What Is Kabaddi? This. Is. Kabaddi
December 6, 2018
Not many sports originated in a scene from a mythological sacred text. Kabaddi though is a little bit different to most sports…
When leafing your way through the 1.8 million-word 4th century Sanscrit epic, the Mahabharata, it’s quite jarring to see just how much conflict and devastation the poem leaves in its wake. Even considering the fact it’s a sacred text.
Remarking upon the poem in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi spoke of the story as being, “bloodthirsty, revengeful and merciless” with battles that “are described with no less zest than now.”
1947 was a different time for India than that of today, it was an India on the verge of independence from British rule and an India that would shortly be involved in an intense and bloody battle with the soon-to-be nation of Pakistan.
Gandhi though, found deeper meaning in the Mahabharata. He believed that the epic established, “the futility of war and violence,” and that it was a warning rather than a story of bloodlust. The one sport which apparently originated in the 1,600-year-old poem, kabaddi, also provided further affirmation of Gandhi’s line of thinking.
What is Kabaddi?
Kabaddi is thought to have been created in remembrance of Abhimanyu the Warrior, a character in the Mahabharata who died after he was trapped by a semi-circle of fighters defending their city from his attack – a semi-circle which soon was used by kabaddi fighters when defending a ‘raid’.
The sport, which on the face of it has all the hallmarks of viciousness and aggression – violence and bloodthirst as Gandhi would put it – is actually a game of defence, and suppression of brutality, taking down the attacker when he tries to break through your fortification. Abhimanyu, the reincarnation of the son of moon-God, was a ferocious combatant who wreaked havoc wherever he went. His defeat was a display of unity in the face of powerful hostility.
(By the way, there are two types of Kabaddi which are most popular in the world today: Standard Kabbadi and Circle Kabbadi, but I’m going to talk about the more popular and the more commercialised, Standard Kabaddi here.)
Kabaddi teams are split into seven players aside who occupy one half of a 10 x 13 metre court. The sport has been compared to the classic playground game of British Bulldog down the years, and it is a little bit like that, but I also like to think of it a little bit like dodgeball too, but without a ball.
Dodge, duck, dip, dive and…dodge? Yep, plenty of that right here, because what each team has to do is…
- Venture into the other team’s half
- One person at a time
- To tag as many of the defending players as possible
- Go over the line in the defenders’ half for an additional point
- And then make it back over the halfway line without getting tackled
- All within 30 seconds.
Any part of your body to make it back over the halfway the line will give you the points, and you get a point for each defender you touch.
You can see a great escape here from Nitin Madane to give his side the points:
The defence gets the point if they stop you escaping. Any player that is tagged is taken out of the game. Players can get back into the game for every point your team score. If a team gets the opposing side out at once they earn additional points.
Are you still with me, right now? Sounds a little bit like something you’d play in school, doesn’t it? No wonder it gets compared to British Bulldog so often.
Where is it played?
Though Kabaddi is the national sport of Bangladesh and Nepal, in India the sport is going through a huge resurgence right now.
Five years ago, not that many people even in India would’ve heard of kabaddi. The sport wasn’t televised at any level, and though it was played at the Asian Games every four years, in 2007, after just two iterations, the Kabaddi World Cup was ditched due to a distinct lack of interest.
However, in 2014, a group of forward-thinking business people and celebrities alike came together to practically launch a new sport to the world with the creation of the franchised Pro Kabbadi League. Almost immediately, India was hooked with TV audiences standing at over 200 million on a regular basis, which ranks only behind the Indian Premier League in terms of popularity.
Fans of the IPL will see similarities between the products too, with the bright-coloured livery and strips which have become so synonymous with the IPL, on full display also in the PKL. Live attendances themselves aren’t quite as jaw-dropping as the TV viewership, though the Patna Pirates do attract crowds of nearly 20,000 on a weekly basis.
The PKL is predominantly made up of players from India, though foreign players do feature from the likes of South Korea, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Iran, who have arguably the finest defensive player in the game, Fazel Atrachali.
But there is more than just the glitz and glamour of the PKL, there is also a professional franchise league in Pakistan called the Super Kabaddi League, and a Women’s Kabbadi League in India too.
In terms of international tournaments, kabaddi has been a part of the Asian Games since 1990 (an Olympic style tournament for Asian countries) and a Kabaddi World Cup was relaunched in 2016 featuring India, Bangladesh, England (it’s very big in the British army, actually), Australia, South Korea, Argentina, Iran, USA, Poland, Kenya, Thailand, and Japan.
At the Asian Games earlier this year, India’s men’s side were taken down by a super-strong Iranian side in the semi-final, which was the first time they’d ever lost a kabaddi match in the competition’s 28-year history, while the women were also toppled by Iran in the final for the first time in their history.
Maybe kabaddi is on the cusp of going worldwide? It’s certainly come pretty far in the last few years…
Where can I bet on kabaddi?
As the sport is going through such a renaissance period, you’d expect to find loads of places offering kabaddi betting odds, yet there are no UK bookmakers offering them!
Author: Tom Mortimer
Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created HungarianFootball.com and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer, Goal.com, among many others.