Mangaluru Kambala: Reinstating Traditions One Race At A Time
When efforts are made to ensure traditions survive the test of time and vested interests, they bounce back with twice the grandeur.
This is how coastal Karnataka has managed to wrest its traditional folk sport Kambala from the hands of self proclaimed animal rights organisations and ensure heritage doesn’t get relegated to the pages of history.
On the southern coast of Karnataka, this season that started in November and will last until the middle of this month is the time for celebration of crop, cattle and community — it is Kambala time.
Ale budiyer! (lo, unleashed!). These words flag off the sprint of the bulls in the Kambala race.
The 13-15 seconds of the sprint has the audience breathing to the rhythm of the kombu (horn-trumpet), until the pair of bulls followed by the runner cross the finish line, and hit the manjutti (mud pit at the end of the track).
Hundreds of buffaloes sprint across the slushy 120-130 metre track while their owners watch with equal angst and pride — every Kambala.
As the sun strides towards the northern hemisphere, and the nation celebrates new crop, new life, the soil, the cattle and all forms of agrarian life, the region that has predominantly worshipped the sun and the moon, heralds the Kambala season on the sankramana/sankranti of Tulu month Jarde.
Mangaluru Kambala, the only such event within the city, was started four years ago after former president Pranab Mukherjee gave the go-ahead to conduct it, drawing the curtains on PETA's (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) attempts to finish off this folk practice.
The former president’s decision came after a long fight to ensure that Kambala race is a symbol of parental bond between the farmer and the cattle, and it is not portrayed by vested interests as animal abuse.
Read our previous report on what it means to raise Kambala bulls.
But watching Mangaluru Kambala up and close this year was a revelation that it is this sense of community, this perception of life as an inclusive phenomenon, which has kept Indic society going strong even when the whole world has given in to the post-pandemic trauma.
The event intended to bridge tradition with modernity with neon-lit 3D selfie booths and hashtag installations.
Photography contests and painting competitions are being held to encourage young minds to capture the essence of the folk sport.
All this was to offer something unique to the crowd that stayed through the nights.
As the people may still be vary about closed space gatherings, open-air celebrations and fairs are seeing turnouts rarely witnessed in recent times.
For instance, temple fairs, festivals, yakshaganas, nemas and kolas (traditional spirit worship) are witnessing a turnout much higher than it would have in the recent decade.
The season has seen a higher turnout with the pandemic driving youngsters back to their hometowns for the last 11 months. This was an opportunity to bridge the gap between life and living by taking up jobs in tier two cities and at the same time, asserting the value these celebrations have in the lives of the people.
155 pairs of buffalo bulls participated in the Mangaluru Kambala this year. The adrenaline rush as the final pair ran to hit the manjutti proved that even after more than 25 hours of being on the site, neither the spectators nor the runners were any less enthusiastic.
"We started off with the intent to ensure our urban youth do not lose touch with our traditional folk sport that had gotten relegated to our rural pockets. But now we want to see it turning into a full-fledged celebration of coastal culture," says Mangaluru Kambala president Captain Brijesh Chowta.
'New Usain Bolt' cheered the crowd as Nishant Shetty, a chaser, clocked 11.49 seconds in the 125-metre track breaking Srinivas Gowda's record. Mapped to 100 metres, it turns out to be a record of 9.19 seconds. This is the record for this Kambala, and the second fastest of the season.
Gowda was hailed last Kambala season as the one who ran 'faster than Usain bolt' and even grabbed the attention of the Union Sports Minister, who extended the folk champion an opportunity to train for the national games.
This year, unfortunately, he had a fall in one of the earlier Kambala races and got badly bruised. But he ran this time too.
Also, the media attention triggered a renewed sense of interest in the sport.
This has led to voices seeking women’s participation in the sport, and an academy that trains Kambala chasers is now contemplating training women for the next season.
While women have been part of the care and upkeep of the bulls which have been looked after more like children than cattle, the new found attention is drawing women into areas they did not venture into so far.
A 11-year-old girl drew everyone's attention as she stood holding the bulls that are way taller than her. Daughter of Parameshwar Bhat, a farmer from Udupi, Chaitra, has been attending the race for the past few years and now wishes to run it herself.
The sight of her fielding for the jockeys and dutifully splashing water on the buffaloes as they reached the manjutti was reassuring — the ‘gen-next’ that has been initiated into dharma is taking the reins of a tradition voluntarily and with pride.
It takes much more than plain fanfare to hold celebrations like this. The care and upkeep of these indigenous male buffaloes which would else land up at a slaughter house is an expensive, time-consuming affair, and one that can only be driven by tradition.
A little boy Abhay who was watching it for the first time sat drawing a pair of buffaloes and when asked what brought him there, he said 'idu namma samskriti' (this is our culture).
Need more be said.
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