Cricket may be the most popular sport in Pakistan, but each region of the country has its own traditional games and activities that do not only keep the locals physically healthy and fit but also hold a historical and cultural significance. These traditional sports in Pakistan are not only played for entertainment or the sake of tradition, as some of them are extremely popular. Grand festivals are organized for these outdoor games in Pakistan, drawing spectators from all over the world.
The players of these traditional sports in Pakistan also compete in national and international competitions, highlighting the rich and exotic culture of their respective regions. However, since a lot of people don’t know much about traditional sports played in Pakistan, we have put together a list that will help you learn more about these outdoor activities.
Famous Traditional Sports in Pakistan
Field hockey may be the national sport of Pakistan, but these age-old outdoor games are loved just as much in their respective regions.
Here are some of the most celebrated traditional sports played in Pakistan.
Kabaddi is probably one of the most popular traditional sports in South Asia. This unique contact sport is played in several countries, though Pakistan has certainly established its presence in this game by not only hosting the Kabaddi World Cup 2020 (Circle Style) but also winning the coveted championship.
The game may look quite similar to traditional wrestling, but it is quite different. It requires two teams of twelve players each. However, only seven players for each side are allowed to play on the field. This traditional sport is played without any special equipment or accessories, making it a game that anyone can play without any hassle.
The overall objective of Kabaddi is to score more points than the other team within the given time limit. Each team gets a chance to attack and defend, taking one half of the playing field. To score a point, the attacking team has to send a raider to the opposition’s camp to touch at least one of their players. During the raid, it is mandatory for the raider to repetitively chant “kabaddi” without even taking a break to breathe. If the raider breaks the chant, the score is awarded to the defending team. The defending team will also score a point if its members manage to capture the raider by wrestling them to the ground and prevent them from returning to their own team until their breath is up and they can’t chant anymore.
It is one of the several traditional sports in Pakistan that is usually played on a muddy ground separated into two halves by a white line, with each team occupying one half. However, international kabaddi matches are held in arenas or sports grounds.
This contact sport is an ancient form of wrestling that is played predominantly in Sindh, Pakistan and Gujrat, India. Called Malakhra or Malakhro, this traditional sport requires two players who try to throw the other to the ground using the waistcloth tied around their bodies. The match starts with the contestants holding onto the opponent’s waistcloth and ends with one of them being thrown to the ground.
Malakhra is the provincial sport of Sindh. It draws a large number of fans, who come from all over the region to watch famous wrestlers, or malhoos, compete with each other in muddy ground. Owing to their popularity, the matches for one of the most well-known traditional sports in Pakistan are held on Fridays or public holidays. This allows a larger audience to attend the game. Malakhra is also the main attraction at regional festivals and fairs. The traditional wrestlers who partake in these matches go through rigorous training routines and diet regimens for several years as this sport requires a lot of physical strength along with strategizing abilities.
In 2009, the Institute of Sindhology at the University of Sindh in Jamshoro made headlines for establishing a Malakhro corner at its museum. The institute, as the name suggests, focuses on the preservation and promotion of Sindh’s unique culture, literature and history.
Mukha can be described as a distant cousin of archery. This 150-year-old traditional sport is very popular in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, particularly in Mardan and Swabi districts. The locals in these areas organize summer festivals where they gather in droves to see the Mukha matches between these districts.
At first glance, this sport may look exactly like archery. However, Mukha is played with long rods made of stag horns called ‘ghashay’ and large bows known as ‘leenda’. The rods, which are essentially used as arrows, have metallic saucer-shaped tips that help them hit the targets set around 35 feet away at a height of about 12 feet.
The targets are usually made of white wood and are referred to as ‘takai.’ They are surrounded by a circular ring called ‘kwaara’ and placed in fresh clay.
If the player manages to strike the targets they score a point. A successful attempt is usually celebrated by beating loud drums. On the other hand, if the player misses the target, the opposing team would celebrate instead.
Each team competing in Mukha requires 10 players in total. The team is led by a captain who is called ‘mashar’ and a vice-captain known as ‘wazir’. The rest of the players are referred to as ‘mukhwals’.
Much like other outdoor games in Pakistan, Mukha also requires a lot of strength, patience and precision.
Considered the ultimate adventure sport, tent pegging or neza bazi is a cavalry sport that enjoys extreme popularity in all four provinces of Pakistan. It is believed to have originated in South Asia during the middle ages before reaching the Asian and European empires, who played a major role in spreading tent pegging to other parts of the world. Played on horsebacks, tent pegging is one of the few horse-riding sports officially recognized by the International Equestrian Federation. It is also recognized as an official sport by the Olympic Council of Asia, the governing body of sports in the continent.
The game involves horse-mounted riders in traditional waistcoats and vibrant turbans driving their lances or swords in the wooden pegs half-buried in the dry ground. They have to pick up the wooden pegs at a full gallop, collecting as many as they can. Since the matches take place in regular grounds, the dust kicked up the horses prove to be the main obstruction in finding the small targets.
Neza Bazi is an important part of cultural celebrations and festivals in most parts of Pakistan. This ancient sport attracts a number of local as well as international spectators. A large number of sports clubs arrange tent pegging competitions, with every club boasting its own unique style of waistcoat and turban. The horses are also decorated accordingly for these outdoor games in Pakistan.
Although several tent pegging matches are organized in Pakistan throughout the year, the National Horse and Cattle Show held in Lahore is easily the most famous of them all. This annual event is held at the Fortress Stadium and includes different exhibitions, livestock and sports competitions.
Yak Racing and Polo
Yak racing and yak polo are two of the most unique traditional sports played in Pakistan. Both of these sports are considered a Mongolian variant of the horserace and polo, native to the Gilgit-Baltistan region.
These activities are the highlight of the Broghil Festival. It is held at the beautiful Broghil National Park in Upper Chitral District at an altitude of 13,000 feet. Although it’s not as big or popular as the Shandur Polo Festival held on Shandur Pass, the Broghil Festival has also started attracting a large number of tourists from all parts of the world.
Whether it’s yak race or yak polo, these sports involve the same degree of risks as horse racing and polo. The rules of the games are also the same.
Over the past years, these traditional sports in Pakistan have begun to gain popularity across the world.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in learning more about winter sports activities, take a look at our guides on the best ski resorts in Pakistan as well as the winter sports at Malam Jabba. You can also check out the list of top stadiums in Pakistan
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