Aren’t we all familiar with the well-known event from the country of Spain that involves bulls left loose on open streets? Pamplona Bull Run, commonly known as Running of the Bulls is a wildly popular annual event from Spain, that we not only hear about but also get to see on the screen on multiple occasions. However, Spain is not the only country to have this kind of event involving massive beasts from the wild. Our country India is not far behind in having a similar kind of sport that is popular among the people.

The Dakshina and Udupi districts of Karnataka are home to a very similar annual festival called Kambala. Kambala, the Indian Buffalo Race, is not just a yearly festival for people. It is in fact considered to be a sporting event by many natives. This buffalo race, which is now considered to be a tradition in the state and needs to be held every year religiously, originated long ago as a test for buffaloes to see whether they can be trained for war by the Hoysala kings.

The origin of Kambala:

Let’s talk a bit about how this sport finally came into existence. During the process of testing those buffaloes, the Hoysala Kings recognized the speed and strength of these animals and started to pit them against each other in races. This is how the sport of Kambala was born. Previously known by the name of the Karaga celebrations, this sporting event cum festival became properly established more than a thousand years ago. It has been evolving since then. Later, it was renamed Kambala, its latest and most commonly known name.

Now popularised among the masses as a sport, this traditional event involves racing buffaloes against each other through a muddy and slushy field of paddy. In fact, the word ‘Kambala’ itself means paddy fields, literally signifying the major element of the race. It is a significant activity for the farmer communities in the state of Karnataka. The entire event starts from November and spans up till March. The start of this event’s timeline demarcates the beginning of the harvesting season for the farmers.

The importance of the Kambala festival:

It is considered to be very important for the farmers, the festival is celebrated as a dedication to Lord Kadri Manjunath. Through this festival, people pray to him and ask for his blessings for a good and healthy harvest at the end of the season. Along with this, in recent years, Kambala has become more of a recreational activity for the locals in the state. Everyone, regardless of age, gender or status, looks forward to it every year.

However, this was not the case from the start. In earlier times, this sport actually catered to the royal population. It used to be held for their amusement and entertainment. It took years before it was localized and became a traditional sport in Karnataka. Over generations, the sport became more and more localized and the ordinary population started celebrating it every single year, making the event something to look forward to and to wait for.

The various types of Kambala:

The sport of Kambala has two types. One is called Bale Kambala. This version of the sport was discontinued a long time ago. It has not been conducted for about nine hundred years now. The second type of Kambala is called Pookere Kambala. It is the more recent version of the sport. Kambala, as people in Karnataka know it, is the latter.

The current Kambala festival is not confined to the buffalo race. It is no ordinary sport after all. Unlike other local Indian sports like Kabaddi or wrestling, Kambala is a festive celebration in itself. Is that the reason we don’t see a national championship happening for this sport? Maybe. Each year, the Kambala ceremony starts off with a festive parade and an exclusive inauguration. In the parade, the farmers walk while showcasing their buffaloes which then take part in that race.

The farmers are all supposed to bring two buffaloes each to the event who then are tied side by side on a stick and are controlled by the farmer. The pair of buffaloes run in the race as a unit that is headed by their respective owners, making the three of them a team. Two teams, the buffaloes and the farmer pit against each other in one round.

The farmer has control over the buffaloes and they use instruments like a whip or a stick for the same. Both teams are made to run through the field of paddy which is flooded with water. The goal of this very unconventional race is to motivate your pair of buffaloes to run faster than the other farmer’s pair. Of course, the team that crosses the wet paddy field first is crowned the winner. The contest is divided into four different categories.

The first category is called Negilu, which translates to ‘Plow’. It is characterized as being fit for entry-level candidates. In this category, the plow that is tied to the buffaloes is lighter in weight, specially made for this event. The second category is called Hagga. Hagga, literally meaning ‘rope’, involves the buffaloes being tied together by a rope and the farmer then racing them.

The third and fourth categories are the ones where it gets tricky. The introduction of wooden planks to the race gives it a unique twist. The third category is called Adda Halage. Adda Halage stands for the phrase 'sideboard’. For this, The farmers are supposed to stand over a horizontal plank that is tied to the buffaloes. The farmers are expected to balance on the plank for the duration of the entire race.

The fourth category is Kane Halage. Its literal meaning is ‘the ears are ringing’. The specifications of this category are quite interesting. It involves a circular wooden plank that is tied to the two buffaloes. The farmer stands on it. The race happens with water gushing out of two holes in the plank and the team with the highest splash of muddy water wins. This category is slowly losing its popularity and is on the verge of being discontinued.

One can gather from the descriptions above that this sport is slightly risky. With the race track being filled with muddy water and the farmers balancing on top of planks tied to animals, there is always a chance of either the buffaloes or the farmers getting injured during the festival. To maintain their safety, precautions are carefully taken and usually, an ambulance is also kept available the whole time.

The race concludes by one team finally being crowned the winner at the end of the festival. As a historical tradition, the winning pair of buffaloes is awarded fruits; mainly coconuts or bananas. The owner of the winning buffaloes is rewarded with souvenirs of precious metals such as gold or silver. These are not the only things the team wins. They are also awarded extreme cheer and praise from the crowd, making their win a badge of honor for them!

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