Hockey brings families together

Aiming for a Goal: A match in progress during the Kodava Hockey Festival 2016 in Madikeri, Kodagu. Photos by DH, Niran Shantheyanda

Kodavas loved to pursue two patriotic passions. One was to be part of the nation’s defence forces and the other was to play the national sport. Hence, it was said that a Kodava was born with a hockey stick in one hand and a gun in another.

Hockey was not just a sport in Kodagu, it was a way of living. Kodagu’s children practised and excelled in hockey. There was untapped talent in Kodagu but there was no way to demonstrate it.

Considering this, Pandanda Kuttappa (Kuttani) and his brother Kashi Ponnappa decided to begin the annual Kodava hockey festival in 1997. “I wanted this festival to be of use to children. I wanted them to get a chance to play for India,” says Kuttappa, former first-division hockey umpire.

That year, Kuttappa’s extended family helped organise the event. Teams from 60 Kodava clans came to participate. The Kaliyanda team won the Pandanda cup. The event is called a festival (namme, in Kodava language), and not a tournament because it helps bring people together to celebrate. Each year one Kodava clan conducts the tournament and the cup is named after the clan. The Kodava Hockey Academy governs the annual festival.

The academy also decides which family can organise the tournament in a particular year. As of now, families have been selected to organise the tournament until 2025.

According to Shantheyanda Ravi Kushalappa, any family that wants to organise the festival should apply to the Kodava Hockey Academy. The application will be checked and considered on a first-come- first-serve basis. The selected family will have a year to prepare for conducting the event. The state government partly funds the event on most years. Lok Sabha MP for Mysore-Kodagu also grants some money. The rest of the money is collected by the family through donations.

The family puts together a committee which is responsible for organising the event. They select a convenient ground and arrange all the facilities near the family’s ancestral residence.

According to the Limca Book of Records, the Kodava hockey festival is both the largest and the longest hockey tournament in India. This is probably the world’s largest family tournament as well. In 2018, 329 teams participated in the Kulletira Cup held in Napoklu.

Men, women and children take part in the tournament. There is no bar on age or gender. Among the prominent women players are goalkeeper Shivachaliyanda Nilan (Ekalavya awardee) and Malamada Lilavati.

In 2014, the Thathanda family organised a rink hockey event for 35 families. Later, two formats were supported: league matches for champions who regularly made it to the semifinals and knockouts for others.

In recent times, a number of similar family tournaments such as Kodava cricket, badminton, tug-of-war and golf, Kodagu Gowda cricket, Kodagu Heggade hockey, Amma Kodava cricket, Yerava cricket, Kodagu Muslim football and volleyball events are held in Kodagu. 

The champions

There are a few strong family teams who often make it to the top. The Palanganda team has won the festival the highest number of times (five) so far. They entered the finals eight times (between 2006-2016).

Kodagu has produced several Hockey Olympians like Maneyapanda M Somaya, Mullera P Ganesh, B P Govinda, Arjun Halappa, S V Sunil among others. Most of the winning teams have Olympians in their midst. The Koothanda team, led by former Olympian K K Poonacha, comes a close second, having won the festival four times (including the 1999 draw with Kulletira team) between 1998-2008. The Cheppudira team, with another Olympian C S Poonacha, were the runners-up in the 2001 edition.

Olympian goalkeeper Anjaparavanda B Subbaiah’s team has been consistent over the years since 1997. They were winners twice and in the finals five times. Subbaiah attributes the team’s success to the remarkable individual efforts of its players. 

The Kaliyanda team won thrice and came second twice. The Nellamakkada team won thrice and hosted the 2001 Cup. Kulletira won all the three times it came to the finals. The Mandepanda team won the tournament once. 

In the 2018 finals, the defending champion Chendanda scored two goals and didn’t allow Anjaparavanda to score. Two Olympians were on the field: Nikkin Thimmaiah, a young forward, and Subbaiah, veteran goal-keeper.

“The hockey festival brought the family together. The family members stay in different villages. Earlier, there were no interactions between them, and they didn’t know each other (for many decades),” says Subbaiah. This has been the case with many Kodava families.

The kids of Kodagu are taught to wield the hockey stick at a young age. Their parents make crude hockey sticks and play the game with them after school hours.

Every summer, during the months of April and May, this festival brings together members of joint families. The relatives living in the cities, in the army or elsewhere converge in Kodagu. Uniforms and kits are prepared and at least eleven players are registered. For weeks, the teams practice playing with their hockey sticks on fallow fields and empty grounds.

Personal touch

My family team, the Mookonda team, is quite strong having players like Nikhil, Jnapak who trained in Sports Authority of India.

The first time I watched a Kodava hockey festival game was in our hometown Ammathi. It was the 2001 Cup. Cousins, aunts and uncles came together after a long time. Even my paternal grandmother, who was bed-ridden at the time, requested us to take her to the stadium to watch the hockey game.

The air was filled with slogans being shouted out cheering our home team: “Come on, Mookonda! Steady, Ammathi!” 

We also went to watch the Muckatira family match during the 2002 Chekkera Cup in Hudikeri. Even while the sun was beating down upon us and we were all sweating, we cheered the team enthusiastically.

Paused by calamity

Floods and landslides ravaged parts of Kodagu in 2018. In order to show solidarity with the victims, the 2019 hockey festival was initially cancelled. However, the cancellation was not appreciated.

“A year break would make youngsters lose a chance to practice and display their skills,” says Hockey Coorg treasurer Palanganda Lava. Paikera E Kalaiah, who played in the 1975 Hockey World Cup, presides over Hockey Coorg.

Therefore, Hockey Coorg organised a 2019 family tournament with 146 teams in Kakotparamb. Funds were handed over to the calamity victims during the closing ceremony.

In 2020, the Harihara Muckatira family will host the event. 

As families bond during this annual festival, hockey players, both young and old, exhibit their talent.

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