Kabaddi has expanded exponentially in recent years thanks to the advent of franchise-based tournaments like Pro Kabaddi. A sport that was once regarded as indigenous to India has today managed to attract people from across the globe.

However, the game of kabaddi that has become a hit amongst masses is very different from its traditional version. Historically played outdoors on mud, it was only during the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea that kabaddi was first played on synthetic mats. 

While the mat offers raiders a better grip and more assured footing to execute their skills, mud is the defenders’ ally helping them snap and bring down raiders by strengthening their grasp and grabs. The mud also helps defenders absorb shocks while attempting a dash, thereby reducing the risk of serious injuries. 

Why do kabaddi players rub their hands with soil?

Apart from the advantages and disadvantages of playing on the mud, kabaddi has traditionally seen players rub their hands with soil. One of the reasons for this is to better their grip with sweaty palms frequently hindering a defender’s attempt at tackling raiders. 

However, there can be numerous explanations behind why kabaddi players rub their hands with soil. While some ancient practices steeped in tradition, mysticism and spirituality dictates that players rubbing their hands on soil is based on the participants asking for the blessings of mother earth, other more scientific beliefs ascertain that getting one’s sweaty hands dirty with soil naturally increases a defender’s control as they seek to get a stranglehold on raiders desperate to escape their clutches.   

Furthermore, in ancient times, men played kabaddi with bare upper bodies and rubbing hands with soil to avoid their hands from slipping while attempting a tackle could also possibly be a reason. 

Having said that, the practice of rubbing hands with soil has significantly diminished in the modern era with kabaddi from the district, state to the national level being increasingly played on mats although there are a few instances of the sport still being played on mud in rural parts of India.

Featured photo: Unsplash / Eddie Kopp