A professional game of tag for tough guys, kabaddi is an ancient Indian contact sport drawn from wrestling, hand-to-hand combat and evasion tactics punctuated by a fleet-footed dash to the goal line.
At South Memorial Park in Vancouver's Fraserview neighbourhood during the long weekend, hundreds gathered to play and watch soccer, wrestling, weight lifting, tug of war and kabaddi during the 47th annual Ross Street Sports Festival.
But the main stage was a large circular grass field where, in the sunshine Saturday and under a downpour Sunday, the Ross Street Kabaddi Tournament launched the province-wide summer kabaddi season.
"Kabaddi is so common in Punjab, if there is a big open match going on for soccer, nobody will go see it but they will come to see kabaddi," said Kashmir Singh Dhaliwal, a past president of the Khalsa Diwan Society, the Sikh organization based at the temple or gurdwara on Ross Street.
Dhaliwal is a sponsor of the Vancouver Kabaddi Club, one of about 15 B.C. teams that compete in one of two federations.
Clubs pay for superstar players to travel from around the globe to compete for their team. The Vancouver Kabaddi Club brought Manga Mithapuria, a celebrity raider from England, and finished second on Saturday behind the Youth Kabaddi Club.
"We feel proud because kabaddi is our mother game," said Dhaliwal. "Everyone in Punjab plays kabaddi. Not on high level, the stars play on high level, but everyone at least has played in his childhood."
Although less common in the sport, women also play.
Often likened to rugby or football, kabaddi has little resemblance to either field sport but demands toughness, speed and dexterity. It has no ball and requires no equipment. Players are barefoot and wear only shorts.
To score a point, one player known as a raider enters the circular arena at the half-way mark to challenge four opponents known as stoppers. The stoppers huddle in a half-circle as the raider approaches and tags his target. One stopper can turn the tables by tagging the raider.
The raider has 30 seconds to return to cross the centre line. Once tagged, the stopper wrestles, holds or pushes the raider out of bounds. Whoever meets his objective, scores a single point.
"To be a good raider, you should be strong, you should be quick thinker, and you should be fast-very fast to run away," said Ranjit Hayer, an executive member of the Khalsa Diwan Society and a festival organizer. "It is very tough."
On Sunday, the field was drenched and players slick from the rain. Spectators crowded beneath trees and under umbrellas.
Harvinder Rai, a coach with the Kama Gata Maru Club, said the rain lends an advantage to the raiders. "The players are slipping and they're hard to catch."
The time clock was introduced in the last decade. Previously, raiders had to shout "kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi!" to show they were holding their breath while attacking.
The open or Punjab style is played barefoot on grass and competitors are prohibited from greasing their skin with oil. In the national style, competitions wear shoes, sometimes play on clay or court surfaces and all stoppers can tackle the attacking raider.
Kabaddi was introduced to the Asian Games as a demonstration sport in 1984.
The annual Ross Street Sports Festival was started in the mid-1960s to commemorate the Indian fight for independence from Britain and in honour of the families who immigrated to Canada, said Hayer.
He noted the Komagata Maru incident in 1914 when nearly 400 Sikh, Hindu and Muslim passengers, all British subjects from Punjab, arrived off the coast of Vancouver but were not welcome in Canada. Prejudiced immigration controls denied their entry, and the ship returned to India.
"The tournament was established in the memory of those people, those pioneers who came here first to fight for our rights to bring people from India. Those people made a lot of sacrifices, they have gone through very tough times and we are celebrating their memory," he said.