Kambala – The Buffalo festival

There is always a desire in me to reach the core areas of countries. Exploring particular places of the countries where the culture, the struggle, and the living is harsh, truthful and courageous.

As I was sitting in my balcony and sipping some evening chai, I was zooming in and out of the Google maps, and my eyes caught the ‘Maravanthe beach’ near Mangalore, a city in Karnataka. Searching on to the images, I came across ‘Kambala’. The excitement grew, as festivals like Diwali, Ganapati, are of a very common grandeur in the country; but going out there and feeling the rawness of festivities like these would be an experience in itself, was the thought. Making the best use of the long weekend of January 2018; I took the chance and booked my bus ticket to Mangalore. Waking up to the Maravanthe beach was a sight to the eyes and I knew the trip was going to be worth it.

I got down and went straight to have my first South Indian breakfast and it turned out to be an ultimate disaster! It is rather surprising to have such an insipid South Indian dish, wherein one can easily trust the roadside Dosa and Idli makers.

As I sat on the bench on the footpath, started searching for places that let out two-wheelers on rent. Was lucky to come across one, opposite the bus stand. Hired a Wego and off I was to my hotel on the banks of a river.

While I was absorbing the sunset while walking along the waves, of the Arabian Sea, ‘A perfect start to the Mangaluru trip, is now!’ I exclaimed. As I walked towards the end of the beach, the rocks encouraged me to get my camera out and photograph the serene beauty in long exposures. Observing the sunset and the water gushing in the rocks was a site to just keep looking at!

Change is good. Entertainment is a way to get that change in the mundane life of ours. Just like we have movies, parks, cafes, SPAs for recreational purposes our Indian farmers came up with more physically exhausting recreational practices, sports. Kambula, now known as Kambala is a sport in Karnataka which is actively participated in, by farmers from all over the country.

Kambala Devi

Kambala basically is a race that takes place between buffaloes tied together with the help of wooden slabs or ropes with their guide, and they run a race together. This race is traditionally held between December and March every weekend. Enthusiastically, done décor, muddy strips of 120 to 160 meters in length and 8 to 12 meters in width and these strips are ploughed and are made slushy with water by purpose. Nowadays the Pookere pattern of Kambala is sported.

Nervousness and curiosity are good. That is what I had for the whole time till I reached the place. I was witnessing such a sport live for the first time ever. It is a known sport here in down south. As enthusiastic I was, I was also expecting that I would be accompanied by a bunch of photographers.

An hour ride on my wego; I did take a few wrong turns which landed me on some parallel roads. But then, with the help of a few locals and surprised faces, I managed to reach a point which I had to reach. Google maps showed the same landmark. Finally reaching the Y-fork and the railway crossing, awaited for the local to pass. Reached the junction where I saw the posters of the event and was just joyous to make it till there. I was all set for the real reason I was here in Mangaluru, The KAMBALA!

As I parked the vehicle, the way people observed it, it clearly seemed to them that I was from a different part of the city. Glancing around I could see buffaloes, farmers and their keepers and my nose filled with the smell of the village.

Walking to the main area of the race, I asked along and met a local photographer of a newspaper. He guided me so that I could observe the overall eleventh-hour rush of the whole event. Walking past the thatched huts to the backyard of the houses of the small village; I was gladly welcomed with another dozen photographers. They all had these bazooka looking lenses in front of my 85mm lens.

The fellow photographers seemed helpful. They were all talking in their hometown language. I was lucky enough that I understand swalpa swalpa Kannada. A couple of them guided me to the overall set-up and were happy to help me out in shooting the photographs and also knowing about the festival in general.

Kambala, a festival that brings out the rural nature of the locals was an encounter. I wasn’t much surprised with the enthusiasm but was drawn to the amount of dedication, massiveness and loud crazy cheers every participant received from the onlookers. The locals were charged as if it was a life-death situation. As the race progressed to the finals, the levels increased, I started to see that the buffaloes which finished well and graduated towards the finals were stronger, more royal, shinier and healthier. A festival that lives on sheer breeding of the buffaloes, the healthier and swifter the buffalo couple the wealthier the participant gets. The race levels up the anticipation, the judges and anxiety within grows. There is a sense of tension that you can feel. The whole reason for coming here was to capture this. These buffaloes are taken well care of before starting with the race. They are also well-nourished and nurtured by their own farmers and their families. This festival has been a tradition and has been passed down responsibly from generation to generation.

Photographing the intense mood, observing and being there in that tense situation; looking at those galloping buffaloes at their best speed was an experience that was inexplicable. The heartbeats rush up. The chaos, the drum beats, the shouts of people of encouragement and witnessing the power and energy is all worth the travel. The expressions of every farmer were distinctive. They ran beside their buffaloes on that muddy strip was motivating and a lesson to learn however difficult times or perfect times one is in till the end you are at your own best and hard work pays.

The finishing line is the place where (Manjotti) all the excitement takes place. The rider lets lose the buffaloes as they reach dry ground. There is a possibility that the buffalos may run at the crowd. There are people who control and stop these buffaloes. But if you are in front of it, they may trample on you. Be aware and safe.

There are categories of Kambala but in Mangalore, the Kadri Kambala is which I photographed. I was happy to see the services which were offered from the safe point of view of the animals as well as the men behind them. There were ambulances, there were policemen, and there were food trucks. Even hygiene and sanitary arrangements were taken care of. Importantly shelters for all the buffaloes and food arrangements were done for them too. A responsible festival like this in rural areas is indeed an experience.

Mangalore is not only about the white pristine beaches but it also comes with sportsman spirit wherein one can learn, educate and entertain themselves by being a part of such festivals which have been in the Indian culture. The festival of Kambala is a joyful experience and especially in Mangalore besides the Manjunatha temple, Karnataka.

Experiencing more intense races, the need for relaxing and the want of going back to the beach for the sunset was growing. Stepped away from the racecourse, started off on the moped for my return journey. Visited another beach, suggested by the homestay person, in particular. Sat quietly, enjoyed the serenity of the beach as the Sun sank and the night glowed. Since, it was the last day, was in a mood to have an authentic dinner, amazingly cooked fish fry and a beer to go with it. I relaxed and came back to the hotel and slept off peacefully.

A heavy breakfast at one of the most authentic places for south Indian delicacy was the intent. I reached before time, returned the vehicle.

Back to the office on a Monday, a cup of Latte was the best option to get myself geared up for the routine.

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