Kabaddi Chronicles: Bridging Tradition and Modernity in Asia’s Game

Watching a game of kabaddi, the uninitiated may feel as though they’ve stumbled into a madhouse. Men and women dash across the field, striving to dominate each other, while some vociferously cry out “Kabaddi!” until they reach the brink of exhaustion.

Historical Background

Kabaddi, pronounced with an accent on the first syllable, is the oldest game in Asia, originating in India over 4 thousand years ago. The first mention of the game is found in the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian mythology. While the exact origins remain unclear, it was initially more than mere entertainment. Used for strength and endurance training essential for work, daily life, and self-defense.

By 1918, kabaddi had become a national team sport in India. However, uniform rules were established much later, post-1923, coinciding with a surge in popularity. In 1990, it made its debut in the Asian Games in Beijing.

Since 2014, the game has seen a new wave of development with the creation of the “Pro Kabaddi League,” a professional league featuring eight teams. Businessmen recognized the game’s potential, conducting auctions to recruit players, forming national teams in just a few days, with over $4 million paid in the process.

Monetary investments not only elevated the game’s fame but also influenced its rules. Unlike the past, players now wear mandatory uniforms containing advertising information and sponsor logos. Matches are regularly broadcast on television, attracting a substantial fan base. The league’s club even boasts a Facebook page, surpassing the subscriber count of Spartak Moscow.

The game’s popularity extends beyond India to most Asian countries, as well as Europe and the USA. National federations exist in countries such as Argentina, Japan, the United States, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, and Thailand.

Kabaddi Rules

The game involves two teams, each with seven players, competing on a square-shaped platform, which can be either outdoors or indoors. The game consists of two halves, each lasting 20 minutes. Opponents are positioned on opposite sides of the field, taking turns sending a player into the opponent’s half to tag their players and return. Points are awarded for each opponent touched, with the touched players leaving the field. However, points are only scored if the athlete safely returns to their half of the field.

The kabaddi field must be flat and shaped like a square, with a side length of 10-13 m (8-12 m for women’s games). Marking lines include lines of the game zone, a central line dividing the playground, edge lines 3.75 m from the center line on either side, and bonus lines 1 m from the edge lines.

In a classic match, four players enter the field, and three are reserve. A coin toss determines which team attacks first. The attacking team sends an “invader” to the center line, tasked with touching opponents and returning to their territory while continuously shouting “Kabaddi!” If the invader fails to return, points are awarded to the opponents.

Defending involves avoiding being touched and preventing the invader from returning. The defending team can grab the invader only if they stop shouting “Kabaddi!” due to exhaustion. Successful returns force touched opponents to leave the field. Unsuccessful invasions result in the invader leaving, and the right to attack passing to the opponents.

Players can be excluded for stepping over boundaries, intentional ejection, three unsuccessful attacks, or a defending player crossing to the other half before their team’s right to attack. Excluded players cannot be replaced, and the game continues with the remaining players.

In rare instances, an entire team may be excluded, awarding the opponents two additional points, referred to as “Lona.” The reasons for exclusion are irrelevant in this case.

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Kabaddi’s development mirrors Indian culture and is closely tied to it. The game emphasizes breath control, crucial for successful captures, with pranayama, a yoga practice, used for breathing training. Physical fitness is paramount, with strength, agility, and speed being the most valuable player qualities.