India, known for its diverse religious and cultural traditions, celebrates many festivals and rituals – many known and yet some remotely known. Ugadi, Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi, Diwali, Christmas or Eid is celebrated across the length and breadth of the country; some traditional festivals and rituals remained little known until travel and photography hit it big on social media and networking. Festivals and fairs attracted a large number of travel and photography enthusiasts to remote corners of the country, even until a couple of months ago when one wasn’t aware of the pandemic called Corona!
It was at the beginning of this year 2020, that I made it to one such event which has gained a lot of popularity in the past few years for the large number of photo-ops it provides. “Koti-Channaya Jodu Kare Kambala” was organised in Puttur taluk, on 18th & 19th January 2020.
Kambala – Call it a tradition, cultural event or a sport – is followed by the agricultural & farming community of Tulunadu – Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts in Karnataka, India. Traditionally held in the paddy fields in the heart of villages decades ago, today it is held in places/tracks specially made for this event. Where it is believed that this ritual was organised to please the god to bless them with a good harvest, another popular belief also happens to be that the Hoysala kings organised these races, impressed with the speed of these raging buffaloes. Today the events are sponsored by corporate as well as political groups apart from the well-placed landlords in that particular region. Monetary as well as rewards in the form of gold and silver coins attract quite a large number of teams to participate in this annual race.
Puttur Kambala was held in the ground closer to the famous Sri Mahalingeshwara temple. A day and night floodlight event this, had an impressive number of teams participating and thousands of spectators thronging to the venue to witness and cheer their favourite team. The preliminary rounds in various categories were held starting noon and semi-finals running all night with the finals held late noon the next day.
A pair of buffalo and it’s master is essentially all that one sees and focuses initially if one happens to be witnessing an event of this type and scale. But spend time even before the beginning of the event and observe some behind the scene activities, in this context the race itself, to understand the efforts involved in what is called the actual Kambala race where we see the beasts galloping being managed vigorously by its master. These race beasts are cared for throughout the year and reared royally. These bulls are never put in the fields for agricultural activities. They are transported with utmost care to the venue, given a good bath, fed well and massaged and kept in the best of their health as the entire event depends on their well-being. This requires steady support from the caretakers who happen to be the backbone of the racing teams.
The buffalo pairs participate in various categories in this Kambala event. The 4 categories usually organised are negilu – wherein the specially made plough is tied to the buffaloes and the farmer runs along, hagga – the farmer runs with the sturdy buffaloes managed by the ropes, Kane halage – where the farmer manages the racing bulls standing on the secured rounded wooden block and the fourth category being adda halage – with the horizontal wooden plank fastened to the bulls, the farmer stands on it and steers them.
The adrenaline rush and the thrilling moments that one witnesses while watching the storming bulls is an experience in itself. After a much long wait, the buffaloes are manoeuvred into the tracks and the race begins amidst loud cheering. The great wait for the sight of racing buffaloes managed with supreme confidence by its master nor the head-on encounter with the barging giants with uncontrolled speed while making images is not at all for the faint-hearted. Entirely dominated by the men inside the arena, the caretakers, the master managing the bulls, the event managers, the scene could be intimidating if one happens to be the only female photographer jostling among the gathering. Not much respite outside the arena too, since the huge crowd majorly is made of men but with limited presence of the female population. Still, I consider the experience was very different from the usual travels I pursue for my blogs.
The action-packed day and night saw many a pair of colourfully decorated buffaloes taking to the slushy tracks with their master steering them to reach their top speed. The sight of water splashing from the tracks as the raging hefty buffaloes make their way from one end of the track to the other within a few seconds leaves the onlookers sometimes gasping for breath and other times cheering their favourite participant, at the top of their voice.
The race tracks are short but the speed with which the master steers the bulls to the finishing line is unbelievably fast. The bulls are taken head-on to gain control, by the fellow teammates waiting at the finish line. The speed is put into check by the artificial incline made at the finishing line where the teammates waiting with buckets of cold water to cool the incoming beast and the master. A good splash of buckets of water and pairs of hands actively holding on to the ropes around the buffalo brings some control within a few minutes.
The constant commentary over the mic by the sport expert, in the local language Tulu, added up to electrifying atmosphere at the venue. The photographers from various places all over the arena among the team participants and the huge crowd happened to be in the best place to make some memorable images even as they witnessed some thrilling moments trying to take some head-on shots of the flying hooves and a pair of feet!
- Kambala is generally held between November and March
- The timetable and information is available online a couple of months before the event. I recommend you check https://drkrishi.com/about_me/ for the Kambala updates.
- The event generally one-day event beginning in the morning but as I observed during my visit to Puttur, the event may be scheduled for evenings and could very well be a floodlight event and can go through the next whole day.
- No entry tickets are required as the events are held in public places.
- Comfortable clothing and a pair of sneakers should pull you through the day and night on your feet.
- Mostly one can find a decent hotel and stay accommodations closer to the venues
- Enjoy the coastal cuisine and the local dishes while you are in this region
As I complete this blog, I would like to thank my friend Mamatha and her hubby Rajeev, who took great interest and helped me with the event dates, my stay arrangements and suggestions of places of interest in and around Puttur. A trip and experience worth writing about. 🙂
About Puttur: It is a small town in Dakshina Kannada district, Karnataka. Puttur at a distance of about 315 kilometres from Bangalore, is well connected by road. One can drive or take public transport to reach the place easily. The nearest airport is at Mangalore. While driving from Bangalore to Puttur via Sakleshpur, a visit to Manjarabad fort could be interesting.
While in Puttur, visit Sri Mahalingeshwara Temple, visit Balavana, the residence of polymath and Jnanapith award winner the late Shri. K. Shivaram Karanth. Now open as a museum to the general public, gives an insight into the humble lifestyle of the gentleman. A short visit to the decades-old Campco Chocolate factory might be fun.