Cradle of Indian hockey

Last Updated : 17 November 2022, 10:22 IST

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On November 6, the Chendanda and Kuppanda (Kaikeri) families locked horns in the scintillating finals of the very first Pandanda M Kuttappa Memorial 5-A Side Hockey Cup. The event was held to generate buzz and prepare teams for the upcoming Kodava Hockey Festival, starting February 2023.

With 8-2 goals, the Chendanda family, wearing their trademark white jerseys, took home the trophy.

In Kodagu, the passion for hockey is strong. Hockey is so ingrained in the district that it has essentially become a part of the Kodava culture. Bearing testimony to this is the Kodava Hockey Festival, an annual tournament, which was started in the year 1997 by two brothers Pandanda M Kuttappa (Kuttani) and Pandanda Kashi Ponnappa.

The hockey tournament is called ‘namme’ (festival) as it is more of a celebration than a competition. With over 300 families participating, the tournament is recognised as one of the largest field hockey tournaments in the world and also finds a mention in the Limca Book of Records.

According to Pandanda Bopanna, President of Kodava Hockey Academy and son of Pandanda M Kuttappa, the hockey festival was started with a few objectives — to strengthen bonds between and within families; to give an opportunity for state and national level players to play in their home district and to give young players an opportunity to exhibit their talent.

An interesting aspect of the festival is that both men and women take part in the matches. The women have the option of playing for their in-law’s team or their parent’s team.

There is also no age bar for players at the festival. Recently, the Ammanichanda family fielded three generations of players, with the grandfather Desu Nanjappa (age 73), his son Sanju Somaiah (age 46) and his grandson Benny Belliappa (age 18) playing together.

After a gap

The last annual hockey festival was held in 2018. Since then, the festival could not be conducted on account of the floods and landslides that ravaged the district in 2019, followed by the Covid pandemic.

After a gap of four years, the 23rd annual hockey festival will be held next year from February 20 to March 6. The festival is conducted under the aegis of Kodava Hockey Academy and each year one family hosts it. The next festival is being hosted by the Appachettolanda family.

In order to prepare the teams for the upcoming hockey festival and rekindle interest, the Kodava Hockey Academy held the first Pandanda M Kuttappa Memorial Cup, in memory of the founder of the Academy and the hockey festival. It was a rink hockey festival, and a five-a-side format was adopted in line with current trends in the sport.

In this format, each team will have five players (a goalkeeper and four players in the field). A rolling substitution is allowed.

“Rink hockey matches are fast-paced as the ball remains within the rink. A goal can be scored at any moment. There are no dull moments and it is very interesting to watch,” says Chendanda Shammi Madaiah, who played for the winning team.

The hockey cup saw the participation of 114 teams and was held from October 27 to November 6 in Ponnampet Turf Ground.

“The highlight of this tournament was the participation of players across generations. The oldest participant was 72 years old and the youngest was 11 years old,” says Pandanda Bopanna.

The aim was to generate interest among the youth. “Only when the youngsters see others playing, will they be drawn to the sport,” says Bopanna.

Hockey and defence connection

Apart from hockey, another thing that Kodavas are deeply associated with is the military. Interestingly, there is a connection between the two.

“Kodavas were first introduced to hockey in the military. During the vacations, they would play in Kodagu and that is how hockey became popular in the district,” explains hockey Olympian and Padma Shri awardee Mollera P Ganesh.

Due to its popularity, hockey was subsequently introduced in schools and colleges and students were coached in the sport. This formal training enabled many to go to hockey camps, several went on to play for the national teams.

Anjaparavanda B Subbaiah, Baleyada K Subramani, Cheppudira S Poonacha, Mollera P Ganesh, Maneyapanda M Somaya are some Kodavas who have represented India in the Olympics. This inspired many more in the region to take up hockey.

Professional sport

The government of Karnataka supported the interest by introducing schemes and starting sports hostels and sports schools. With many from Kodagu going on to become international players, the district is regarded as the cradle of Indian hockey.

In order to encourage the youngsters to take up hockey and continue the tradition of representing India, regular tournaments in the district are seen as essential.

“Kodagu has got good talent. Regular matches and tournaments should be conducted because competition is as important as training. Only by playing matches, one can develop proper skills. Additionally, these tournaments are a platform to exhibit talent,” says Mollera Ganesh.

The Kodava Hockey Academy plans to give scholarships to identify talent and help them attend state or national camps.

“The Academy is also hoping to set up a hockey stadium to offer more facilities for players from the district,” says Pandanda Bopanna.

There is a call for comprehensive government support. “We need more turf grounds to enable more players to practice regularly,” says Chendanda Madaiah.

Collectively, the aim is to produce new international players from the district and uphold the legacy of former players and bring back the glory of hockey in Kodagu.

Published 17 November 2022, 09:36 IST

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