An hair-raising experience here

Rural Olympics in Punjab are a perfect heady cocktail for those having a taste for valour and strength

An hair-raising  experience here

For those who have relished it still have fond memories of the chariot race in the epic film Ben Hur. Not without reason, the chariot race for the Romans, just like the Greeks, was a hugely popular sport, like soccer today. Punjab’s heartland brimmed with the same sentiment, just that chariots here don’t have blades on the wheel-axles and there aren’t horses to pull the cart. It’s the high-breed bullocks instead. The bullock cart race was just one of the many popular attractions at the Rural Olympics held each year in Punjab’s small segment Kila Raipur. If turbaned jockeys on buffalo-harnessed carts, just before the start of the four-lane cart sprint race, gave the audience shivers, the sleek and lean ferocious greyhounds galloped all the way to the finish at blazing speed, leaving them speechless.

Rural Olympics in Punjab were a perfect heady cocktail, at least for the ones who have a taste for valour and strength. Here, age was no bar. The turbaned ageing Sikh, with his grey free-flowing beard, may not quite have been a temptation like celebrity Ajay Devgn in his recent Bollywood flick Son of Sardar riding on two horses, but the ageing gentle Sardar in the stadium drew a thunderous applause as he dangerously stood with one leg each on the saddle of two full-speed galloping horses strapped up together.

If that was dangerous by any standard sans stunt choreographers, another spirited old man made the spectators’ jaws drop as he lifted with utter ease a combo of a heavyweight plough and a bicycle with his teeth. Tug-of-war, kabaddi, wrestling contest and acrobatic daredevil acts of bravery attracted a handsome foreign audience as well for the event, generally held in February.

The number one bullock-cart jockey rode away with a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh. The keenly contested hockey matches by local and club teams add to the flavour, but more interesting is a 100 tola pure gold cup for winners of the Bhagwant Memorial hockey tournament. The high-priced rolling gold cup has a history. One Parhlad Singh of Narangwal village gifted the pure gold cup in the memory of his late son Bhagwant Singh who died young. Singh wanted to see his child grow as a sportsman, but destiny had its way.

So the gold cup was gifted to the Grewal Sports Association, the organisers of the event, in the early 60s. Paying a bank security enables the winning team to keep the cup till next year, but interestingly, so far no team has ventured to take the risk. None of the champions has ever been willing to take it home. The gold trophy is just limited to plenty of photo-options with visiting dignitaries at the end of the four-day event, for it would require the champions to either guard the priced trophy for the entire year or, perhaps, even look for some giant-sized bank locker that could hold its custody safely till next season. The organisers pledge its security and keep it until next year.
One of the members of the association, Sukhbir Grewal said they cannot take chances with the trophy since it is a very high-priced product and needs adequate security. A 100 tola silver cup for the runners-up of the hockey event too is presented.

The rural sports stadium in Kila Raipur allowed free entry to visitors. It’s a decision consciously taken to involve more and more youth with sports in a state saddled with drug addicts. Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal has launched special initiatives to promote sports among youth in Punjab. So what better way to enjoy a host of such unique events than to sit in the stands and bask in the sunshine in these chilly winter months. Day-long entertainment comes complimentary. The event is now also adding new events like cycling and hockey and this year saw more than 40 events of traditional and modern games, games chief organiser Sukhvir Grewal said.

Some unique events, like the one meant to show strength and skills at loading and unloading bundles of heavy sacks in a tractor trolley, have remained among the favourites. In India’s food bowl agrarian state of Punjab, contributing the majority to the central grain pool, the idea to introduce this game struck seeing hardworking migrants who sweat in sweltering heat and biting cold, in fields and grain markets, performing a back-breaking task of loading and unloading tonnes of sacks of food grains. The tractor race is another keenly contested event.

The legacy of the rural Olympic sports dates back to pre-independent India. The sports first started in 1933 with some traditional games. Bullock cart race, which was banned for a while last year by the authorities following a petition by animal rights groups claiming torture to animals, was started way back in 1934 when Baba Bakhshi, the founder of the event, requested friends to send their buffaloes for the chariot race. The organisers faced setback in the 1980s and 90s when the event was obstructed because of terrorism.

Since the event draws a unique appeal, sports enthusiasts and organisers have been impressing upon the governments to accord the “National Festival status” to these sports. Gur Sandeep Singh Sunny, the President of the Grewal Sports Association which organises these event said Union Minister Manish Tiwari, MP from Ludhiana where the sports are held, has assured them of help in this regard. Until then, with or without the status, the rural sports continue to charm.

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