My home town Moodabidri hosted its 10th annual buffalo race also called Kambala at Kadalakere Nisargadhama on Saturday January 21. The Kambala or the buffalo race is unique to Udupi & Mangalore districts.
Historically Kambala was the event when farmers paid tribute to their gods for protecting their crops. There used to be lot of celebration and games as part of this festive atmosphere. Some say Kambala also marked the beginning of sowing operations for the second round of crops. Traditionally, there were two types of Kambalas, Pookere Kambala and Bale Kambala. Pookere Kambala is the only variety which survives now.
Kambala is traditionally a simple sport. The Kambala track used for muddy field filled with slush. The contest generally takes place between two pairs of buffaloes, controlled by a racer.
Kambala today has become an organized, professional sports. People place massive amounts of bets on the winning buffaloes and one can witness more than 20,000 spectators in a well organized Kambala, egging and cheering the buffaloes to complete the race. As of now, more than 45 races are held annually in Coastal Karnataka. Nearly 18 Kambalas are held under the banner of Kambala Samithi and the rest are held under the auspices of temples, political patronage and aristocratic Bunt households. Kambala still remains a hugely popular sport in Coastal Karnataka.
Being the 10th year this large rain water fed track was to witness record number of 200 pairs of Water Buffaloes. On that Saturday huge crowd had gathered to witness this folk sports. I was able to reach the venue only in the late evening and for 2 hours I took the pictures you see here. Nearing Sunset is best time in my opinion for shooting Kambala. Later most of the light will be from the overhead halogen lamps which light up the whole Kambala venue.
I used my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM fitted to Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. This one lens & body combo is so perfectly matched for the low light situation and fast action sports. All the photos here are taken at f/2.8, shutter speed at 1/500th of second. ISO was kept on Auto and varied with light condition.
Kambala races take place in several different categories.
- Negilu: 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 : 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 : 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: 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.
Kene Halage and Adda Halage are 2 forms of the race which has very few contestants participating and is a vanishing from most Kambala races. Fortunately on this race we had 5-6 participants from both category. All the extreme water splashed photos you see here are from that category of race.
There is no fixed rule for size of the track which mostly 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 about a feet deep mud. 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 races. One gauge is at 9.375 meters which is the highest and the other one is at 8.125 meters. This year 8.125 meter mark was breached after a long time, You can see this in the last but one photo here.
Kambala 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 most spectators as well as participants 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. My good friend dynamic realist artist Abbey Walmsley from England was there for this Kambala to photograph along with her friend Stefen. You can see her taking photograph in this photo crouching near the edge of Kambala Track.
It is not always all that fun to take photographs of Kambala. If you are careful you may be gored or trampled by charging Buffaloes. I was able to catch one such situation where excited pair photographers met charging pair of Buffaloes near the finishing track. Trying to get that head on shot you might be risking your life. Then you have a risk of mud bath with splashing dirt soaking both you and your camera gear. My advice is better to be safe than sorry.