s initial shape. Perhaps the earliest influencer of shooting in the country, Maharaja Karni Singh singularly ushered in the trend of shooting as a sport in the nation.
The Maharaja of Bikaner, Karni Singh, boasted of a motley collection of feathers in his cap. An avid shooter, as well as a true sporting enthusiast, he played golf, tennis, cricket with equal dexterity aside from honing a private pilot’s license. Serving as the last Maharaja of the State of Bikaner, Singh also had a deft eye for art and aesthetics and practiced painting and photography too. However, the graduate from St. Stephen’s, New Delhi found his calling in the world of shooting as he was a stand-out excellence in Clay Pigeon Trap and Skeet events.
Unfazed by his political duties to the State, Singh kept his passion for shooting burning and alive by prioritizing it correctly and setting himself in the role of an influence-maker in this field. Singh, shone as a Clay Pigeon Trap and Skeet shooter and went on to represent the country at several national and international levels including the Olympic Games. At a time when few were prone to take up shooting as a serious profession, the Maharaja set the example by setting sail for as many as five Olympics between 1960-1980. In doing so, he became the first Indian to have participated in as many Olympics. Decorated 17 times as the National Champion, Singh has been the torchbearer in this event on various international stages.
Elected as a Member of Parliament in 1952, Karni Singh juggled his role as a revered politician in a country still trying to shape itself up, in fledgling efforts and a sportsman with a talent for shooting. Seizing the power of his position as the Maharaja, Karni Singh helped popularize the sport and people began looking up to him for his countless sporting achievements and could not help being in awe of this interesting personality. Singh participated in the Summer Olympics of Rome in 1960, Tokyo (1964), Mexico (1968), Munich (1972), Moscow (1980) where he captained the shooting contingent in 1964 and stood eighth in the ranking tally of 1960 and tenth in 1968, notably.
Fresh from his return from the 1960 Rome Olympics, Singh became the first recipient of the Arjuna Award from shooting. Singh fashioned himself to be an iconic presence in the field and his career was embezzled with victories in the World Shooting Championships where he won a silver medal in 1962 to a gold medal victory in the Asian Shooting Championships of 1967 and 1971. He also won twin silver medals at the Asian Games held in Tehran and Kuala Lumpur in 1974 and 1975 respectively.
The foundation of shooting in the country, therefore, was quite flamboyant with the Maharaja of Bikaner himself setting a milestone in it.
The charismatic Karni Singh took plenty of initiatives to promote shooting and encouraged all kinds of sports. To honor the great athlete, the Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range was constructed in 1982 during the New Delhi edition of Asian Games. The author of ‘From Rome to Moscow’, Singh traced his Olympic journey as a shooter in its pages; Singh remains as a venerable name in the books of the sport some three decades after his demise too.
The hallowed grounds of Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range, located in the heart of New Delhi, has transformed to become a top-class facility which acts as a crucible for breeding young and promising shooters who come with the fire of passion ignited in their hearts and minds. A game changer in his heydays, the Maharaja of Bikaner has indeed left us indebted and inspired with his stories and his journey as a shooter as well as the last ruler of Bikaner.