What Are The Origins of Kabaddi And How’d it Get so Big so Fast?

As the Pro Kabaddi League kickstarts its 5th season, we trace a brief and interesting history of the ancient sport. 

Updated01 Aug 2017, 04:49 AM IST
Sports Buzz
4 min read

For many of us, the way we have perceived the sport of Kabaddi has undergone a change in the last three or four years. What once reminded us of dusty patches of land playing host to a few neighbourhood enthusiasts now invokes images of vibrant sports arenas, replete with bright jerseys and as celebrities. And the single biggest event responsible for this perception transformation is the Pro-Kabaddi League (PKL).

Launched in 2014, the glitzy league modelled after the IPL, is now into its fifth season, with a bigger roster of teams (4 new teams, making it a total of 12) as well as a bigger sum of money involved.

As the sport continues to garner more and more attention, we dial back the clock and trace the history of a sport which went aeons before the all-popular cricket made its entry into the subcontinent, and is called not just kabaddi but also ‘hu-tu-tu’, ‘ha-do-do’ and ‘chedu gudu’, in different regions.

What Are The Origins of Kabaddi And How’d it Get so Big so Fast?
(Photo: Reuters)

Prehistoric Times And Mythological Connections

Hailed as a game that can be easily enjoyed owing to its inherently simple yet energetic and fast-paced nature, Kabaddi’s origins are vaguely referenced as going back to the prehistoric times, or to the Vedic age, or 3,000-4,000 years ago.

Interestingly, the sport has also been given a mythological tinge, connecting it to the epic Mahabharata. Some regard the epic’s famous episode, wherein Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu broke the Chakravyuha line of defence of the Kauravas during the war and eventually lost his life, as reminiscent of the way Kabaddi is played.

But Did Kabaddi Actually Originate in India? Iran Doesn’t Think So!

While Kabaddi is considered a quintessentially Indian sport, its origins are still a matter of dispute. Iran, India’s fiercest competitor in the game, does not seem to agree that the sport took birth in India. In fact, Iran’s star player Meraj Sheykh, traces its origins to his hometown in Sistan, calling it a 5,000-year-old sport.

My hometown, Sistan, was where it was first found. Several ancient books spoke about it too. We were the original founders of the game, not India.
Iran’s Kabaddi player Meraj Sheykh to ESPN
What Are The Origins of Kabaddi And How’d it Get so Big so Fast?
(Photo Courtesy: Naukri Nama)

Modern Kabaddi: Federations, World Cups and Many Triumphs

While the knowledge regarding the origins of Kabaddi might be disputed and muddled, the trajectory that modern Kabaddi has followed can be delineated with relative ease.

The process of organisation of Kabaddi as a proper competitive sport kick-started in the early 20th century, with the first significant developments being the formulation of set rules for the game in the 1920s, its inclusion as a demonstration sport in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, followed by its introduction in the National Games in Calcutta two years later.

Following India’s independence, a national Kabaddi body – the All India Kabaddi Federation (AIKF) – was constituted, which was later transmuted into Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI) in 1972. Around this time, the sport, which was hitherto restricted to national level competitions, started making its presence felt internationally.

A newly-independent Bangladesh designated Kabaddi as their national sport, the Asian Amateur Kabaddi Federation was founded in 1978, the 1st Asian Kabaddi Championship was organised in 1980, and that was soon followed by the demonstration of the game at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi.

And by 1990, Kabaddi was also included in the Asian games (which was held in Beijing that year).

What Are The Origins of Kabaddi And How’d it Get so Big so Fast?
(Photo: Reuters)

Enter the new millennium, and the first Kabaddi World Cup was held in 2004, followed by one in 2007 and then in 2016 - each organised on a bigger scale and attracting greater traction than the last. With the inception of the Pro-Kabaddi League in 2014, the ‘mainstreaming’ of Kabaddi received another huge impetus, not just with regard to the domestic audience but also an international one.

Women’s kabaddi too has been gaining a lot of momentum over the last few years, starting with the first Asian Women Championship of 2005, followed by the first World Cup in 2012 and then the PKL-inspired Women’s Kabaddi Challenge kickstarting in 2016.

What Are The Origins of Kabaddi And How’d it Get so Big so Fast?
(Photo: Reuters)

While the international footprint of Kabaddi continues to grow rapidly, India has managed to retain its hegemony in terms of performances. Both the men’s as well as the women’s sides have won all the world cups as well as clinched all the gold medals up for grabs at the Asian Games.

However, as they receive more exposure, the Kabaddi teams of Iran and Bangladesh are slowly inching forward, and may present a veritable challenge to the Indian team in the near future (Iran already has, in fact).

But, putting aside the speculations of whether India will continue to remain 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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Published: 31 Jul 2017, 05:00 PM IST
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