Kambala is an annual buffalo race held in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka. Traditionally, it is sponsored by local Tuluva landlords and households in the coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi of Karnataka and Kasaragod of Kerala, a region collectively known as Tulu Nadu.
The Kambala season generally starts in November and lasts until March. The Kambalas are organized through Kambala samithis (Kambala Associations), of which there are currently 18. Over 45 races are held annually in coastal Karnataka, including smaller remote villages such as Vandaru and Gulvadi.
Kambla as derived from ‘kampa-kala ‘ the word ‘Kampa’ is related slushy, muddy field. The Dravidian origin of the word Kampa by is kan+pa. And word ‘kala’ means field, where it happens. In other interpretations of modern Kambala is that ‘Kamba’, nishane a pole used for water spurt during race by buffalo pairs.
Kambala is traditionally a simple sport which entertains rural people of the area. The Kambala racetrack is a slushy paddy field, and the buffaloes are driven by a whip-lashing farmer.
Traditional Kambala was non-competitive, and the pair was run one by one. In modern Kambala, the contest generally takes place between two pairs of buffaloes. In villages such as Vandaro and Choradi, there is also a ritualistic aspect, as farmers race their buffaloes to give thanks for protecting them from diseases.
Historically, the winning pair of buffaloes was rewarded with coconuts and bananas. Today, winning owners earn gold and silver coins. Some organising committees award an eight-gram gold coin as first prize. In some competitions, cash prizes are awarded.
The buffaloes are decorated with coloured jhūls and marvellous head-pieces of brass and silver (sometimes bearing the emblems of the sun and moon), and ropes which make a sort of bridle. The special towel used to cover the buffalo’s back is called the paavade(Tulu:ಪಾವಡೆ).
Traditionally, there were types of Kambalas