Every year, starting from November till March, the coastal Districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi in Karnataka, and Kasargod in Kerala share a common celebration called Kambala.
Kambala is a festival dedicated to an incarnation of the Hindu God Shiva – Lord Kadri Manjunatha. Every year, after the harvest, the festival takes place where they offer thanks to God for a year of a good harvest. And also since buffaloes are a big part of farming life, they conduct these races as a gesture of thankfulness and gratitude towards God for the good health of the buffaloes.
The race is held on two parallel tracks filled with mud and water. Each pair of buffaloes will also have a jockey, or ‘Kambala runner’ to control and command the animals on the track. The team that wins qualifies for higher rounds till a champion emerges.
Apart from winning the race, targets also include splashing water; in fact, some winners are even declared on the amount of water splashed; this is called ‘kolu’.
Winning a Kambala race is seen as a big prize and the buffaloes that participated in the race are given special treatment throughout the year.
The training process of buffaloes
To train the racing buffaloes, owners build a track near their homes and make them run daily. The owners feed them with the most nutritious foods. During races, they even get fruits like apples and oranges. They get special massages, and 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.
Preparations of Runner
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 sports person. 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.
Are the animals hurt in the race?
With complaints of reported animal cruelty during the Kambala race, organisers have now come up with an innovative ‘foam stick’, which they claim will “spur and motivate” buffaloes to run faster, but it won’t inflict any injury on the animals. The District Kambala Samithi, comprising Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Kasargod Districts, have decided to experiment with foam sticks.