And they ran! Kambala.

Kambala is a traditional rural buffalo race held in a slushy mud field. Buffalo owners from all over undivided South Canara participate with their well groomed and fed buffaloes, specially looked after the entire year for just this season. This year I took time out to attend one such Kambala held near my village in Mulki on Christmas Day.

[The previous post was regarding the protest march that took place in Mangalore against the Honorable SC order. You can read about it here. Well, things began to look hopeful after that, with lots of petitions etc., and finally the ban was revoked. However certain riders were released so as to ensure the buffaloes are not subjected to cruelty, and I did observe ample care and steps taken to follow the same.]

Mulki Seeme Arasu Kambala (Arasa = King) has been held since a very long time (no one exactly knows when; the history spans hundreds of years according to an old man there), in a field just off the highway, NH-17. I reach quite early. The atmosphere is infectiously festive. People are just arriving with their buffaloes, who look quite handsome. There are various headgears which they wear, along with Kumkum smeared on their foreheads.

As I approach the actual venue, people around are setting up tents for the event that runs till early morning next day, people have already begun cooking for the day. Lots of stalls are being set up. When Dad was a kid, he says most stalls sold mithai (= sugar sweets). Now you can have the ubiquitous Gobi Manchurian, that too Mysore style or Bombay style!

People arrive with their buffaloes

Tents are set up
They happily pose when asked to, with their prized possessions!

The tracks look neat and fresh. There are children meandering about. I spot two photo enthusiasts who've come down all the way from Chennai just for a few shots of the race, and we get talking. Who knows, if it is banned permanently, we'll never get to witness it, they say. I see a small group of people approach with one pair of buffaloes. 

These are the ones that have the privilege of inaugurating the track, and belong to the neighboring village of Bappanadu. Then there are a few crackers burst with the sounds of approaching drums, announcing the arrival of the dignitaries. This year in addition to the usual organisers, there are also lots of policemen and animal rights activists around. And there is a general feeling of hostility towards them. I realise I too have been mistaken to be one! 

He almost fell..
Tracks all set
The first pair from Bappanadu

The first symbolic run is held amidst loud drum beats. For some reason I feel very excited. Having lived all my life in Mangalore, I feel slightly ashamed even to admit to myself, that I have never been to Kambala before. Once the run is over, it is time for the formal inauguration by lighting the lamp. 

With the formalities done, it is time to get rolling. Initial trial runs are held. People begin lining up on one side with their buffaloes. I notice various teams have different colors, and even logos. 

The organisers
Liked this logo


Those abs!
The area where the track ends (called Manjoti) is raised, which helps check the speed of the running buffaloes. I find myself a good seat with a very good view among almost a hundred people there. I initially feel a little sceptical and slightly insecure amongst so many people, but all such thoughts are dismissed when I begin talking to them, in my broken Tulu. An elderly gentleman, who also turns out to be from my village, tells me the winner gets one sovereign of gold and cash. And then he says it isn't about winning, the mere participation is a matter of pride. There is a veteran who's been running since forty years!

When a team runs, the respective members stand on this end to cheer them on. Also they stand guard lest the buffaloes get out of control and attack the crowd. It would be quite scary if they did! As soon as they arrive, they are held tight, with cries of "unthumbe". Water is splashed, on both the buffaloes and the keeper (locals actually address him as the Jockey!).
Loved the reflection

Once the trials are over it is time for the race. And it is great fun to see pairs of buffaloes rush through the fields midst loud cheers. 

Some rounds have clear winners
Close finish

People around watch the event with rapt attention. And I manage to get a few more nice pictures.

Ah! The slush

The area around the venue is also picturesque, with streams, coconut plantations and fields, on either sides of narrow winding roads.

We could not stay till the floodlit races started owing to other commitments. I'm so glad I attended this traditional event, and I look forward for more!


  1. I think I did not experience the essence of Mangalore in my stay there. Miss Mangalore ;the three best years of my life....will definitely make time to come to experience Mangalore and its beautiful surroundings. Beautiful write up and amazing pictures ( what's with the Abs? :) puts SRK's Abs to shame :) )

  2. The pics are awesome and somewhat scary too !! But anyways a very refreshing share :)

    1. Thank you for going through Sweta. Yes, shooting is sometimes a little scary as the fear of the buffaloes running straight into you is always there at the back of the mind!


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