What is Kamabla
A popular sport of a buffalo race in Tulu naadu region of south India conducted during summer season. A pair of buffalos are made to run in a muddy water field and a winner will be chosen . On as average 100-130 pairs of buffaloes and 20000 spectators participate each Kambala. There are 45 known kamablas presently held between the month of November to March out of which 15 are conducted under Kambala association ( Kambala samithi) on each weekends.
There are multiple opinions on the origin of Kambala. Some claim it was started by kings and some say farmers started Kambala . The history of Kambala goes to 1000 years ago to the age of kings. The traditional Kambala started as a part of celebrations and entertainment after a heavy farming work after the end of rainy season. Over the years it flourished in to a big sport or kings , landowners of Tulu naadu ( Tulu region) and it became part of the society. Traditional kamabla is still in observance in some part of south Kanara.
Another popular form of Kamabla also born which was more like a sport, a race between two pairs of buffalo which is current form of Kambala. Many kings and rich landlords organized these races and the final winner will receive a big amount of money. And today this form of Kambala is a big event in south Kanara and for many it is a matter of pride, prestige , glory and money. For spectators this is pure entertainment and relaxation after a hardworking farming days are over during the year before sowing the second round of crops.
Early days one track( kare, ಕರೆ) is used for the race but from past 50 years double track ( ಜೋಡು ಕರೆ ) is in use for the races. But single track is also in use for traditional Kambala in some regions for conducting time based races and training .
A runner will make a pair of Buffaloes run on a track of muddy water. The runner will be driving those buffaloes all along the race. The time is recorded or he gets another competitor on the other track to decide who is best .
Kambala has got different categories as every other sport in the world.
- Negilu( ನೇಗಿಲು : Plough) category: The runner will hold the plough ( it is not actual plough which is heavy and bulky, it is just a representation of which is tied to pair of buffalo. This type is mostly for the Junior buffaloes or entry level buffaloes. But there is again a junior , senior rounds in this race.
- Hagga ( ಹಗ್ಗ: rope) category : A rope is directly tied to the buffalo pair. And this is for Senior buffaloes as the speed is more here and the participating buffaloes are well experienced. This also has a Junior, senior levels.
- Adda halage( ಅಡ್ಡ ಹಲಗೆ: cross wooden block ) category : A cross wooden plank is tied to the pair and the runner stands on it while racing. This is just for the senior category.
- Kane halage (ಕಣೆ ಹಲಗೆ: round wooden block) : A round wooden block where the runner stands on it on his single leg. There will be two holes in the block out of which the water forces out while running. The height of the water forcing out is measured to choose the winner. The more the speed is more the water height is. And this is only for senior most category.
These are water buffaloes widely used for domestic purposes and they are farmer’s true friends in south Karnataka. They are even worshipped and are part of farmer’s family. Racing buffaloes are male and like warriors, specially trained.
The training of buffaloes.
To train the racing buffaloes, owners build a track near their home and make them run daily . The owners feed them with most nutritious foods. During races they even get fruits like apples , oranges . They get special massages , some body treatments as well. Before the race owners are allowed to train on the actual racing track on which they are going to compete.
These are also specially trained people and one can easily spot them in the crowd. They are handsome, nicely shaped and very athletic . As one can guess they are like a sport persons. The owners hire them for the year and ask them to run all of their pairs of buffaloes. One runner might get multiple deals from different owners depending on his popularity. A good runner paid heavily and if he wins the bonus is also paid. Currently the deal goes 2 lakhs ( $4500) per year for a reputed runner to participate in all of the kambalas.
A good paddy field with lots ware availability nearby is considered as ideal for Kambala track. There should be enough space for spectators, shops , race officials to sit, hotels around the track. Easy access to the location is also considered for deciding the track location. Some places the tracks are maintained by landlords over the generations.
There is no fixed rule for size of the track but it also depends on the availability of the space on the locality .Normally it is between 120 meters to 145 meters long and 8-12 meters wide. There is a thick layer of mud and then water on it. The thumb rule is water is filled in the track so that it completely contains the mud( close to 1ft) . The tracks are called by name so it is easy for communication. In the middle of the track there are two strips of white cloth tied across the track which are used as height measurements for Kane halage ( round wooden block) races. One gauge is at 9.375 meters ( called 7 1/2 kolu :ಕೋಲು ) which is the highest and the other one is at 8.125 meters ( called 6 1/2 kolu :ಕೋಲು) .
