It always irks me that almost nine out ten people I talk to about kabaddi have almost no inkling to the origin of kabaddi.
Kabaddi has attained Asian Games status but even many of national players have little or no knowledge as to the games origins.
Many still believe that the sport has a history dating to pre-historic times and was probably invented to ward off group attacks.
But, kabaddi has a more tragic history and is said to have its beginning some 3,000 to 5,000 years ago during the Kurukshetra War.
The ancient Indian epic Mahabharata describes the battle between the Pandavas and the Cauravas and how Abimanyu managed to penetrate the Cauravas seven tiered defense, but died because he did not know the way out.
Legend has it that as an unborn child in his mother’s womb, Abhimanyu learned the knowledge of entering the deadly and virtually impenetrable seven tiered defense called Chakravyuha.
It is said that Lord Krishna tutored Abhimanyu’s father Arjuna the technique of attacking and escaping from various army formations. And as a fetus in his mother Subadhra Devi’s womb, Abhimanyu is said to have absorbed all the words of wisdom from Krishna.
It is also said that Subadhra Devi decided to retire when Krishna was explaning the method of escaping from the Chakravyuha. Thus Abhimanyu never got the chance to learn on how to escape the Chakravyuha.
On the 13th day of the Kurukshetra War, the courageous and dashing Abhimanyu, was called upon to break through the Chakravyuha formed by the Cauravas.
The sixteen year old gallantly broke through the formation but after a fierce battle to get out was killed by his enemies.
It is said that the sport of kabaddi was created in remembrance of Abhimanyu the Warrior.
If you look closely at a kabaddi match, you would notice the seven defensive players forming a semi-circle to entrap the lone raider just like how the Cauravas trapped Abhimanyu.
Just like in a war, it is believed that Kabaddi was invented to develop a defensive responses by an individual against group attacks and group’s responses to an individual attack.
This is the only combative sport in which offence is an individual effort whereas defense is a group effort.
History reveals that kabaddi was played by princes’ of the past to display their strength.
Buddhist literature also mentions of Gautama Buddha playing kabaddi with his peers.
For those of you who have not seen Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1993 movie Little Buddha starring Keanu Reeves, try to get a copy and you can catch a scene showing Buddha playing kabaddi.
The extras in the scene were Nepalese kabaddi players and officials, who still talk about it fondly.
The game, known as Hu-Tu-Tu in Western India, Ha-Do-Do in Eastern India and Bangladesh, Chedugudu in Southern India and Kaunbada in Northern India, has changed through the ages.
Modern Kabaddi is a synthesis of the game played in various forms under different names.
The excitement and thrill provided by the game has made it very popular and is rightly called the Game of the Masses. It is also called the Game of the Warriors (Veera Vilayatu) in South India.
Millions of people from as many as 65 countries of the world play this game in its various forms now.
The game in popular and played in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Iran, Korea, Argentina, Canada, U.K, China, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Indonesia and many more countries.
Kabaddi, is surprisingly also the national sport of Bangladesh.
Kabaddi is played in three styles – National Style Kabaddi, Beach Kabaddi and Circle Kabaddi.
The National Style Kabaddi was introduced as a medal sport at the Beijing Asiad in 1990.
The Circle Style Kabaddi was demonstration during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The demonstration was made possible by the Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal, Amaravati, Maharashtra.
Beach Kabaddi was included at the Bali Asian Indoor Games in 2008 and is perhaps the closest to the original game.
The three styles of kabaddi are also played in three different formats.
In the Amar format of Kabaddi, there is no out or revival rule. When any player is touched, goes out of bounds or is caught, he is not sent out of the court but point is awarded to the rival team.
In the Sanjaveeni format, the revival and our rule is in play. When any player is touched or goes out of bounds, or is caught, the player concerned is sent out of court. Points are awarded to the rival team in addition to having their out players being revived.
In the Gaminee format, a player touched, caught or out of bounds, has to remain out until all his team members are out.
Despite the differences in styles, kabaddi calls for tremendous fitness of body and mind and the ability to concentrate as well as anticipate the opponent’s moves.
The Game demands agility, muscular co-ordination, breath holding capacity, speed, strength, stamina, catching, kicking, as well as quick responses and a great deal of presence of mind.