The Evolution of Kabaddi in India: From Rural Sport to National Obsession

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For most of us, the way we see the sport of Kabaddi has changed in the past 3 to 4 years. What once reminded us of dusty field patches of land playing host to a few neighborhood youngsters now invokes images of vibrant sports arena. It reflects with bright jerseys and sports celebrities. The single biggest event responsible for the perception transformation is the Pro Kabaddi League. The Pro Kabaddi League was launched in 2014 and the league was modeled after the IPL. It now stands into the fifth season with the bigger roster of teams as well as a bigger sum of money involved.

History of Kabaddi

Kabaddi is a wrestling sport which originated from the very early Indian civilization. The word Kabaddi is derived from the word Kai-pidi, literally meaning “let’s hold hands.” This is also a crucial aspect of the play. This game is the national game of Bangladesh and the state of state game of Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab in India. The national kabaddi champion in India is the famous Peter Singh Virk. This game has been deeply rooted in Indian culture for centuries. Kabaddi has been found a mention in Hindu mythology also. In the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, it is said that the Pandava warrior, Arjuna, mastered the skills of Kabaddi from Lord Krishna who adored the sport. The story goes that Arjuna would breach enemy walls and would walk back unscratched with his Kabaddi skills. Another tale in Mahabharat evolves around Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu, who invaded the seven tiered defence of an army formation of the Kauravas. It presents the sporting parallels towards single raider raiding in the opposition side of the mat, which often has seven defenders. Apart from the Epic Mahabharat, it is also believed that Gautam also used to play Kabaddi during his leisure time.  An Abhang by Tukaram stated that Lord Krishna also played the game in his youth.

It is a popular believe that the game of Kabaddi originated from the Indian state of Tamilnadu in India the sport has different names in different states before it was established as a sport and recognized today it was called chedu gudu oru 2 in southern part of the country while it was referred to as had dudu for men and kit kit for women in the East. Kabaddi is a sport developed and centered on Jallikattu. It is believed that it was common among the Ayar tribal people who lived in the Mullai geographical region of ancient Tamilnadu. In the game, a player goes to the opposition and is treated like a bull. It is like taming a bull without touching it, as it is mentioned in the Sangam Literature that the game Sadugudu was played for ages. The sport has a rich history but the legends have taken that Kabaddi originated in Tamilnadu for over 4000 years ago. The game was set to have been popular among the people of Yadava.

Controversy of Origin

While Kabaddi is considered an Indian sport, its origins are still a matter of dispute. It is a popular belief that Kabaddi originated from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. In India, this sport has different names in different states before it was established as a sport and recognized today.  There is an argument that Kabaddi originated in Iran about 5000 years ago. Miraj Sheykh, a notable Kabaddi player from Iran claims that it was first found in his hometown, Sistan. Several ancient books also speak about it. It wasn’t until early 20th century that the sport finally got its recognition. The first official rules and regulations of kabaddi was formed in 1918 before it was declared as a national sport of India. However, it took 5 years to print these documents for circulation. In 1923, an all India tournament of Kabaddi was held in Baroda and since then, several national level tournaments have been organized across the country.

Evolution of Kabaddi

The modern Kabaddi is a synthesis of the game which is played in various forms and different names. This game received International exposure during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The game was introduced in the Indian Olympics at Calcutta in 1938. Following India’s independence, a national Kabaddi body was formed in 1950 named the all India Kabaddi Federation. After it came into existence, the standard rules and regulations were formed. The Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India was also founded in 1973. After the formation of AKFI, the first men’s National was held in Tamilnadu while the women’s were in AKFI has been given new shape to the rules. The newly independent Bangladesh designated Kabaddi as the national sport after the Asian Amateur Kabaddi Federation was founded in 1978. It was the first Asian Kabaddi Championship which was organized in 1980 and was soon followed by the demonstration of the game at the 1982 Asian games in New Delhi.

