For sports fans outside of India or Asia, kabaddi is an unknown term. In India and throughout Asia, however, kabaddi holds a special place in the heart of many sports fans.
Kabaddi is a contact sport played between two teams with 7 players each. The game goes by many names depending on the region where it’s played – it is called bhavatik in the Maldives, hu-tu-tu in Western India, kauddi in Punjab, and hu-do-do in Eastern India. Popularized in India and later Asia in the middle of the XX century, kabaddi has since gone to become one of the biggest sports in some countries and has been added to the wildly popular Asian Games. Want to learn a fun fact? Kabaddi is the national sport of Bangladesh!
Historians can’t really agree on the origins of kabaddi. Some experts think that it originated during the Vedic period in India, while others support the theory of the game being invented in the Sistan region (modern day Iran). Kabaddi seems to have been popular among the ancient Indian people known as Yadavas. Additionally, kabaddi was mentioned in a few historical documents including the Mahabharata and an abhang (poetry) by Tukaram, a famous XVII century Hindu poet. Tukaram state that Krishna played kabbadi when he was young, while in the Mahabharata, Arjuna was able to sneak into hostile territory and kill enemies without being touched, which sounds a lot like kabaddi.
Although its origins are still not clear, kabaddi definitely exploded in popularity at the beginning of the XX century, with India playing a central role in it. The first kabaddi tournaments were organized in the 1920s, with the sport being added to the Indian Olympic Games in 1938. It was demonstrated at the 1951 and 1982 Asian Games which helped formalize it. The game became officially recognized in Asia in 1990 when it was added to the Asian Games.
As we mentioned, kabaddi is played between two 7-player teams over a course of 40 minutes (20 minutes per half, 5-minute break in between). The goal of the game is for players to enter the opposite side of the court and ‘tag’ their opponents while chanting “Kabaddi! Kabaddi!”. This is known as a raid, and the raider has the goal of tagging (touching) one of the players of the opposite team while the remaining players try to catch him. It’s essentially a combative sport which may look easy but is pretty difficult.
The attacking team players are called Raiders while the defending team is known as Antis. When the raider touches an opponent, that player is out until his team ‘scores’ during their raid. The Antis can catch the raider while he’s on the prowl.
There are two major forms of kabaddi. The first one is the standard form which is common in professional tournaments and is played on a rectangular field. The other form of kabaddi is circle-style (Punjabi) kabaddi, which is more common for street players and played on a circular court.
The standard version kabaddi is common for international competitions and teams. The players occupy opposite halves of a rectangular field, usually 10x13 m. in size (8x12 m. for women). Each team has 5 substitutions on the bench. For a raid to be successful, a player must cross the line into ‘hostile territory’, tag a player (or more) and go back to his side without being touched. Of course, he must also chant “Kabaddi!” while he’s attacking. Just like in many other sports, there’s a 30-second limit for the attack.
The raider scores a point for his team for each opposing player he tags. If he manages to go beyond the bonus line, he scores another point. If he’s stopped, then the opposing team wins a point. As we said, the tagged players are taken out of the game, but they can be ‘revived’ if their team manages to score a point.
Depending on the competition, there are additional kabaddi rules that add more excitement to the game. In the popular Pro Kabaddi League, there are rules such as “do-or-die raid” which eliminates a team from contention if they have 3 unsuccessful raids in a row and “super-tackle”, which increases the worth of tackles to 2 points when the raiding team has only 4 players on the field.
Circle-style (Punjabi) kabaddi is played on a circular field and with a few rule differences – for example, the team that manages to oust all the opposing players earns 4 extra points. The game has no fixed duration and has four major forms – Punjabi, Amar, Gaminee, and Sanjeevani kabaddi. All the forms are recognized by the Amateur Kabaddi Federation.
The All-India Kabaddi Federation was the first governing body for the sport. Formed in 1950, it had the role of popularizing the sport in India, where the first Senior National Kabaddi Championship took place in 1952. Three years later, the first men’s and women’s national tournaments were separately organized in Kolkata and Chennai.
Later, the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India was formed in 1973 with the goal of bringing the sport closes to the people. The KFI reshaped the rules for kabaddi and can be accredited with the sport’s popularity boom in the 70s.
In Asia, the main governing body for the sport is the Asian Kabaddi Federation. The AKF made kabaddi popular in Asia, where it was demonstrated at the 1982 Asian Games which later added it on their schedule in 1990.
Thanks to the growing popularity of the sport in the rest of the world, kabaddi has taken a new shape and new governing bodies and tournaments were formed. The International Kabaddi Federation organizes the World Cup, the Kabaddi Asia Cup and the Kabaddi masters which are all played on an international level.
At club level, the most popular kabaddi leagues are the Pro Kabaddi League in India, the Super Kabaddi League in Pakistan, and the World Kabaddi League which is the first circle style kabaddi league that includes teams from India, Pakistan, Great Britain, Canada, and the USA.
Unlike in the past, kabaddi is not confined to Asia only. Pakistani and Indian immigrants have brought the game to the UK, eventually sparking the creation of the England Kabaddi Federation UK.