Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kambala at Jappina Mogaru, Mangalore

Traditions - The passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation, especially by oral communication. We Indians are no stranger to them. In fact, everything we do is bound to traditions in some obscure way or the other. Even our daily chores are one way or the other related to some tradition. And then there's the kind of tradition that is specific to a region or a culture or mythological significance. Over time these traditions or public spectacles either fizzle out and get relegated to obscure pages of history or emerge to become gala events owing to commercial viability. Then there are a few that stand the test of times for its pure entertainment factor.

Kambalas' held in the coastal regions of Mangalore a.k.a Tulu Nadu walk a tight rope between tradition and entertainment. It is still one of Karnataka's best kept secrets compared to its more illustrious cousins - Bull Taming at Jallikattu and Bull Race at Ongole. Kambala has the simplest rules. Each team has 3 team members - a pair of bulls and a six-pack yielding Indianized Usain Bolt. And the simple rule is to get from point A to point B with all team members in tow till the finishing line. It's always a race between two teams. The last standing pair is the winner.

There are many Kambalas held across the coastal region starting from November and extending until March. Different regions have their own significance and history and celebrations surrounding the event. We chose to attend Jappina Mogaru (in Mangalore) for no apparent reason other than just sheer convenient timing. Our reliable sources suggested that we visit Jappina Mogaru the day before the main event, for this day provides the perfect photo op of the raging bulls practicing before the Grand Finale. As it turns out, it was indeed a good decision. The number of people attending the event was comparatively fewer, which provided us with front row seats to freeze the action into pixels.

Much like F1 racing, it all begins with the "team" walking the length of the track to get a feel of the slush course. This is followed by a dry run without much fanfare. Once all the teams get a first hand account of the track they comeback for a second try. Some even come for a third run and on this occasion, mostly alongside a competitor to size-up their opponents. But even through all these test runs you can feel the excitement building among the local spectators who have already turned up in decent numbers. Right on cue from the commentator, scores of heads crane out to catch the action. Heart beat rises when the team makes their way past them and then the crescendo drops when the racer lets go of the now-uncontrollable bulls at the finish line. And immediately there's a murmur of approving or disapproving syllables.
Walking away from the races there's plenty of other attractions for the wandering soul. The Kambala serves as a small village fair. You will find many stalls serving farm-fresh Watermelons, Pineapples and assorted fruit bowls. There are also the typical try-your-luck games and Ice-gola vendors. Incidentally the race track sits on the banks of the picturesque Netravathi River overlooking the famous Bridge.

I also wandered towards where all the action begins. The start point of the race. And here is where my perspective of the race started changing. Earlier in day, when I watched the Bulls dash to the finish line with the racer in tow, it looked clear that there needed to be perfect harmony between the human and the creatures, much like a horse and the jockey. Unless there's a perfect understanding between the two, the chances of them winning were slim. All that changed when I saw the animals getting whipped for no apparent reason than get them enraged and ready to charge down the track. The excessive whipping can melt the hearts of the weak but not the men who control them. Agreed the bulls have a thick skin, but you cannot overlook the sight of them wincing in pain after every whipping. Then there were those creatures that were unable to stand on their feet and kept falling at the start line. We did see instances of these bulls being prohibited from sitting down in the tents, just so that they won’t slack off in the race.

And that was the cue for me to leave the place. I could not take it any longer. I feel for these animals, and just hope that this tradition continues without so much as getting the bad treatment for these poor creatures. Overall, it was a great experience to be part of a great traditional event.

Getting-there: Mangalore has a good network of private buses. As for directions from the locals (and bus drivers and conductors) for Jappina Mogaru and they will be more than happy to help. Real warm and helpful people.

Must-Do: If you a photography enthusiast be there the day before the event and get a good spot to capture all the action.
Must-Don't: Avoid getting into trouble with the authorities (inside joke :) ) and getting in the way of the Raging Bulls.

My Rating: 7/10


  1. It really sums up the wonderful gala event of Kambala..nicely picturrised, narrated in your explicit style..

    Nice photos, nice narration makes this event even more demanding..

    Way to go buddy!!!

  2. Marvelous…..