Kamabla is conducted in several parts of two districts Udupi and Mangalore from November to March. It is conducted always on a weekend so that it is possible for every participant to attend all the Kambalas .
The race starts usually Saturday morning and goes on all night and finishes Sunday afternoon. The final winners will be rewarded by the officials during the Kambala closing ceremony conducted in Sunday afternoon. It is watched by, on an average 20,000 spectators in a day. It is a hit among the tourists and lot of people from different part of city , country travel to see this race.
There is a Kambala association for the two districts( Udupi and Dakshina Kannada) and there is written rules and regulations for conducting Kambala events. Each year before the season starts the members meet and decide the 15 Kambala dates . There are associations for each major Kambala locations which manage these events .
And the race begins
The Buffaloes are brought to Kambala place on a vehicle along with 5-6 people who maintain them and help in the ” launch” of the buffaloes.
All the teams will tent around the track. The buffaloes are worshipped first and tied together by expert before the race begins. ( Maintaining a right amount of gap between them is very important. Small gap results in accidents or falling down and a big gap makes buffaloes go out of control)
When the event begins the buffaloes were brought in by walking down the track with the accompaniment of drum beats (dolanalike) .
First round starts by eliminating the slowest pairs. This is done by time counting method. The competing team gets ready , with runner holding the plough or the rope and other members making the buffaloes stand near the start line. With everything in correct position runner start petting the beasts with a nicely decorated cane initiating the “launch” .Time is calculated to reach the finish line in case of single race. But if it is race between two pairs it takes longer, sometimes 15-20 minutes to make both buffalo pairs stand near the start line as they have to be launched simultaneously.
Races are conducted in different categories and the losers are eliminated. The race goes all the night and two pairs are finally chosen for the grand finale. Grand finale is attended by local stars, politicians, heads of famous house holds and a huge number of spectators. A big trophy and a crash prize is given during the closing ceremony.
The last category kane halage is bit different where every participant will be rewarded whose spilling water touches the measurement cloths.
Once the race is over the buffaloes get a nice fresh water wash and a good rest before the next race if they are not yet eliminated!
The speed and the power of those big animals are just treat to your eyes. The spilling colored water, the big black beasts , the runner and the screaming crowd takes you to a different world. One might be surprised to see such a harmless, slow and water loving animal can show tremendous amount of power and speed.
One can easily guess the cost involved in , right from training buffaloes , hiring runner , transporting to different locations, food and lunch for the buffaloes and the people is more than the prize if they win. And of course there very few winners. So there is no business case in this.
Kambala is an event full of happenings , for some it is life, for some it is pride, glory passion and prestige . Some treat this as their war of life .For some it is loosing money, loosing life but for some it is like hitting jackpot. Some earn money but some loose. Many families gather and unite at Kambala but some break because of Kambala. Many make friends and some make foes too. Friends turn enemies and enemies turn friends. Kamabla is pure culture and tradition for south kanara.
Photographically speaking check this another post of mine. I have made this as a different post just to keep this post as small as possible.
And here I thank..
Sham and Sharath who accompanied me while photographing , I thank Naveen Ambuli the announcer of the Moodbidri kambala who helped me in writing this giving every info I need, I thank Moodbidri Kambala samithi, I thank MLA Abhaychandra Jain of Moodbidri who offered their kind hospitality, finally I thank my dearest uncle Gajanana Upadhyaya who helped me to experience this event .
All these photos are from Moodbidri Kambala happened in 22nd Jan 2011. I will post the timetable for next year once it is announced.I will also post which Kambala I am going to visit next year and anybody is most welcome in my team!
All are shot with Canon 1000d and 18-55 non IS lens, 55-250 IS lens .
I am still building this, whoever thinks any info is wrong or need to be modified please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write in the comments section. I am also participating in next year’s Kambala and capture some more photos and gather some more information which help me to complete this article.
All images and writings are copyright © Dinesh Hegde. All Rights Reserved. Copying, saving, downloading, altering, displaying or redistribution of any of these images or article without written permission from the artist is strictly prohibited