Ancient, visceral and physical, kabaddi can trace its roots back to prehistoric times and is referenced throughout the ages in Hindu and Buddhist literature.
Exhilarating, magical, fast and fun, the appeal of kabaddi lies in its simplicity, few rules and a simple battle between two teams in an exhibition of strength and speed.
The lights go up, the fans take their places, all is a buzz and then hushed breathing and a desperate race into the abyss of the opposition’s lair. This is kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi.
The origins of kabaddi
Kabaddi inherently belongs to India. Legend has it that kabaddi originated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu around 4,000 years ago. Ancient writings hint that Krishna played the game and that the Buddha was a fan of the contests between princes battling to win the affections of their brides.
Kabaddi was developed into a means for young men to develop their physical strength, self-defence skills, responsiveness and speed.
During the ages, the sport took on different forms in various parts of India but it was to the west in the state of Maharashtra that a standardised version of kabaddi was developed during the early decades of the 20th century.
The development of the modern version of kabaddi
In 1923 a national tournament was staged in Baroda organised by the Hind Vijay Gymkhana and a written version of the rules and regulations of kabaddi was produced.
Kabaddi was showcased at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It is reputed that Adolf Hitler remarked “does your team represent the average Indian”, impressed as he was by the moves of the two dozen players from the Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal sports club. The men had been sent to demonstrate India’s aspirations for independence through their indigenous sport.
Kabaddi made it to the 1938 Indian Olympic Games held in Calcutta and the sport began to achieve international recognition. It would be in independent India, once British rule had ended in 1947, that the game became an organised sport. The All-India Kabaddi Federation was formed in 1950.
The first men’s national tournament was held in present-day Chennai in 1955 with the inaugural women’s competition staged in present-day Kolkata. The sport was included in India’s education curriculum from 1961.
Kabaddi in contemporary times
Kabaddi would not feature as a discipline at the Asian Games until the 1990 edition held in Beijing. Six nations – India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China and Nepal – battled for the gold medal with India taking the title, winning all of their ties.
During the 1990s and early years of the new millennium, kabaddi became a little forgotten, viewed as it was by a new urban generation who associated it with rural India. A refresh was needed and long overdue.
The Pro Kabaddi League era
The founding of the Pro Kabaddi League relaunched the sport and has changed the perception of the game. Backed by broadcasting giant Star Sports, the league has replaced dusty mud pitches with coloured courts.
Bare-chested participants have been adorned with smart kits and a razzmatazz has been added in with music, fireworks and a smattering of celebrity backers and fans.
Today, kabaddi is broadcast to hundreds of millions of viewers across India but the sport is also screened in the likes of the UK, USA, Middle East and Latin America where it continues to grow in popularity.