After Jallikattu, people demand lifting ban on Kambala?

Rati Hegde

In the din surrounding the Jallikattu ban and its subsequent support, people have almost forgotten about another ban on similar lines in the state of Karnataka. ‘KAMBALA’, a sport involving male buffaloes and their owners had also been banned by the High Court.

Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Subhro Kamal Mukherjee and Justice Budihal R B passed an interim order banning all Kambala races in the state until the disposal of PIL filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), India. PETA had challenged the regulations through its PIL – in view of orders given by the SC in the Jallikattu and bull race case in January 2016. Dr Manilal Valliyate, PETA India director of veterinary affairs, had said then,

“There is absolutely no room in today’s civilised society for races that involve forcing already overworked bulls to run out of fear and the threat of physical abuse.” Though the order did not mention Kambala, due to a misinterpretation of the order by the animal husbandry department, the ban was linked to Kambala as well. The district administration in Karnataka was issued directive from the animal husbandry department to ban Kambala. This order was met with much resentment by the organisers, the participants and the spectators of the popular festival of South Coastal Karnataka.


Kambala is an annual Buffalo Race (he-buffalo) held traditionally under the auspices local land lords and households (Aramane, Beedu, Guthu/Mane, Dodmane) or Patels of villages in coastal South Karnataka. The Kambala season generally starts in November and lasts until March. When the ban order was passed, more than 45 he-buffalo races were held annually in Coastal Karnataka.

The origin of the Kambala celebration can be traced back to more than a thousand years. During the early days of the festival it was known as Karaga celebrations and later it came to be known as ‘Kambala’. According to one belief, Kambala is a festival is dedicated to Lord Kadri Manjunatha, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, in the Kadri region of Karnataka. It originated in the farming community of Karnataka and was celebrated to please the Gods for a good harvest. People also believed that it would prevent diseases in their buffaloes. It was also a form of entertainment or recreational sport for the farming community. Originally, the winner of the buffalo race was rewarded with a coconut and shawl.  Kadri Kambala is also known as Devara (God) Kambala. Another legend says that the festival was started by the Hoysala Kings to see if the buffaloes could be trained and used in war. They were astonished to see the speed of the buffaloes and started racing them against one another. It is also known as Arasu (King) Kambala. Later the tradition was carried on by the feudal lords of Mangalore region and finally it was continued by the ordinary people. It is said that in the ancient times, the buffaloes participating in the Kambala festival were paraded in a procession that was accompanied by drum dancers.


The ‘track’ used for Kambala is a paddy field filled with slush and mud. Pairs of male buffaloes are raced. In the traditional form of Kambala, racing was non-competitive and the control of the rider would also be judged. An interesting way to judge the rider would be to see how high the water rose in the water filled tracks, when the buffaloes raced. Kambala in recent years was an organised rural sport, with elaborate planning and timetable for Kambala at different places. The winners would get cash awards and sometimes get gold and silver too. Traditionally they used to only get coconuts, plantains and shawls as a form of respect.


Animals Are Not Ours To Eat, Wear, Experiment On, Use For Entertainment, Or Abuse In Any Other Way.” – This is the motto of PETA India & as per this, they have long campaigned against the use of bulls in performances. After hearing arguments of the Animal Welfare Board of India and PETA India, the SC acknowledged that bulls are not anatomically suited for races or similar activities. Making them participate subjects them to unnecessary pain and suffering, so such events were prohibited. The court also stated that when culture and tradition are at variance with the law enacted by Parliament and the law would take precedence.

But the SC did not note that the buffaloes developed for the Kambala race are carefully fed and well looked after. In fact some owners of the buffaloes have even built separate swimming pool for competing buffaloes. The age-old tradition of buffalo races in Karnataka is now seeing some support from the people of Karnataka who want to take a leaf out of book of the Tamil Nadu protesters & want to revive the Kambala in Coastal Karnataka.



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