The Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka is home to a plethora of cultural traditions. One such tradition is the annual festival of Kambala, a type of buffalo race event. This spectacular sport holds historical significance and present entertainment value for the villagers of the region as well as for visiting tourists and photographers.
Kambala events begin after the paddy harvest is done, which is usually during the month of October. It can be witnessed in over 45 different villages of Tulunadu such as Kakkepadavu, Uppinangadi, Venur, etc., between November and March every year. Most Kambala events are free to visit and run for several hours or even overnight. A well-organised Kambala sees the participation of 130 to 140 pairs of buffaloes and a crowd of around 20,000 spectators
History of Kambala in Karnataka
The origin of the Kambala celebration can be traced back to more than a thousand years. Initially, this event was known as the Karaga celebrations and then came to be referred to as Kambala. As with most, if not all, stories of folklore and traditions, there are different accepted beliefs attributed to the origination of this festival.
Some believe that it originated among the farming community of Karnataka. The festival, dedicated to Lord Kadri Manjunatha, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, was celebrated to please the Gods for a good harvest.
Other believe that buffalo races in general originated as a sport for the royal family’s amusement. According to one legend, the festival was started by the Hoysala Kings as a means to see if the buffaloes could be trained and used in war. The Hoysala Kings, in this process, were astonished by the speed of the buffaloes and began making them compete against one an another. This tradition was carried on by the feudal lords of those regions and finally continued by the ordinary people.
The festival has managed to grow in popularity through the centuries. Today the age-old festival is organized on a large scale and a huge crowd gathers to participate in the celebrations.
The Setup and Race:
- Racetrack: The Kambala race is held on 2 muddy tracks that are placed parallel to each other. The racing tracks are normally about 120 to 160 metres in length and 8 to 12 metres in width, depending on the availability of space.
- The buffaloes: Buffalo are extensively groomed and nurtured by their caretakers.
Buffaloes are usually raced in pairs and held together with ploughs and ropes. The best of Kambala Buffaloes can cover a 140-meter racetrack in less than 12 seconds.
- The rider: The jockey or Kambala runner is the man commanding the buffaloes and races along with them. The runner stands on a wooden plank that is attached to the setup holding the two buffaloes together. The Kambala runner controls the buffaloes with a whip or ropes. Jockeys can earn up to Rs 6 lakhs in each season!
- The race: Two teams of buffaloes along with their jockey’s race towards the finish line on the two parallel racetracks. The race goes on all day and each winner qualifies for next rounds. Besides reaching the finish line first, prizes are also given for splashing water high till a target set above (known as kolu).
The festival takes place in various categories. The four main categories are –
- Adda Halage
- Kene Halage
These categories mainly exist to differentiate between the varying levels of strengths of the buffaloes. Each category also has specifications on how the buffaloes are tied together, what item the jockey carries and how he stands, etc. Out of the four, Negilu and Hagga are the most popular categories of Kambala.
Kambala is a simple event of buffalo races that is usually held over a two-day period. The festival begins with an inaugural ceremony and a parade of the participating farmers along with their prized buffaloes. Soon after, the much-anticipated buffalo races start.
Each team comprises of two buffaloes and a farmer who controls the buffaloes. Two teams are made to race down two slushy tracks to determine the fastest team.
After the 2017 uproar regarding Srinivasa Gowda, one of the jockeys, and his run timing being compared to Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt, the sport has undergone some technological advancements. Digital timekeeping, a dedicated website, standardized tracks and Kambala camps are among those changes.