Kabaddi, bloody hell! A beginner's guide to enjoying the PKL

Tamil Thalaivas in action vs Patna Pirates PTI Photo/R Senthil Kumar

Season six of the Pro Kabaddi League kicked off in style on Sunday, with Chennai playing host to the first leg of matches amid much fanfare, glamour, music, noise, and a little bit of kabaddi as well.

In a city known for its beaches, movie stars and filter coffee, where does kabaddi fit into the picture? How does a relatively nascent tournament like the PKL appeal to a new generation of sports fans familiar only with Chennai Super Kings and MS Dhoni's gigantic sixes at Chepauk?

Here is ESPN's definitive guide for all PKL newbies in the city.

Blend in

Did you know that the Baulk Line refers to each of the lines in court parallel to the mid line? Or that the distance between the Bonus Line and Baulk Line is one metre? Or that a raider need not cross the Baulk Line if he touches one or more defenders beforehand, provided he returns to the court with the cant? Or that the cant must begin before a raider crosses the mid line?


Don't worry. Chances are, neither does the person sitting beside you.

Kabaddi is rooted deep into Tamil culture, but popularity wise, it finds itself lagging well behind cricket and cinema. There is no (big) shame in being unaware of the rules.

Appearances, however, are a must. Street vendors selling "Tamilthilvas sir, please sir, Tamilthivas sir" jerseys can be found right outside Gate No.2, for prices ranging from Rs 300 to Rs 1000, depending on your Tamil slang and bargaining skills. If you can, grab hold of one and rush inside. Extra points for effort if you can maintain the cant.

Remember 1999?

It's opening night at the PKL, meaning a packed house indoors. Actors, singers and politicians alike have joined forces to lend their support to the tournament. But remember that you're here too, throwing your back behind a sport that hasn't really had its due. And are you really throwing your back behind the sport if you haven't let the world know that you're throwing your back behind the sport?

The signal inside the stadium can be unreliable, so be sure to check-in and Insta-live before you enter. Make a mention of how proud you are that Chennai has always stood by its sporting heroes, but is also civil enough to respect its adversaries.

While at the security check, be sure to tell anyone who will listen, how you and your friends stood up and applauded the Pakistan cricket team during the famous Madras Test in 1999 in an unprecedented gesture of goodwill that continues to affect the sporting world today.

Much like that hot Sunday afternoon nearly 20 years ago, remember that whatever happens tonight, at the end of the day, kabaddi is the winner. Along with Chennai. And the fans. And Tamil Thalaivas, who would crush three-time champions Patna Pirates 42-26.

Mass effect

The word "mass" occupies a special place in Tamil folklore. The literal definition is "large body of matter with no definite shape", but in Tamil Nadu, it takes up fluid connotations, used to denote anything special or extraordinary.

In films, a mass hero could be someone performing over-the-top stunts, beating villains to a pulp before lighting a cigarette and walking away. In cricket, it could refer to MS Dhoni, known for his swag and blockbuster finishes.

In kabaddi, it could be the brave raider going into enemy territory to take on all the evil henchmen by himself. If he is defeated, he returns home head held low, pride tarnished. If he succeeds, he emerges as an icon. A mass hero.

Like any good action flick, kabaddi too requires its audience to chant, cheer and whistle during the mass moments. Whether Tamil Thalaivas' captain and talisman Ajay Thakur is evading defenders or trapping opposition raiders, it's your duty to join in with the fun.

Between "Tha-lai-vas!! Tha-lai-Vas!!" and "WE WANT ALL OUT! WE WANT ALL OUT!", be sure to remind the enemies never to mess with the masses again.

The fault in our stars

It's no secret that Tamil Nadu has a passionate fan base when it comes to cinema. Fans of "rival" actors can be found bickering on social media, arguing over which star is more popular. When sports and cinema mix, it can often be a PR nightmare, with one threatening to overshadow the other.

Only last week, a group of fans released a statement "condemning" another actor who had killed their hero in a recent film.

That actor, Vijay Sethupathi, was in attendance on Sunday night, seated alongside Jaipur Pink Panthers owner Abhishek Bachchan, engrossed by an entertaining game of kabaddi. For most of the first half, he was the only one.

Movie stars in Tamil Nadu hold god-like status, so when you do encounter one, be sure to always keep one camera on them to record their every reaction and facial twitch. It's okay to momentarily forget about the game, provided you are spending the time excitedly calling out your idol (if he doesn't acknowledge you the first five times, he will definitely do it on the sixth).

The kabaddi itself may have been a formality (Thalaivas ran out easy winners against Pirates), but as far as acknowledging the fans went, Vijay edged Abhishek in a nail-bitter, waving to everyone 17 times compared to Abhishek's 15.

Not that anyone is keeping count.

Try and have fun

Trying to immediately grasp all the rules and intricacies of kabaddi can be both intimidating and overwhelming. But, there is something inherently special about a night out with a group of friends, shouting and screaming for a team, and a uniform. Whatever that team or uniform.

Throw in the constant barrage of film songs (Lungi Dance, however, is a strict no), some witty banners, the potential for stargazing, and the players on the field giving it their all; at the very least, you are guaranteed to have a memorable time.

Possibly the most memorable since 1999.