Traditional Indian sports that can evolve into professional leagues

The diversity of Indian states is not limited to their food, cultural celebrations or language but to how many different states and districts have interacted with physical activities and sports. India is known to be home to many traditional and unique sports, a few of which today have also made it to global and native professional leagues, such as Kabaddi.
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These sports are widely celebrated with zeal in their respective states, and in our digital world today, many of these have become popular via reality TV series or social media. Let’s take a look into what are these famous native sports of Indian states:


Malla translates to a gymnast, and Khamb translates to a pole. Collectively, Mallakhamb means ‘a gymnasts pole’. An ancient Indian ancestral sport is the collective mix of martial arts and gymnastics. Mallakhamb is when a gymnast performs postures in an aerial yoga form and a combination of other acrobatic skills on the pole while hanging from it and holding the posture – while stabilizing themselves on a stationary wooden pole. The practice of this particular sport requires mental solid strength along with physical strength and prowess.

Madhya Pradesh is known to have declared it as their state sport, and today the sport has gained international popularity with international federations like the Mallakhamb Confederation of World (MCW). Indian reality TV shows have seen a lot of Mallakhamb acts performed by specialities which has also been a strong reason for its growing popularity.

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Vallam Kali

Known more popularly as the Snake boat race, simply due to the exciting detailing, design and length of the boats that are part of this sport, Vallam Kali is a popular sport in the South of India.

A traditional boat race of India played in Kerala on the festive occasion of harvest festival – Onam, Vallam Kali can be better explained as a form of canoe racing. It is also a major tourist attraction for the state. These paddled longboats participate in many events in the race, like churulan vallam, odi vallam among others. One of the most popular events is the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, held in Alappuzha in Kerala.

Boat rowing is an international sport today that is also part of the Olympics and is played by many IVY league universities across the globe.

Kho Kho

A famous tag game native of the Indian state of Maharashtra, Kho Kho is played today in the country casually by millions of young children and professionally. Another traditional sport of India is known to be the oldest outdoor sport that dates back to ancient India. With its ability to help increase stamina, and aid in children’s motor, social and mental development, the sport is widely played in Indian schools as a competitive game.

Essentially played between two teams, nine players of one team sit on their knees (chasing group) with three extra players (defending team)  who have to try and avoid being touched by the members of another opposing team.

Today Kho Kho is the second most popular tag game after Kabaddi and has an International Kho-Kho Federation established in 2018 that has helped organize events like Asian Championships.

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Kushti or Pehlwani is a popular form of wrestling sport in India. One of the oldest sports in India, it is known to originate around 4000 BC. It is believed to be developed by the Mughal Empire. The term Pehlwani translates to heroic, and kushti translates to wrestling. A practitioner of this sport is known as Pehlwani, requiring two people to play.

It is also known that Pehlwani is what has inspired MMA – mixed martial arts, freestyle, and folkstyle wrestling across gloves. It must be noted that while today wrestling is a world-celebrated sport today, it differs from Pehlwani/ Kushti.

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Other celebrated sports in Indian states include one of: 

– Polo, played widely across the elite social and royal circuits of Rajasthan

-Dahi Handi, a festive celebration turned into a competitive event and sport of balancing in the Indian state of Maharashtra

-Silambam is a native martial art sport of South India, originating from ancient Tamil literature.

-Gilli Danda, an ancient Indian game that originated over 2500 years ago, is believed to have inspired the western games of cricket, baseball and softball.

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While a few of these have found their paths into global circuits, their popularity is not yet where Kabaddi has reached over the past decade. We can only hope that while moving forward in our globally connected world, these sports also become strong forces of influence with their professional leagues in India and globally. Such leagues not only help grow a sport but also change the lives of many players and offer new work opportunities for the sports industry and the sector’s overall growth.

If you are interested in being part of, working for and managing some of the leading and upcoming professional teams in Kabaddi, Hockey, Football, Cricket and many other sports in India and internationally, MBA Sports Management from MBA-ESG will offer you a global learning environment along with some of the best industry mentors to get you ready for a fast-paced and one of the most vital growing sectors in the industry.

Author: Mankiran