Chadalavada Anandha Sundhararaman Bhavani Devi aka CA Bhavani Devi is the first women in India to qualify for the Olympics. Upcoming Tokyo Olympics will be her debutant entry. She bought the first Gold Medal for fencing in the Common Wealth championship by breaking the fencing record of 44-years and She is the only Indian to enter the top 50 Ranking of fencing in the world.
Early Childhood and Career
Indian presence in world fencing, Bhavani Devi was born on 27 August 1993 to CA Ramani and C Anandha Sundhararaman in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Ramani is a homemaker and Anandha Sundhararaman is a priest. Bhavani is the fifth child of a middle-class family. She has two brothers and two elder sisters.
"My mother influenced me the most in my fencing career. She has been supportive and has faced hardships to fulfil my dreams. She worked arduous to find sponsors and gather funds from the government for me to participate in international tournaments."
Bhavani took fencing baby steps in 2004 while doing her schooling at Muruga Dhanushkodi Girls' Higher Secondary School.
“When I joined class VI to the new school, they gave me six sport options including fencing. All the other options were filled by the time I joined and I was left with fencing. It sounded new to me and I was eager to try it. Many didn’t even know that a sport called fencing exist and in India then. It was a very new sport, especially to Tamilnadu. The sport itself is an inspiration. It gives me happiness and motivates to be better every day.”
Bhavani used her first electric equipment when she participated in a national event. Until then she had only used bamboo sticks instead of sabre weapon. When the international players had the luxury to practice with electric swords at the indoor stadium, in the south of India, Bhavani got trained under the hot sun. She couldn't afford to buy an electric sword and she often borrowed swords from other players while going for tournaments.
Her national representation began in 2004 at Madhya Pradesh. Since then, she started playing sabre professionally while getting trained at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai.
"I had to attend the sessions before and after school. So, I'll wake up early in the morning and catch the only bus from Washermanpet that has a stop in front of the stadium at Periyamet. Soon after school, I'll rush for the sessions again in the evening. I remember walking alone for a few kilometres in the night after I missed the only bus that comes near the stadium.”
After finishing class X, she joined Sports Authority of India Centre in Thalassery, Kerala. At the age of 15, she appeared in her first international tournament Cadet and Junior World Fencing Championship at Turkey in 2007.
The expenses of travelling and buying the equipment for fencing was not easy for Bhavani's family. Her mother had to borrow money from friends and family to meet with the expenses.
"I missed a lot of international events as my family couldn't afford the travel expenses. Still, my mother was not ready to give up. She tried her level best to let me attend the event either by taking loans or borrowing money."
Bhavani studied the bachelor's degree in Business Administration at the Government Brennen College, Thalassery in Kerala. Later, she pursued St Joseph's Engineering College in Chennai for MBA.
“I chose sabre because it was faster than the other two events.”
Her dedication towards the sport brought her many laurels. She is widely known as the first Indian to win Gold Medal for India from the International competition. She won the gold medal in the sabre event from Satellite Tournament and Commonwealth Championship for the first time for the country that put Indian fencing to the international stage.
"I had faced a lot of challenges in the initial days while travelling alone. I was not fluent in English then. Finding the pre-booked hotels and communicating with people was a tedious task. Also, a lot of people asked my parents to stop me from going alone to participate in international events but I was not ready to give up."
Tournaments and Medals
Commencing from the Bronze Medal for sabre at 2009 Common Wealth Championship held in Malaysia, Bhavani has bagged many laurels including Bronze in 2010 International Open held in Thailand, Bronze in 2010 Cadet Asian Championship held in the Philippines, Bronze in the 2010 Asian Championship held at the Philippines. Silver and Bronze in 2012 Common Wealth Championship held in Jersey. She bagged Silver Medal in 2014 Asian Championship held in the Philippines under-23 category becoming the first Indian to do so.
"Success won't come in a day. You have to be patient and continue to work hard. More importantly, you must crave and love your sport."
She won Bronze in 2015 Under-23 Asian Championship held at Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar and 2015 Flemish Open held in Belgium. For the astonishing performance at Flemish Open, former Tamilnadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa honoured Bhavani Devi with a purse of Rs 3 Lakh.
"I am very happy that the Chief Minister has provided the elite scheme scholarship until 2020. I can stay relaxed on financial issues but at the same time, I have the responsibility to utilise it in a smart way to achieve good results."
In 2015, she became one of the 15 athletes selected 'GoSports Foundation' for the Rahul Dravid Athlete Mentorship Programme.
"When I thought about quitting the sport, fortunately, I got selected for the Rahul Dravid Athlete Mentorship Program by Gosports Foundation."
She became the first Indian fencer to win gold at a World Cup event when she triumphed in individual sabre at the event at Reykjavik, Iceland in 2017.
"I would say, winning the title of individual sabre at the 2017 World Cup event in Reykjavik, Iceland is the most memorable day in my life."
In 2019 she won a silver and bronze in the women's sabre individual category in the Tournoi Satellite Fencing Competition held at Belgium and Iceland. Bhavani has received three Gold Medals till date.
"When it comes to fencing, the US fencer Mariel Zagunis is my idol. Also, I get inspiration from tennis ace Sania Mirza, Serena Williams and all women achievers in the field of sport."
Bhavani made history by becoming the first Indian to win a gold medal at the Senior Commonwealth Fencing Championship in Australia in 2018 in the sabre event.
Other than this, she has also won several medals in the Youth categories and is a winner of more than eight Individual national titles till date.
"Getting trained abroad helped me to improve my fencing skills apart from making me a better person. Training with the best athletes has been a learning experience for me. I got to know how they take success and failures and prepare for competitions."
Bhavani was in line to qualify for Tokyo Olympics 2020 through AOR (Adjusted Official ranking) before the final tournament was cancelled due to the pandemic. Currently, she is awaiting the revised qualification process while getting trained under Italian coach Mr Nicola Zanotti, who is her coach since 2016.