The Asian Kabaddi Federation was founded under the Championship of kabaddi. In 1979, a return test between Bangladesh and India was held. This game was held at different places of India including Hyderabad, Mumbai and Punjab. The Asian Kabaddi championship was organised in 1980 where India came out as a champion and Bangladesh became runner up. Again in 1985, Bangladesh became the runner-up for the Asian Kabaddi Championship held in Jaipur, India. The other teams of the tournament included Japan, Malaysia and Nepal. The game was included for the first time in the Asian games in Beijing in 1990. In this game, countries is like India, Japan, China, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Pakistan took part. India won the gold medal and has been winning gold at the following 6 Asian Games at Hiroshima in 1994, Bangkok in 1998, Busan in 2002, Doha in 2006 and Guangzhou in 2010.

There was also an attempt to popularize Kabaddi in Great Britain. This was carried out by Channel 4, who commissioned a programme dedicated to the sport. The program of Kabaddi however failed to capture viewers’ attention in the early 1990s, despite fixtures such as West Bengal Police versus The Punjab.

During the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok, Indian Kabaddi team took the gold medal. The chief coach of the team was former Kabaddi player and coach Flt. Lt. SP Singh. The seven-time gold medalist India suffered their first ever loss in 2018 Asian Games to South Korea in the men’s Kabaddi Group A game. During the semifinals, Iran defeated the seven-time Asiad champions. It was the first time that India did not play the finals since introduction of the game in the Asiad in 1990.

Entering into the new millennium, the first Kabaddi World Cup was held in 2004 which was followed by one in 2007 and then in 2016. Each was organized in a big scale and attracted the attention of a lot of people. With the inception of Pro Kabaddi League in 2014, the mainstreaming of Kabaddi received another huge impetus not just with regard to the domestic viewers, but also the international one. The women’s Kabaddi also gained a lot of momentum over the past few years, starting with the first Asian Women Championship in 2005, followed by the first world cup in 2012. The PKL inspired women’s Kabaddi challenge kick started in 2016.

Variations in the Game

Kabaddi is one of the most popular games played in the villages in India. In this game, two teams occupy opposite halves of the field and take turns sending a raider into the other half in order to win points by tackling members of the opposing team. The raider then tries to return to its own side chanting the word “Kabaddi” during the whole raid. The raiders must not cross the lobby unless he touches any of the opponents. If he does so, then he will be declared as out. In the International team version of kabaddi, two teams of seven members each occupy the opposite half of a field of 10 m ×13 m in case of men and 8m×12m in case of women. The game is of two hours of 20 minutes each and a 5 minutes halves, 20 minutes each and a five minute halftime break during which the teams change sides.

Standard Style

Indian National team version of Kabaddi consists of 2 teams of 7 players each occupying opposite sides of a field of 13 by 10 metres in case of women and 12 by 12 metres in case of women. Each of them has three supplementary players in reserve. The game is played with 20 minute time with a 5 minute half time break. During each raid, the player from the attacking side, which is known as the raider, runs to the opponent team side of the field and attempts to tag as many players in the defending team in order to gain eligible points. The raider must cross in the defending team’s territory and return to their own half of the field without being tackled. The raider also has to chant the word Kabaddi confirming the reference that the raid is done in a single rhythm.

Circle Style

There are four major forms of Kabaddi played in India which are recognised by the Amateur Federation. In Sanjeevani Kabaddi, one player is revived against one player of the opponent team who holds out- one out. The game is played over 40 minutes with a 5-minute break between halves. There are seven players on each side and the team that outs all the players on the opponent sides gets extra points. In Gaminee style, seven players play on either side of the field and a player that has been put out has to remain out until all his team members are out. The team that will be successful in outstating all the players of the opponent sides secures a point. This game continuous until five or seven such points are secured and has no fix time duration. The Amar style resembles the Sanjeevani form in time frame rule. But in this, the player who is declared out doesn’t leave the court. Instead, he stays inside and the play goes along. For every player of the opposition touched “out,” a team earns the point. The Punjabi Kabaddi is a variation that is played in a circular pitch of a radius of 22 metres.


While International footprint of Kabaddi continues to grow rapidly, India manages to retain its hegemony in terms of performances. Both men and women’s sides have won all the World cups as well as clinched all the gold medals up for the grabs at the Asian Games. As the game receives more exposure, the Kabaddi teams of Iran and Bangladesh are slowly moving forward and may present a tough challenge to the Indian teams in the future. Putting all the speculations aside whether India will continue to the main dominant in Kabaddi or not, one thing which is clear is that the sport will only become more competitive and exciting in the near future.

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