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Kambala- The Buffalo Race of Karnataka

Kambala is an annual traditional buffalo race that is held in Karnataka, India. It is held in order to please Gods for a good harvest and attracts thousands of spectators.

Surbhi Khera
Last updated: 18.08.2019
Kambala-The Buffalo Race of Karnataka | Sports Social Blog

Indian traditions are unique and interesting in it, and many of them have adventurous aspect as well. One such tradition is an annual buffalo race that is held in Karnataka, a southwestern Indian state. It is known as Kambala and is a tradition of the farming community in districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. It is a tradition that has existed in the region for more than 1000 years. It is held in the months from November to March.




It is a simple traditional sport which is generally played in rural areas. Earlier, it was known as Karaga celebrations and much later it was named Kambala celebrations. There are different sources that claim different stories about the origin of the sport. It is believed to be dedicated to Lord Kadri Manjunatha, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. The significance of the celebrations is the beginning of the harvesting season and to please Gods for a good harvest. It is a tradition as well as a sports activity.

On the other side, it is also believed that it was originally played for the amusement of a royal family and is the sport of the royal family. The Hoysala Kings wished to see the capabilities of buffaloes in order to confirm that they could be trained and used in wars or not. And later it was used by feudal lords and then finally it turned as a tradition and sport of the ordinary people.


About the game


It is a two-day event of buffalo races. First, there is an inaugural ceremony which is followed by the parade of the farmers along with their buffaloes who are participating in the race. And then the most adventurous aspect of the event starts that is the buffalo race.

The game is a simple one and the main idea is that a farmer participates with his two buffaloes and this forms one team. The farmer is required to control the buffaloes and two teams are made to race on 2 slushy and muddy tracks which are parallel to each other and are 120 to 160 meters in length whereas about 8 to 12 meters in width, the one who clears it first in shortest time period emerges as the winner. The farmer, as well as buffaloes, is awarded. Earlier, the winning pair of buffaloes was rewarded with coconuts and bananas but today the winning owners earn gold and silver coins. But the farmers, as well as buffaloes, may suffer from injuries including fractures and thus doctors and veterinary doctors are ready at the site for providing medical aid.  

The tracks are prepared into muddy fields and water is made to make it slushy. In the span of time, there has been a lot of changes made to the game as earlier only one track was used for the race but now two tracks are used, whereas there were two types of Kambalas named as Pookere Kambala and Bale Kambala but now only Pookere Kambala is what one can see today as Bale Kambala was discontinued about 900 years ago.

There are various categories of Kambala Festival such as:

  • Negilu- In this category of Kambala, the farmer holds a plough that is tied to the pair of buffaloes and this is often considered as the category for the entry-level buffaloes, which have no experience of the race. The plough that is used is a light wooden replica.

  • Hagga- This is different from Nigelu category of Kambala as the buffaloes participating in this category has prior experience and is tied to a rope directly rather than a plough.

  • Adda Halage- One of the most difficult category of Kambala, a wooden plank is tied to the buffaloes and the farmer is supposed to stand on this wooden plank. This is mainly for the senior buffaloes with a great prior experience.

  • Kene Halage- The complications for the participants increases in this category of Kambala, buffaloes are expected to race a round-shaped wooden block and farmer stands on the wooden block but on a single leg. There are two holes in the wooden block through which water gushes out and the height of water gushing out through the holes is the criteria through which the winner is decided. The speed of the participant and height of water goes hand in hand as more the speed; more will be the height of the water. Due to the complexity of this category, only the most experienced farmers and buffaloes are allowed to participate.

Adda Halage and Kene Halage are soon disappearing as very few participants participate in this race.

Present-Day Situation

Kambala attracts large rural crowds, who often bet on the buffaloes. Around 20,000 spectators are expected in a well-organized Kambala event. People cheer for the buffaloes, and this depicts the enthusiasm of the onlookers. Every year Kambala is held in various places such as Bajagoli, Baradi Beedu, Bolantur, Kolatta, Puttur etc.

Nowadays, the sport is turned into a big festival and attracts tourism. The buffaloes are professionally trained throughout the year and one can expect around 120 to 140 pairs of buffaloes participating.  But the traditional sport has attracted controversy as well due to the concern for animals. An order was passed by Supreme Court which was meant to ban violent games such as Jallikattu, a bull-taming sport which is played in Tamil Nadu but the order was misinterpreted for Kambala and thus the game was at a halt.

The tradition must not vanish but none should be harmed is what people should keep in mind which will ultimately boost the enjoyment level. Kambala is a joyful event and one must experience it.

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