Kambala is a unique & visually invigorating sport of Dakshina Kannada. Kambala is basically a traditional buffalo race in slush muddy waters, usually held from around November till March. Kambala is a rural sport, prominent in districts of Udupi and Mangalore in Karnataka and also Kasargod district in Kerala.

Kambala is a race between pairs of bullocks (usually 2 Kambala is a race between pairs of bullocks (usually 2 pairs) rode by a human. The bullocks are tied together with a wooden shaft on their neck. The track used for Kambala is a paddy field filled with slush. The length of the race is usually about 100 meters. The contest generally takes place between two pairs of buffaloes, controlled by a feverishly whip-lashing farmer.

The origin of Kambala is extremely difficult to trace. Some Historians root this race back to more than a thousand years. At that time Kambala was an event when farmers thanked the gods/spirits for protecting their crops. The air was festive and farmers celebrated with the fruits of their labour with recreational sports like Kambala & other games. Kambala also signalled the start of sowing for the second round of crops, thereby preparing the ground. It used to be held on religious occasions, on the days of Kodamantaaya and Jumaadi Bhuta festivals (see Bhootaradhane on this site for details). The kambalas flourished then under the royal patronage of Kings & famed households of the region. The buffalo’s would be paraded prior to the start of the race to the lilting music of the drums (Koraga beats).

Today, during the period from November to March, almost every weekend one could see the buffalo races in Coastal Karnataka. Perhaps at no place, are the athletic buffalo’s sporting talents in a slushfilled track put to test & admired, the way it happens in DK. Kambala today is a professionally organised sport with the larger & famous Kambala’s drawing crowds in tens of thousands. A lot of betting is also seen in Kambalas and one can see quite a few fortunes turning after the event. The boisterous & vociferous crowd egged on by the traditional music, cheer the races till their voices go hoarse. It is a treat to watch a Kambala as very powerful & highly muscular bullocks literally drag the rider piercing through the watery track, creating tall waves of slush as they go by. Fierce competition is witnessed akin to horse racing in the modern day Kambala.

About 45 Kambala races are held annually in Mangalore, Udupi & Kasargod districts. About 18 kambalas are held under the banner of Kambala samithi while others receive support & sponsorship from temples, famous families traditionally associated with the sport & political groups.

The historically famous Kadri Kambala race is held annually at Kadri Kambalaguthu. The winner is paid handsome cash award. This is a far cry from the olden days when the winning pair was rewarded with Cocunuts and a bunch of plantains. Then, and even now, it is considered highly prestigious to win a Kambala.

Some of the famous Kambalas include:

  • Mulki Seeme Arasu Kambala (Mulki),

  • Katapadi Beedu Kambala (Katpadi),

  • Miyaru Kambala (Miyaru, Karkala),

  • Koti-Chennayya Kambala (Nandikuru, Udupi),

  • Kantabaare-Boodabaare Kambala (Mangalore),

  • Kolattamajalu Jaya-vijaya Kambala (Bantwal),

  • Soorya-Chandra Kambala (Belthangady),

  • Lava-Kusha Kambala (Bantwala),

  • Jaya-Vijaya Kambala (Karkala),

  • Vijaya-Vikrama Kambala (Uppinangadi),

  • Koti-Chennaya Kambala(Puttur),

  • Muudur-Paduur :  Kambala (At Kavalakatte)

  • Koti-chennayya Kambala (Moodubidri)

  • Baradi Biidu  :Surya-Chandra Kambala

  • Surya-Chandra Kambala (Shirva)

It is truly a visually engaging event to watch the high energy and the raw power of this sport. There is an unexplicable beauty even in getting sprayed with slush up or watching the slush being sprayed all around. So fix up a visit to DK this year and watch a Kambala in action – LIVE!!!