Not long ago a sport confined largely to villages and children's playgrounds, kabaddi has come a long way, conquering large swathes of urban India and going as far afield as Iran, South Korea and even the USA. The Pro Kabaddi League is now the most-viewed sporting league in India after the Indian Premier League and is riding its success to expand into a longer tournament with more teams when Season 5 starts on July 28.
Beyond all the numbers and factoids, though, and possibly the ubiquitous chant, kabaddi remains a mystery, even to many Indians. So here are the basics about the game that could help you make sense of it when the madness descends.
It's a quickie
Matches last 40 minutes, divided into two equal halves with a five-minute break.
The Tom and Jerry show
Remember watching Tom and Jerry, where the cat used to run after the mouse, who kept devising ways of saving himself? It's roughly the same in kabaddi. Each team - comprising defenders, raiders and all-rounders - is gathered on either side of a line; then the match starts.
Ready, set, raid!
If cricket can be reduced to each delivery when bowler bowls to batsman, the essence of kabaddi comes down to this: raiders try to attack and defenders try to... well, defend. Each instance is known as struggle. In a struggle, one player (the raider) from Team A crosses the line to Team B; he has 30 seconds to try and touch a Team B player and make it back across the line. Team B, meanwhile, will try and evade him (defend) or, once touched, stop him from going back to his half. What eventually stops the struggle is a point of cease-fire where either the defenders manage to hold the raider before he could move back to his side or when the raider forces himself to the mid-line, thereby completing a successful raid.
Every successful raid gives the raiding team one point; if there's no touching in those 30 seconds it's an empty raid and gets no points. A super raid is roughly the opposite of 'empty'; it's when a raider manages to touch more than two defenders and move to his side of the court, and a team can score as many points as the number of defenders the raider has touched. Then there's the Do-or-die raid: if a team has two successive empty raids, they have to send a raider to go out and score and if he fails, he must sit out till they are revived again.
Defend till you drop
Defence is as important as raids (but perhaps a bit simpler to understand). Defenders defend themselves and their side from the hands and feet of the raider (literally!) by preventing him from touching them and their teammates. If he does, their job is to hold him and prevent him reaching his half of the court. Also, the defender who was touched has to sit out till "revived" (more on that in a bit).
Like successful raids, successful tackles too yield one point each. The Super Tackle - where a raid is stopped when there are just three or fewer defenders left on court - scores two additional points.
Revivals are real
So what's a revival when it's not on Game of Thrones? Well, every successful raid point and tackle point gives a team an opportunity to bring back the players who had to sit out after being touched. However, revivals aren't applicable for Bonus points - a lucky point that can be scored by a raider if he puts his forefoot on the bonus line, located 4.75 (approx.) metres from the mid-line.
All out (for a bit)
An All-Out occurs when all seven members of a playing team are forced to sit out because of unsuccessful raids and tackles. The team enforcing the All-Out gets two extra points before the other is allowed to continue.
Just cant stop
No, that's not a typo up there. It's plain and simple: you just can't simply stop the cant when you're playing kabaddi. What is a cant anyway, you ask? Well, it's what you and I would call a chant (but kabaddi's too cool for that); it's the 'kabaddi kabaddi' phrase that raiders have to repeat while attempting a raid. The c(h)ant needs to be loud and clear and if the raider stops, he has to sit out. Movie buffs can check out the film Pardes, where Shah Rukh Khan plays kabaddi in one scene; he keeps chanting 'kabaddi kabaddi' continuously, almost breathlessly, while attempting a raid despite being blocked by a whole bunch of defenders. The raid is successful (obviously!) and his team goes on to win the match.
That's kabaddi for you in around 600 words. But the best way to understand is to watch it. Better still, play it. It's one game sure to leave you breathless.