Dhaka Tribune's five-part Kabaddi special
Among several exercises or practices which the athletes around the world do in order to improve their performance, controlling breath is one of the most important because of its significant benefit on health, mind and body.
There is barely any international sport in the Olympics that requires breath-holding so kabaddi’s sense of uniqueness in that regard makes the game a surprise to the outside world.
Apart from the art of holding breath, another factor that makes kabaddi different from all the other popular games is that of its requirement of absolutely no elements.
This particular ancient game is the national sport of Bangladesh. Kabaddi, traditionally known as ha-du-du in Bangladesh, is played at different places with different rules and has been practised all over the country, especially in the rural parts, for hundreds of years.
Kabaddi players need to be strong, well-built, swift and agile. They achieve these abilities through relentless practice. And thus, they get to perfect high levels of physical strength, stamina and endurance. Youth in this technologically advanced world tends to be attracted more by video games or the sports with less physical involvement. That is why perhaps, urban people in Bangladesh have less knowledge and interest regarding their national game that has plenty of elements to be proud of, as opposed to the other games which entered our culture through media, globalisation, corporations or colonisation from foreign culture.
However, the live telecast of the Kabaddi World Cup 2016 in India attracted a lot of attention in Bangladesh, especially when the men in red and green were in action. Bangladesh showed glimpses of their immense potential only to come up narrowly short against India and Korea to exit the competition.
The basic ways through which kabaddi is being played today are one of the oldest forms of sport in the history of mankind. The most common and established number while looking for its origin is 4,000 years, meaning the game has its roots traced back to the prehistoric times in ancient India. It would be technically wrong if any other country claims its originality. But much like India, Bangladesh have every right and logic to say it’s their game in every sense of the word.
The game tests self-defence skills, agility, swiftness, careful gestures while on movement, instant responsiveness to attacks and sheer pace required to fall back to own territory – all no doubt essential human behaviours needed to survive in the primitive era. Recently, the Iran captain and coach reinstated their claim during the Kabaddi World Cup 2016 that the game originated in Sistan and Baluchistan province of Iran as many as 5,000 years ago. They referred to Shahr-e-Sukhteh (Burnt City), a bronze-age archaeological site located on the bank of the Helmand River, as the foundation place of the game.
Kabaddi essentially has its roots back to Vedic Age while some historians argue that the game was established during the times of Yadava clans, a community of ancient Indians who worshiped Krishna. In Mahabharata, there is an interesting analogy of the game. Krishna’s nephew Abhimanyu, a brave warrior in the Pandava side during the Kurukshetra war, was trapped inside the Chakravyuha, set up by the Kauravas, where he carried out a unique strategy to defeat some warriors of the enemies.
Abhimanyu’s father Arjuna also had great talent. He could effortlessly sneak into the “wall” of enemies, destroy them all and come back unscathed. Tukaram Gatha, also known as Abhanga Gatha, is a Marathi language compilation of the works by 17th century spiritual saint and poet Tukaram. One of Tukaram’s Abhanga mentioned that Lord Krishna played kabaddi when he was a kid.
The game was also mentioned in Buddhist literature. It was said Gautama Buddha played the game with peers for recreation. Tibetan monks are known to play the game regularly, considering it an important tool for meditation and testing their physical strength.
From ha-du-du to kabaddi
The game is known by different regional names at different parts of south Asia. The official name of kabaddi originated from Dravidian Tamil Nadu language. The game is known by the same title in some parts of south-western India. It is referred to as kapadi in southernmost parts of India, hu-tu-tu in western India, chedugudu in south-eastern India, kauddi in Punjab, gudu in Sri Lanka and bavatik in Maldives.
The game is still widely known as ha-du-du in Bangladesh and when it is played outside of the national and international tournaments, it has no definite set of rules. According to international rules, the raider cants “kabaddi, kabaddi” while running into the opponent’s half. In Bangladesh, the raiders usually cant “ha-du-du-du-du” or “sikabaddi” or “kapat kapat”, depending on a particular region.
Bangladesh head coach Subimal Chandra Das, a former player and coach since 1974 explains the primary differences between kabaddi and ha-du-du.
“Kabaddi is popular in our country but played with different rules. The main two differences between kabaddi and ha-du-du are measurement of the court, and the rules of the game. The court for ha-du-du is sometimes smaller than kabaddi and has only one mid-line that divides the two halves. While in kabaddi, there are two more lines – one is baulk-line and the other is bonus-line,” said Subimal.
Read More: Bangladesh kabaddi players’ profiles
“In modern kabaddi, the raider has to finish his run and return to his half within 30 seconds of breath-holding while in ha-du-du, there is no definite time-length. The raider can stay as long as he can whilst holding his breath. In ha-du-du kechki (scissor), they wrestle. There are many more differences in rules,” he added.
The rules and measurement of the court vary at different regions in the sub-continent, not only in Bangladesh. The first time the standard set of rules for the game was formulated was back in 1918 in Maharashtra. And in 1950, All India Kabaddi Federation was formed with the introduction of standard rules and regulations. Within a few years, Bangladesh Amateur Kabaddi Federation was established. They also had to follow the standard rules set by the AIKF.
The form of ha-du-du that has the most similarities with modern day kabaddi was probably played in Faridpur in the early 20th century. A social worker from Kolkata named Narayan Chandra spread the game of ha-du-du in Bengal through the formation of a student group titled “Chhatra Sangha” in 1923. The British government banned the game in 1931 and also shunned the group’s activities. Later, the ban was uplifted amid protests.
