The goal is harmony

The goal is harmony

In the foothills of Kodagu, known as Karnataka’s Ooty for its chilly weather even in summer, the heat was palpable as 255 families vied for the champion’s title in the Kodava Hockey Tournament.

The 19th edition of the annual contest, Kuppanda Hockey Namme, was organised by the Kuppanda clan. “Hockey is more than just a sport for us today. It has become a festival (namme) connecting Kodavas in social and cultural life,” said convener Kuppanda Rajiv Kariappa. In Kodagu, one of the three cradles of Indian hockey apart from Punjab and Odisha, there are two festivals, huttari and hockey, and youngsters feel they are more connected to the latter due to the amount of energy and excitement it involves, he said.

Cradle of hockey
The saying goes that if a Kodava is not working in a coffee plantation, he is either in the Army, serving the nation, or in a hockey field, keeping alive the national sport relegated to the margins by a country  chasing cricket.
The idea of making hockey a part of Kodagu’s social milieu was conceived in 1996 by Pandanda Kuttappa, a retired State Bank of India employee and first division hockey referee. Knowing that Kodavas’ heart beats for hockey, he thought of creating a common ground with the help of the sport to bring together different clans of the community spread across India and the globe. In the next year, he launched a hockey tournament for Kodava families. Kuttappa, however, also knew that each clan has a distinct tradition. Hence the rule: Members of a team should belong to the same clan. The socio-political result of such an arrangement is that a sense of pride is instilled in every clan that sends its team to the hockey field.

Even today, the hockey festival stands apart because it is a community-driven initiative. It started and has been sustained by the same fuel— the Kodavas’ desire to stay connected. In a technology-driven civilisation where cultural bonds are frayed due to the intervention of digital in every aspect of man’s life, hockey has become the glue that keeps them together. New clans enter the contest every tournament. New friendships are established while old ones are strengthened.

One of the notable features of the “longest hockey tournament in the world” (the namme goes on for more than a month) set to enter the Guinness Book of World Records, is its mixed teams. Women play alongside men and the married ones have the choice to represent their parents’ or in-laws’ clan.

National hockey players, Olympians and world cuppers have been part of the tournaments. C S Poonacha, M P Ganesh, B P Govinda, M M Somaiya, Arjun Halappa, A B Subbaiah, Madanda Timmaiah among others play for their family teams. Among the various impressions the event leaves on the visitors is the patience and discipline of the sportive Kodavas. Former Union minister M S Gill, who inaugurated the 2010 tournament, has noted, “I have never seen such a sight—such a fun gathering of a happy, disciplined people.”

Globalisation has sent the Kodavas, a community with a rich warrior tradition, to different parts of the planet. But wherever they go, the sound of the hockey sticks rattling pulls them back to their country. “Thousands of Kodavas settled across the country and the globe come to participate or witness the tournament,” said Kariappa.

The number of participants and enthusiasts have gone up sharply, from 60 teams in 1997 to 255 in the ongoing tournament. Every match gets spectators ranging from 10,000 to more than 25,000.

“There is no answer for why Kodavas love hockey, they simply say that it is in their blood,” said independent filmmaker Sandhya Kumar who has made a
documentary on this phenomenon.

More than a game
Chendrimada Bollamma, an assistant professor in a Virajpet college, has been the commentator of the last seven hockey nammes. “I feel privileged to be part of the festival and I am very proud of the fact that I am the only woman commentator officially recognised. Talented women get  support here. There are 10 women officiating as umpires in this festival,” she said.

She felt that the tournament provides equal opportunity for all regardless of class distinctions. The festival also provides a platform for budding players to shape themselves. Men encourage women to play. In fact, there are teams where couples play alongside each other or face each other from rival teams. But most importantly, this is an event where kinships get extended. There are plenty of instances where players and spectators meet as friends and after some exchanges realise that they are relatives.

There is no bar based on age or gender. For instance, Amulya Akkamma, a final year graduation student in St Philomena's college in Puttur, is the captain of the Kongettira Team which comprises national level players. “When in Kodagu, be a Kodava,” said a friend from Mysore who has been a spectator of this annual event from the last three years.

The winners of the 2015 tournament take home Rs 2 lakh. There are attractive prizes for the highest goal scorer, the best keeper among others. However, this is not a game played for money. Players dripping with sweat fight hard to win the honour of being the best team for the next one year– a prestige that cannot be measured by money.

Hosting such an event is not an easily-earned privilege. Despite the difficulties involved, families vie to be the organiser as each annual event carries with it the host family's name. Though any family with the potential can bid for host’s position, the general body of Kodava Families’ Association zeroes in on the best contender and recommends the name to the Kodava Hockey Academy, the governing body of the hockey festival. The Academy gives the honour to the family after confirming its commitment and capability.

Officials and people’s representatives have been impressed by the meticulous way in which the tournament is organised and have extended financial support to the 2015 edition.

As one namme gets over and another family gears up for next year’s event, the passion for the game and its role in Kodavas’ social life remains in one’s mind.

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