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noun [uncountable]

a game in which two teams of seven players take turns to chase and try to touch players on the opposing team

'As the players entered the arena for the start of the World Kabaddi League (WKL) many looked bemused by the empty seats and the audacious experiment to catapult kabaddi from a rustic, grassroots sport played across the Indian sub-continent to a multi-million pound international roadshow.'

The Independent 9th August 2014

London's O2 Arena is renowned for hosting some of the world's best-known performers in sport and entertainment, from the World Tour tennis finals through to Beyoncé and Monty Python. In August 2014, however, it was the venue for a sporting event bearing a striking resemblance to the playground game of tag. If this sounds rather bizarre, then it's likely that you've not yet heard of kabaddi, the Indian sport which is beginning to raise its international profile now that the World Kabaddi League has visited London for the first time.

kabaddi is one of India's oldest indigenous sports, only requiring strength, stamina and a few lines drawn on the ground

Unlike more familiar team sports, kabaddi doesn't involve bats, balls or equipment of any kind. A 'contact' sport in the truest sense, kabaddi consists of two teams of seven players whose fundamental aim is to touch each other, though there's a twist – they have to hold their breath while doing so.

Each team occupies opposite halves of a playing area of 10 metres by 13 metres. As play proceeds, the teams each take turns at sending one player, known as a raider, into the area occupied by the opposing team, who are described as the defenders. To score a point, the raider has to take a breath, run to the other half, tag one or more opponents and then return to his own side before inhaling again, all the time chanting the word kabaddi to show that he hasn't taken another breath. The raider fails to score, and is out, if he doesn't touch an opponent or breathes in before returning to his half. The defenders' aim is to prevent the raider escaping before he needs to inhale again, often by wrestling him to the ground. Defenders are out if they're unable to catch the raider who tagged them. Each time a player is out, the opposing team wins a point. Phew, simple! It's perhaps easier to get the picture by seeing kabaddi in action – this video link should give you the idea.

Basically a fusion of playground tag and wrestling, kabaddi is one of India's oldest indigenous sports, only requiring strength, stamina and a few lines drawn on the ground, and so is very much associated with Indian childhood. Over the years though, it had begun to fade away, mainly played in rural areas and losing out to cricket and football, which are televised and therefore very easy to watch. In recent times however, it seems that kabaddi is making a comeback, being given a makeover in a bid for mainstream popularity. July 2014 saw the launch of India's first professional kabaddi league – a collaboration between broadcaster and business tycoon based along the lines of Indian cricket's successful Indian Premier League. As a result, the sport is now being played by brightly kitted-out professional teams in large stadiums, and with all the crowd-pulling glitz and glamour associated with a high profile sporting event – a backdrop of smoke, music, lights and Bollywood celebrities. Matches are now screened daily on India's sports channels in the hope that audiences will tune in to watch a traditional game that's been ignored for many years.

Background – kabaddi

The word kabaddi is derived from the Tamil words Kai-pidi, which literally mean '(let's) hold hands'. The sport's origins aren't clear, but it appears to date back as much as four thousand years, possibly developed as a way for Buddhist warriors to learn self-defence, and even associated with Buddha himself.

English has a surprisingly large number of words of Tamil origin. Examples include catamaran (a type of sailing boat), curry and mulligatawny (a spicy meat soup).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 30th September 2014.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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