Meanwhile, the basic skills and techniques are almost similar in all forms of kabaddi or ha-du-du like breath control, no sports elements, raid, dodging and movement of hand and feet.
Bangladesh in modern day kabaddi
Ha-du-du is still being played in rural parts of Bangladesh but has not acquired the rules of modern day kabaddi. After being titled the national sport of Bangladesh in the early 1970s, kabaddi’s fate never improved. Even Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishthan doesn’t yet have a kabaddi department in its institution.
Bangladesh only have five certified kabaddi coaches, out of which only two – Subimal and Abdul Jalil – are active with the Bangladesh Kabaddi Federation. Subimal, who has been involved with Bangladesh kabaddi for more than 40 years now, remembered a kabaddi tournament held in 1964 at Paltan ground, formerly the location of Wari Club, where a strong local team from Pabna, two sides from Bikrampur and one from Noakhali took part.
After the BAKF was formed, Bangladesh first played a kabaddi test in 1974 against visiting India team. The visitors played against the national team and sides from Dhaka, Tangail, Dinajpur, Jessore, Faridpur and Comilla.
With the presence of delegates from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, the Asian Amateur Kabaddi Federation was founded in 1978 at a conference in the Indian town of Villai. A year later, Bangladesh toured India for a return test, held at different places in the country.
In 1980, the first Asian Kabaddi Championship was held in Kolkata where Bangladesh finished runners-up with India emerging as the champions. Bangladesh became runners-up again in 1988 in the same tournament held in Jaipur.
Kabaddi was included in the Asian Games in Beijing, 1990 where Bangladesh clinched silver. They finished runners-up three more times out of the first four events in 1990, 1994 and 2002 but since then, they have participated in five more Asian Games editions without winning any gold or silver. Iran took over Bangladesh’s place as India’s real contenders as they emerged champion in every edition of Asia’s Olympics. The major reason behind India’s successes is that they included kabaddi in the curriculum as a prime sports discipline for the students in 1961. And 10 years later, the National Institute of Sports included kabaddi in the curriculum of regular diploma courses.
It has been quite a while since kabaddi has become a game of service/defence teams competing in the national tournament. Teams like Faridpur, Comilla, Tangail and Jessore used to dominate the national scene in the 1970s but after 1983, different defence teams like Border Guard Bangladesh (formerly known as Bangladesh Rifles) and Bangladesh Police won the National Kabaddi Championship titles in each and every edition till today.
Another interesting thing is that since 1995, there has not been a single player in the national kabaddi team who hail from outside service or defence teams.
Although ha-du-du is played all across the rural areas, it is mainly practised by the men. Women’s kabaddi in Bangladesh was not regular before 2005. The national women’s championship was introduced in the mid 1970s when only a few district teams like Dhaka, Khulna, Tangail, Jessore and Rajshahi used to play. After around six years, it was then stopped in 1982. Following a decade with absolutely no activity of women’s kabaddi in the national level, it started to gather momentum again in the 1990s with the introduction of school kabaddi.
In 2005, Bangladesh women’s kabaddi team participated in an international tournament for the first time. It was a six-nation international kabaddi tournament held in Hyderabad, India. A year later, women’s kabaddi was introduced in the South Asian Games in Sri Lanka where Bangladesh enjoyed a memorable tournament. Led by head coach Subimal, the team travelled all the way from Dhaka to Madras via Kolkata by road. During their long journey, they played five-six warm-up matches in India before moving to Sri Lanka from where they returned with bronze. They won silver in 2010 and 2014.
Currently in the national scene, the top two women’s teams are BJMC and Ansar & VDP because they provide the players job opportunities. The kabaddi duo have been dominating the national women’s tournaments for a while, always finishing among the top two. BJMC have around 25-30 female kabaddi players who each earn Tk7,000-8,000 per month.
Bangladesh in the international stage
South Asian Games
Runners-up – 1985, 1987, 1995
Runners-up – 1980, 1989
Silver – 1990, 1994, 2002
Bronze – 1998, 2006, 2010, 2014
World Cup Kabaddi
Third – 2004, 2007
Champions – 2007, 2008, 2010 (joint winners)
Asian Indoor Games
Third – 2007
Beach Asian Games
Third – 2008, 2010, 2012
First Women’s World Cup Kabaddi
Third – 2012
National Kabaddi Championship
Inaugural champions: Dinajpur and Faridpur (joint winners) – 1973
Most titles: Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) – 22
Most runners-up finishes: Bangladesh Police – 14
National Youth Kabaddi Championship (1982-2016)
Most titles – Tangail (six), Dinajpur (three), Dhaka (two)
Premier Division Kabaddi League (13 editions from 1992-2011)
Most titles – BGB (10)
Subimal Chandra Das, Mohammad Abdul Jalil, Abdul Haque, Hamidur Rahman and Abdul Hakim
SN Mannan covered the Kabaddi World Cup 2016 final while Mohammad Monir Hossain was the first umpire. Monir has the experience of refereeing over a decade.
Bangladesh players in Indian Kabaddi League
Arduzzaman Munshi, Ziaur Rahman (currently retired and assistant coach of Bangladesh), Zakir Hossain and Tuhin Tarafdar