It is believed that the game was invented in archaic Tamil Nadu, as it is cited in Sangam Literature that the game called Sadugudu was practised for ages. Sadugudu was played as a warm-up sport before the participants enter the arena for Jallikattu. There are also portrayals of Gautam Buddha having played the game recreationally. There is another interpretation of this sport's origins and prosperous history. Folklore has it that kabaddi was invented in Tamil Nadu over 4,000 years ago. The game was said to have been widespread among the Yadava people. An Abhang by Tukaram stated that lord Krishna played the game in his childhood.
Modern kabaddi is a synthesis of the game played in different forms under different titles. Kabaddi received global exposure during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The game was presented in the Indian Olympic Games at Calcutta in 1938. In 1950 the All India Kabaddi Federation (AIKF) came into presence and assembled legal rules. The Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI) was founded in 1973. After the formation of the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI), the first men's nationals were held in Tamil Nadu's Madras (renamed Chennai), while the women's were in AKFI has given a new shape to the rules. The Asian Kabaddi Federation (AKF) was established under the chairmanship of kabaddi.
In 1979, a recovery test between Bangladesh and India was held at different places in India including Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Punjab. The Asian Kabaddi Championship was organised in 1980 and India rose as champion and Bangladesh as runner-up. Bangladesh became runner-up again in 1985 in the Asian Kabaddi Championship held in Jaipur, India. The other squads in the contest were Nepal, Malaysia and Japan. The game was welcomed for the first time in the Asian Games in Beijing in 1990. India, China, Japan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh took part. India won the gold medal and has also won gold at the subsequent six Asian Games in started from Hiroshima in 1994, Bangkok in 1998, Busan in 2002, Doha in 2006 and Guangzhou (in 2010).
A shot to popularise kabaddi in Great Britain was brought out by Channel 4, who authorised a programme devoted to the sport. The programme, kabaddi in the early 1990s, however, failed to grab viewer attention despite fixtures such as West Bengal Police versus Punjab. Kabaddi was axed in 1992. Alt-rock band The Cooper Temple Clause assembled a kabaddi team in 2001 and were, at one stage, ranked seventh in the British domestic standings. In the 1998 Asian games held in Bangkok (Thailand), the Indian kabaddi team nailed the gold medal. The chief coach of the team was a former kabaddi player and coach Flt. Lt. S P Singh at that time.
In a significant upset, seven-time gold medalist India sorrowed their first-ever loss in 28 years at the 2018 Asian Games to South Korea in the men's Kabaddi group A game. In the semi-final, Iran sent the seven-time Asiad champions packing with a 27–18 win. India, who took home the bronze for going to the semi-finals, did not play in the final since the curtain-raiser of the Games in the Asiad in 1990 in Beijing.