Kambala: a sport and a tradition

Kambala: a sport and a tradition

Of late, Kambala, the traditional buffalo race held in coastal Karnataka, is in news for many reasons arousing curiosity among people about this folk sport. Essentially, Kambala is a buffalo race held in slush-filled tracks between the months of November and March


This buffalo race of Tulu Nadu has historical and cultural significance. In fact, it has been mentioned in many ancient scripts like the one from the time of the Alupa dynasty. This has been found in Karje near Kenjoor in Udupi district. Kambala also finds a mention in paddanas (Tulu folk epic poems) like Ejo Manjotti Gona, Paddana of Baliyendra and Koti and Chennayya Paddana.

Historically, Kambala was seen not just as a race, but a matter of prestige among the Tulu rulers. Hence, it was mandatory for all the princes to participate in Kambala. While this may have been the case, there is much more to Kambala than this. “Kambala is not only a sport or an act of entertainment, it is also a social, cultural, economical, and political representation of a locality,” states researcher Purushottama Bilimale.

Interestingly, the breed of buffaloes (girdelu) used for racing is different from that used for ploughing.  Racing buffaloes are fed with healthy and nutritious food such as horse gram for their healthy growth. They are also kept in a hygienic environment. They are  trained well to ensure a good performance. A rope is tied to their nose for better control. On the day of Kambala, they are well-decorated with ornaments. The rules of Kambala don’t allow for a single buffalo to participate. A pair of buffaloes is tied together with the help of wooden logs and ropes.

Types of Kambala
There are four types of Kambala: Pookare, Baare, Arasu or Devara, and Adhunika. Adhunika and Devara Kambala involve buffalo race. The other two types focus on ritual and cultural
worship of Naga and Bhootas. In the past, the practice also had agricultural importance as it helped even the paddy field. While these traditional Kambalas were known for their grandeur in the past, modern Kambala is catching the attention of people in the present day.

In present-day Kambala, the winning pair gets a gold medal, and other prizes. Another marked difference is the fact that it is not played on a field. Instead, the race is held on a marshy wetland created for the purpose of Kambala race. The race is held in four categories, which are divided according to the buffaloes’ age. The age is decided by checking
the buffalo’s teeth. Modern Kambala also has many types. The major ones being:

Adda Halage: This is also called as addapalai in Tulu which means a wooden log. This will be provided at the back of the racing buffaloes, where the rider has to stand. For support, he will use the tail of the buffaloes and the ropes that are tied to them. As it requires a lot of skill, it is not practised everywhere.

Negila Ota: In Tulu, it is called as nayerdavvu (a plough). Here, ploughs are tied to the back of the buffaloes. The rider has to race without lifting the plough.
Haggada Ota: In Tulu, this is known balluda gidapune, which means racing with the help of a rope. The buffaloes’ backs are tied with the help of a rope and wooden log. The racer has to run and follow the buffaloes. The pair that reaches the manjotti (a platform) first is declared as the winner.

Kane Halageya Ota: This is the most famous version of Kambala. Unlike others, this is not based on speed. Here, the buffaloes have to splash mud water to the maximum height possible at a pole that is tied with a white cloth. This pole is known as nishane. The highest splasher will be announced the winner. The splashing is done with the help of a log, which is tied to the buffaloes. When it runs across the wetland in a great speed, the water splashes from the wooden log and reaches the nishane.

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