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Sports Played in India You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Two men playing a sport. One is holding a shield and a sword, the other is standing on one leg, with the other leg high up in the air, and holding a metal pole.

India has a vibrant and diverse culture, and its sports heritage is no different.

A variety of indigenous and unusual sports are played throughout the country, reflecting India’s many cultural traditions.

Kabadddi is a popular contact team sport played across India between two teams of seven players. The object of the game is for a single player, the raider, to run into the opposing team’s court, tag as many of their members as he can, and return to his team’s side of the court without being tackled. Points are scored for each player tagged; the opposing team earns a point for tackling by the raider.

The sport is said to have originated some 4,000 years ago in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and was played by princes to showcase their strength and agility to future brides.

Kalaripayattu, also known as Kalari, is believed to be the oldest surviving martial art form in India and is among the oldest known in the world, dating back to the 3rd century BCE. The sport originated in the southwestern state of Kerala.

Kalari, which means “battlefield,” was designed for the ancient battleground and includes rituals inspired by Hinduism. Those who practice the martial art develop a deep understanding of the pressure points in the body and healing techniques that incorporate yoga and Ayurveda.

Unlike other martial arts, practitioners are first taught techniques using weapons, such as swords, spears, and daggers.

Southwest India is also the setting for another sport that has been played for more than 800 years. Kambala buffalo racing is held on a muddy field. A pair of buffaloes are made to race a 500-foot distance by a runner bearing a whip. Winners receive a gold medal or trophy.

Canoe races have been a popular sport among the natives of the Nicobar Islands, a group of 19 islands 1,300 km southeast of the Indian subcontinent, across the Bay of Bengal. This is mainly because, for many years, boats and canoes were the only means of transportation for the Nicobarese people, who also race canoes on sand.

Participants in the Asol-Tale Aap race sit in their canoes keeping one leg inside and the other on the sand. When the race begins, they drive their canoes across the sand with the force of their limbs. The person who completes the distance in the shortest amount of time wins.

Though not nearly as popular as cricket or the country’s national sport—field hockey, these unique competitions are a testament to India’s deep-rooted sports culture.


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