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‘Mom Pawned Jewellery to Fuel My Passion’: India’s First Fencer To Reach Olympics

Born in a middle-class family in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Bhavani Devi was introduced to fencing at school but little did she know that an extracurricular activity would help her make history.


This article has been sponsored by Rin.


With the Tokyo Olympics 2021 only a few days away, the country has come together to support all the athletes who are heading for the games to make India proud. The journey for many of them has not been easy with several stories waiting to be told.

This time around, all eyes on Chadalavada Anandha Sundhararaman Bhavani Devi, India’s first-ever female fencer to qualify for the Olympics, who has an incredibly heartwarming and inspiring story that is being celebrated by Rin, the detergent brand from the house of Hindustan Unilever in their latest TVC.

CA Bhavani Devi is a shining star that everyone is looking forward to seeing at the Tokyo Olympics because she has made the relatively lesser-known sport of fencing, popular among the youth and synonymous with her name.

Hailing from Tamil Nadu, Bhavani Devi was 11 years old when she discovered her life’s purpose.

A student studying in a Chennai-based school then, she had to select one sport as an extracurricular, out of six options. Most of the options were filled by the time she attempted to apply, barring a lesser-known sport called fencing.

Fascinated and motivated to join an extracurricular activity that allowed her to skip classes, Bhavani started fencing in 2004.

Little did she know that this choice would carve a glorious destiny for her, making her the first-ever Indian to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games in fencing.

Thanks to her remarkable feat, fencing, the lesser-known sport, is now making a mainstream debut with the entire nation waiting to witness her performance at the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to take place from 23 July to 8 August 2021.

Becoming India’s top sabre

A girl born in a middle-class family with several financial constraints, Bhavani had never even heard of fencing before 2004. It was only in school while selecting a sport extracurricular that she was introduced to it.

But even then, it was mostly the fascination of the unknown and an excuse to bunk classes that formed the crux of her initial motivation. A strenuous sport warranting the player’s absolute surrender, young Bhavani went into training unaware of the requisite hard work and sacrifice, be it mental, physical or financial. It was only after her first failure in a school competition that Bhavani discovered the fire and passion for the sport and the hunger to be the best rose within her.

Yet this was only her first hurdle. The next and a bigger one was the financial strain. Being the daughter of a priest, her family could not afford letting her train for an expensive sport like fencing. She shares that her first-ever fencing kit cost Rs 6,000 back in the day. However, her mother, a homemaker, was not ready to let her daughter give up on her dream. She pawned her gold jewellery to afford to pay for the fencing gear.

It took Bhavani years of unwavering perseverance and hard work to win the gold back in the form of her first international gold medal in 2014 in the Tuscany Cup, Italy. Later, in 2018 she also became the first Indian to win a gold medal at the Senior Commonwealth Fencing Championship, in Canberra.

Now, the 27-year-old fencing champion specialises in one of its three forms called sabre—epee and foil being the other two—and is training in Italy for the Olympics.

Bhavani’s story of struggle and grit has been showcased in the latest Rin TVC campaign #AbWaqtHaiChamakneKa, through a video below:

“Rin has been an integral part of Indian households for over five decades now and has stood for people who are unwilling to be defined by preset roles and have the courage to pursue their dreams, undeterred by their socio-economic backgrounds. Through our latest campaign, ‘Ab Waqt hai chamakne ka’, we endeavoured to showcase the glorious journey of Bhavani Devi, her mother’s sacrifices and their collective success and in the process inspire millions of others to keep persevering in their dreams, despite the odds. The essence of our brand aligns beautifully with such extraordinary stars who have risen from ordinary lives. We salute Bhavani for her dedication and wish her good luck as she prepares to represent India in the Olympics 2021,” says Prabha Narasimhan, Executive Director & VP – Home Care, Hindustan Unilever Ltd.

Cover Image Source: Bhavani Devi/Facebook

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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