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From The Grassroots

Kabaddi and Maharashtra - A generational love story

Kabaddi is more than a sport in Maharashtra - it holds huge cultural significance. The Bridge traces the generational love story between the sport and the state.

Kabaddi and Maharashtra - A generational love story
Kabaddi is passed through generations in Maharashtra as a tradition (PritishRaj/TheBridge)

Pritish Raj

Updated: 21 Dec 2022 10:11 AM GMT

Mumbai: Kabaddi is a sport known to every Indian household. All of us have played it at some point in our childhood or known how it is played. But there are few states which love the sport as Maharashtra does.

The western Indian state is known for legendary international players in both men's and women's categories, such as Abhilasha Mhatre, Maya Kashinath, Shantaram Jadhav, and Raju Bhavsar among others.

It was fitting that the season finale of Pro Kabaddi League 2022 was hosted by the city which loves Kabaddi as much as it loves its vada pav.

Kabaddi in Maharashtra

Like a duck takes to the water, kids in Maharashtra take up the sport of Kabaddi - especially those with access to the mud grounds, with ease.

"Kabaddi is so huge in Maharashtra that it has the most professional clubs in India. Kabaddi is a cheap sport and anybody can play. When we used to get out of the home, it was Kabaddi going on everywhere. It was natural for us to take up this sport," veteran Kabaddi coach Rajesh Padave tells The Bridge.

The history of Kabaddi in Maharashtra dates back more than 80 years. Shankarrao Salvi - popularly known as Kabaddi Maharishi, is one of the pioneers of Kabaddi who unified the sport across the country. He was also responsible for the expansion of the game globally with the Maharashtra Team in the 1970s travelling to Japan and Nepal to exhibit the sport.

The efforts made by Salvi some decades ago are visible now, as Mumbai City alone has more than 300 kabaddi clubs. The suburbs of Mumbai is home to 300 kabaddi clubs. The neighbouring district of Thane has more than 200 clubs.

"Every district of Maharashtra has Kabaddi clubs. Even if they don't have a lot of clubs, they will have a minimum of 100 clubs. Every school has a kabaddi team. Kids keep playing it regularly. Colleges support the training and finances also for the game to grow," Padave says about the reach of Kabaddi.

Cultural significance of Kabaddi

Kabaddi is not just a sport in Maharashtra but holds huge cultural significance. Kabaddi courts are made for local exhibition tournaments whenever festivities surround the state.

The players who play in these tournaments are local heroes, and people die to get a selfie with them. People in business reward the players performing well - from a car to a house, and this tradition has continued for ages.

"I remember whenever a local player would do something great or win a tournament in some other state, the local people and rich merchants would reward them. Once a Kabaddi player was rewarded with a 24-carat gold ring and chain just for visiting the Kirana shop in his locality," Padave sums up the craze of Kabaddi in Maharashtra.

The local community has to gather and cheer for their players on how the City of Joy unites for local football games.

Impact of Pro Kabaddi League

When the glamorisation of the indigenous sport came in the form of the Pro Kabaddi League in 2014, Rajesh Padave and his students were one of the first ones to be contacted by Star Sports for an understanding of the game.

Rajesh's favourite student Rishank Devadiga became the star in the first season and is a PKL commentator now.

"Aree woh kal khel ke Gaya hai local tournament mere team ke liye (He played a local tournament in the mud yesterday for my team)," Rajesh chuckles.

Talking about the growth of PKL, Rajesh said, "We had no idea PLK will become so huge. I was called to train the Star Sports people and tell them about the game. I trained a cameraman for shooting the live-action, and my kids were the first ones to train for the inaugural season. I am very happy with the heights the Pro Kabaddi league has reached as it has enabled more and more players to take up the highest stage."

Rajesh has coached more than 10 Pro Kabaddi League stars, including Rishank Devdiga, Pankaj Mohite (Puneri Paltan's crisis man in PKL 2022), Sanket Sawant and many more.

Maharashtra is home to many PKL stars, such as Nilesh Shinde, Vishal Mane, Aslam Inamdar, Akash Shinde, Bajirao Hegde, Kashiling Adake, Nitin Madne, Girish Maruti Ernak and others.

Grassroots Kabaddi in Maharashtra

"The kids take PKL very seriously, they will watch every game. I discuss all the strategies and the skills used by players and after that, we enact the same on the mud. With the reach of the internet in homes, the basics of Kabaddi are accessible for every kid," said Rajesh.

Puneri Paltan's crisis man- Pankaj Mohite is one of the few PKL stars coming from this mud Kabaddi ecosystem. (PritishRaj/TheBridge)

"Kabaddi in Maharashtra has become more serious now with people considering it as a viable career option. Apart from Pro Kabaddi, the rise of departmental teams has also resulted in players getting financial stability which has ensured that they can focus all their energy on playing the sport. It has given the players a quality of life, which we never experienced," Rajesh concluded.

As Rajesh Padave wraps up the conversation, a few of his students come running and declare, "Puneri Paltan will win the PKL title this time. U Mumba is out, but we had another team from Maharashtra, and it will win."

Though the Jaipur Pink Panthers manage to break the hearts of the Paltan and their fans across Maharashtra on Saturday night, the generational love for Kabaddi in the state is something worth experiencing firsthand.

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