It is believed that the sport of Kabaddi can be traced back to prehistoric India around 4,000 years ago. There is evidence that the game was played in an area called Tamil Nadu, and it was used to strengthen warriors for self-defense as well as sharpen reflexes for hunting. The word Kabaddi may come from the word kai pidi or kai hidi, which in the Tamil language of Kannada translates to “hold hands.” This describes the defensive strategy that players use to corral and capture an attacker. Most people believe that Kabaddi originated in India during the ancient Vedic Period, yet some believe its origin comes from the Sistan region of modern day Iran.
Modern Kabaddi drew inspiration for its game mechanics from the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. Taught specialized battle tactics by the god Krishna (in utero), Arjuna famously dissected a specialized defensive circle maneuver called the Chakravyuha during a major battle in the story (that featured chariot warfare). Arjuna was able to penetrate this circular defensive tactic when no else was successful. However, he never learned how to escape the formation once he was inside because he and his mother were asleep when Krishna explained how to escape, and therefore were trapped within its seven layers and he was eventually killed. The game of Kabaddi honors Arjuna and his strategy through “ring play,” which was also a useful strategy for soldiers to work together defensively to neutralize a single attacking force. In Buddhist writings, it is mentioned the Gautama Buddha actually played the game with his friends.
The sport goes by different names; each with slightly different rule sets, depending on the region of India where it was played. In west India, the game is called Hu-Tu-Tu or Hu Tu Tu, in the east and Bangladesh it is called Hadudu or Ha-Do-Do, in Sri Lanka it is called Gudu, in the Maldives the game is called Baibalaa or Bhavaitik, and in north and south India it is called Chedugudu and Chadakudu. The game is also known in Thailand as Theechub. Known as “The Game of the Masses,” the three modern versions of the sport take pieces from all these variations, yet India recognizes five different regional styles (only two are internationally recognized). The differences between these styles usually involve the playing area or how players are revived after being tackled. The names of these recognized styles are: Sanjeevani Kabaddi, Gaminee Kabaddi, Amar Kabaddi, Punjabi Kabaddi (or Circle Kabaddi), and National Kabaddi. Another style is called Beach Kabaddi, which debuted in the 2008 Bali Asian indoor games, and some consider to be the most authentic to the origins of the sport.
Traditional, or National Kabaddi, is a synthesis of many different regional styles. With its rules created in 1923, , Kabaddi debuted in the 1936 Olympic games as a demonstration sport. In 1938, the game was included in the Indian Olympic Games. In 1950, the All Indian Kabaddi Federation was founded and then created a more standardized rule set for the sport, which they became known as National Style Kabaddi. Starting in 1955, the federation promoted the sport through national tournaments, which pushed the sport to be included in school curriculums in 1961. The amateur Kabaddi Federation of India, created in 1972, helped promote the sport outside of India, which coincidentally is the same year Bangladesh made Kabaddi its national sport. Soon after, an Asian Amateur Federation was formed with its own championships, and this opened the door for national teams to compete in international competition. The first international Asian Kabaddi tournament was held in 1980, which featured teams from Nepal, Malaysia, Japan, Bangladesh, and India. In 1990, Kabaddi debuted as a medal sport in XI Asian Games hosted in Beijing. Mumbai would host the first Kabaddi World Cup in 2004, which featured national teams from all over the world. To this day, India is still undefeated, but the sport is gaining popularity, which will improve international competition.
Kabaddi is the official game of the Indian states of Punjab, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Haryana, Telangana, and Maharashtra. Kabaddi was made the national sport of Bangladesh in 1972. The national sport of Nepal, Kabaddi is taught in all state schools. Kabaddi is also very popular in Iran as well. The sport has become very popular in Japan because of Sundar Ram, who visited the country in 1979. Japan became formidable opponents in Kabaddi during the Asian Games.
The sport is an attacking and defending game where the attacker (raider) tries to tag the defenders (antis) and return to their territory, and the defending team tries to prevent the attacker from returning to their territory after the tag. The tagged defensive player(s) are “sent out” until his or her team scores gets their opponents out, which can revive eliminated teammates, or the raider was successfully tackled before returning to their territory. As a raider, points are earned for every defender tagged if the raider can successfully return to their territory without getting tackled. Defenders earn points for preventing attackers from returning by tackling them by the body or limbs. Bonus points are earned for additional feats such as touching the bonus line as a raider or preventing all attackers from returning as a defender (called an All Out). An interesting feature of the game is that the raider can only use one breath when attacking. To prove this feat, the raider must repeat the word “Kabaddi” over and over again to prove that they only used one breath during the attacking phase. The playing area is traditionally 10 meters by 13 meters, and no special equipment is needed to play. This makes the game very accessible, which is a feature of another popular Indian game called Kho Kho. Kabaddi has seen resurgence in popularity due to its television exposure and endorsements through its professional league called the PRO Kabaddi League, founded in 2014.
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