Kabaddi: How to play India’s 4000-year-old indigenous sport

Know the basic rules and regulations of kabaddi, one of the oldest sport in the world.

By Utathya Nag
Picture by Getty Images

With a 4000-year-long history, the traditional Indian sport of kabaddi is one of the oldest in the world.

Showcased as an exhibition sport on the sidelines of the Berlin 1936 Olympics, kabaddi’s popularity has soared by leaps and bounds over the years. After appearing as a demonstration sport at the Asian Games in 1951 and 1982, kabaddi finally became a medal event at the continental showpiece from 1990 and has been a permanent fixture since then.

The Asian Games 2022 in Hangzhou, China will also see kabaddi in the main program.

Kabaddi is fast, furious and physical, making for a great spectacle – a fact vindicated by the ever-rising global popularity of Pro Kabaddi, a franchise-based kabaddi league which started in India in 2014.

For anyone new to the sport, here’s a basic guideline to kabaddi rules and how to play the sport.

Kabaddi mat: Dimensions and markings

To understand kabaddi, one needs to first have a basic layout of a kabaddi mat.

Though traditionally played on soft muddy fields, most popular competitive kabaddi events are currently played on rectangular padded kabaddi mats.

Kabaddi mat dimensions may vary according to tournaments and age groups, but it mostly measures 13m x 10m for senior men’s professional kabaddi events. The mat is slightly smaller, 12m x 8m, for women.

The four outer lines of the kabaddi mat are called boundaries or end lines. The play needs to be restricted within the four boundary lines at any time.

The rectangular court is divided into two equal identical halves by a mid line, drawn parallelly to the shorter end lines of the mat.

In each half, there are two more lines drawn parallel to the mid line. The baulk line is at a distance of 3.75m from the mid line while the bonus line is drawn 1m further back from the baulk line (between the baulk line and the end line).

Two lines, 1m inside the longer boundaries, run through the entire length of the mat, creating two channels on the mat which are called lobbies. Lobbies are sometimes marked with a different colour on the mat.

Kabaddi match duration

A kabaddi match typically runs for 40 minutes (two halves of 20 minutes each).

The match starts with a coin toss between the two teams and the winner can decide whether to raid or defend first.

Each team is allowed two time-outs in each half.

How many players in kabaddi?

Each team in a kabaddi match has seven players. The teams can also have three to five substitute players on the bench.

How to play kabaddi?

A kabaddi match starts with one team raiding the other team’s half.

During a raid, any one player from the attacking team, called the raider, enters the other team’s half while chanting the word kabaddi, also known as canting.

The objective of the raider is to tag or touch as many opposition players, called antis or defenders, as possible and return to their own half by crossing the mid line while continuing their cant under one breath.

The defenders, meanwhile, try to stop the raider from returning to his own half by tackling or pushing him out of the court.

A defender trying to stop a raider from reaching their own half during a kabaddi match
Picture by Getty Images

Teams keep on taking turns to raid each other and the side with more points once time runs out wins a match.

How points are scored in kabaddi

A raider has two avenues to score points during a raid.

He can either go for touch points, which means he tags one or more of the opposition players and successfully escapes to his own half without breaking the cant.

If touch points are scored, the antis or defenders who had been tagged during the raid have to exit the mat. Raiders earn as many touch points as the number of players they eliminate during a raid.

The eliminated players, however, can be revived and brought back into the game if a raider from their team scores touch points on the opposition team during a subsequent raid or their team can pull off a successful raid on the opposition raider as the match progresses.

Revivals happen in the same sequence as eliminations.

Similarly, a raider is also out of the game if they are tackled by the opposition defenders during a raid. A successful tackle earns the defending team one point, also called points earned through defending are often termed as tackle points in modern kabaddi.

If a raider loses his cant during a raid, he’s also out and the defending team earns a point.

If a team can eliminate all seven players of the opposition team, they earn two extra points via all out or Lona. After a team scores a Lona, all members of the opposition team are revived and play resumes.

Do note, a raider can also safely return without getting eliminated if they can cross the baulk line (either have both foot across the baulk line or have one foot across the baulk line while their other foot is on the air). A safe return by just crossing the baulk line, however, doesn’t result in points won or revivals and are termed as empty raids.

The other way for raiders to score is through bonus points. To score a bonus point, a raider needs to plant one foot across the bonus line while having the trailing foot on air. Bonus points, however, are only active when the defending team has six or more players on the mat.

Also, during the entire sequence of play, if a defender or raider steps outside the boundary line, they are out and the opposition team gets a point and a revival. The lobby area is also out of bounds of play until a defender makes contact with the raider – also called a struggle.

Stepping onto the lobby before a struggle initiates results in the same penalties as stepping outside the boundaries of the mat.

If a knockout kabaddi match ends in a tie, a seven-minute-long mini match, with two halves, is played to determine the winner. If the extra time fails to establish a winner, the match is decided by a sudden-death Golden Raid, where the baulk line moves up to the baulk line.

If there’s a draw even after the Golden Raid, the winner is established by coin toss.

Modernisation of kabaddi rules

Pro Kabaddi’s advent in 2014 saw some tweaks made in kabaddi rules to make the sport more engaging. Some of these have been occasionally implemented on international tournaments as experimentation.

For instance, Pro Kabaddi has a 30-second time limit on each raid and the concept of do-or-die raids, which means three successive empty raids result in the raider getting out and the opposition earning a point.

Branding elements like super raids (where a raider scores three or more points from a single raid), super tackles (where three or less defenders execute a successful tackle) have also come into the sport.

Kabaddi playing positions like corners (defenders on the extreme ends of the defending chain) and covers (the defenders playing just inside the corners) have also been coined. Kabaddi moves like the frog jump, ankle hold, toe touch, dubki, etc are also fast becoming a part of the kabaddi vocabulary courtesy the Pro Kabaddi innovations.

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