In wrestling, two players fight until one accepts defeat or the other player pins him down. Kabaddi, much like wrestling, is about players, defeat, and pinning. However, add a game of tag, and teams of eight and sometimes seven players, WWF style advertisement, and everything changes.
As a favorite sport of Punjab, Kabaddi is played by all, male and female, in rural parts of Pakistan. It is also very popular in Southern Asia and is played by Punjabis in the east and west. Of course, there’s a lot of strategy and small rules that make up the sport, but the basic rules are that each team takes turns sending a “raider” across the center line of the court. That raider must attempt to touch as many defenders on the other team as possible, making one point for each defender touched, and must do all of this while simultaneously saying “Kabaddi, Kabaddi.” If the defenders can catch him or her and prevent them from crossing back over the line, then the raider’s team receives zero points. At the end of the play, the team with the most points wins.
Though rectangular pitches and seven players make up the Kabaddi typically seen on tv. Punjabi style kabaddi, or circle kabaddi, the most popular form in Pakistan’s Punjab region, is different. Contrary to Pro-Kabaddi, Punjab Circle Kabaddi is played on a circular pitch called “Kaudi da bharha.” In Punjab Circle Kabaddi, two teams of 8 players compete, and no player leaves the field. If two stoppers attack a player, a foul is declared. Punjabi style Kabaddi does not require the raider saying “Kabaddi, Kabaddi” throughout the raid.
Like most kids in my village, Chak 100/P, my brothers and I grew up playing Kabaddi. However, over the last five years my little brother, Salman Shah, has started playing semi-professionally. He is currently playing for District Rahim Yar Khanat as the District captain and stopper. His involvement in Kabaddi at this level has opened my eyes to the speed at which the sports is expanding beyond Pakistan.
Internationally, Kabaddi is making significant moves. In its fifth season, Pro-Kabaddi (PKL) is now telecasted by large sports channels across Southern Asia and India and is the second most watched sport in India behind Cricket. In Pakistan, Musharaf Janjua is a household name, but in India names like Rahul Chaudhari (Titans) and Manjeet Chhillar (Panthers) and players like Surender Nada, who is currently the highest paid player in the league at 113.2 Lahks (approximately $174,183 USD), are beginning to see more and more commercial opportunities coming their way. If you haven’t seen a Nike Kabaddi commercial yet, then just wait. It’s coming.
So the next time you travel to Asia grab a Kabaddi jersey as a souvenir. When someone says, “Hey, what is that?” Just let them know you’re into that international stuff.