(AFP) — An ancient contact sport rooted in Indian mythology and said to date back 5,000 years, “kabaddi” is proving a knockout at the Asian Games as its popularity spreads.
Fans in South Korea enthusiastically turned out to watch the game, which requires yoga-like breathing skills as two seven-player teams send a raider into their enemy’s half of the court to tag an opponent before returning to safety — in just one breath.
Attackers chant “kabaddi, kabaddi” to prove they are not inhaling, the top players capable of doing it for several minutes.
But India coach Balwan Singh, whose team rule the roost on the world stage, told AFP that kabaddi can be a perilous business.
The epic poem “Mahabharata” tells of a doomed raid on an enemy camp by the heir of the Pandava kings, while legend has it that Indian princes played the game as a courting ritual to show off their strength and win their brides.
Originating in rural India, the country has captured all six men’s Asian Games gold medals in kabaddi since it first appeared in 1990 — including double gold in Guangzhou four years ago when the ladies made their debut.
But other teams, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, are slowly catching up.
Kabaddi, which was demonstrated at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, is also used by British army troops as a technique to keep fit.
– Kabaddi invasion –
While a Western kabaddi invasion is unlikely anytime soon, a recent professional league attracted 435 million television viewers in India.
More than 80 million were glued to their screens for August’s championship game, more than the figures for the World Cup or Wimbledon finals.
As their raiders entered enemy territory during a 30-15 mugging of Bangladesh, bobbing from side to side like a boxer looking for the right moment to strike, his team-mates stood around sharing a joke.
It is not for the faint-hearted, however. When they catch a raider, they pounce, cobra-like, and gleefully pile on him as if in a school playground.
Kabaddi, also known as “kodikodi” in Pakistan, “hadudu” in Bangladesh and “baibalaa” in Maldives, has already reached the East Asia with Japan and home nation South Korea entering teams in the Asian Games.