Kambala, the Bull sport has raised many eyebrows in the past few days after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a petition under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

Without understanding the antiquity of this Sport as a tradition, one cannot draw conclusions and declare it to be a Sport that promotes Animal Cruelty.

Kambala is a traditional slush track buffalo race which is practised annually in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts.  It is a popular sport among the farming community of the State. It is a festival which starts from November and lasts till March. It is inherently related to the rural ethos of the farming community.  Kambala sees the participation of 130-140 pairs of buffaloes and a crowd of around 20,000 spectators. As per a report in The Times of India, more than 45 Kambalas are held annually. The winner of Kambala also receives an award ranging from gold to cash rewards.


Kambala was first mentioned by Alluparani Balamahadevi in 1281 in her Neelavari Inscription. It mentions on the bulls racing each other and winning the competition. (Source: Tuluvara Mulatana adi alde parampare mattu parivartane book).

Kambala started during the era of Hoysala Kings. The rulers wanted to test if Buffaloes could be trained for a war field. The Kings were flabbergasted when they observed the speed of the buffaloes. This led them to start a buffalo against each other. Initially this became a sport for royals; eventually it was passed on to feudal lords, finally ending with ordinary people continuing it a tradition. This festival is also dedicated to Lord Kadri Manjunatha. It was celebrated to please the Gods for having a good harvest. It also metamorphosed into a form of entertainment and recreational sport.

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A pragmatic analysis is intrinsic to understand the ground reality of the buffaloes being prone to cruelty or not. The buffaloes are treated with care before letting them on the slushy ground for race. The owners of these buffaloes hire separate personnel to look after by paying them on a monthly basis. The buffaloes are given taken to agricultural fields for practice during the dawn. They are given a thorough wash at the end of practice. They are provided with 14kg horse gram every day. They are anointed with coconut oil in their training sheds that is specially built for them. The buffaloes are decorated before the race and are considered to be special to the farming community. The buffaloes as well as farmers may suffer serious injuries during the race, but Kambala organisers generally have an ambulance as well as veterinary doctors to treat and provide a medical aid to the need.

“Kambala, needless to say, is the pride of our Tulunaadu and Karnataka. And during all these years, I haven’t seen a single incident where our buffaloes were harmed. They are nourished and cherished like we would our own children. We might skip a meal, but the buffaloes are treated to a meal of a king and this is no exaggeration. We cry when they fall sick and rejoice in their health. This is our pride. This is our culture.” says Rakshit Shetty, Film Actor in KFI, in one of his social media page.

This celebration was stalled in Karnataka when a ban was ordered against Jallikattu. An interim order was passed by High Court on 15 December 2014 to ban Kambala. The Animal Husbandry Department revoked the order on 17 December 2015 with imposing certain conditions. The High Court had said that “There was no scientific report to assess whether Kambala amounts to cruelty as per the provision of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act.”

However, on November 22, 2016, PETA filed a petition against Kambala. The High Court’s Division Bench headed by Chief Justice S.K.Mukherjee brought a stay on the celebrations of Kambala. The stay was sought on the violations of SC directions in the Jallikattu case. The HC has ordered that till the disposal of PIL by PETA is concluded, Kambala races cannot be held.

No doubt, there are flaws in Kambala, but placing a blanket ban on a traditional sport which has been imbibed in us is not a solution to these shortcomings. Instead, the court can place certain rules and regulations on the race. This will retain the culture as well as our folklore sport. One can be dubious of supporting Kambala, hence a detailed and realistic view will answer the predicament.



          –   N M Varchaswini 

Author is pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel College in collaboration with Takshashila Institution whose interests are Sketching, Writing and Reading books.



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