Kambala is a traditional ritualistic sport of Tulunadu, involving race of domesticated water buffaloes in specially prepared slushy fields. Nobody can surely say when this ritual sport was introduced in the history of this land.However the ritual and the sport has been designed to activate and invigorate the buffaloes that take important role in the agriculture as well to prepare the agricultural field for rich harvest, which was considered as wealth and prosperity (‘poli’) in the days of early civilization.
|Preparations for buffaloe race in Kadri Kambala Mangalore, December 2010|
There is a specially decorated post (or pole) erected in the the Kambala fields and it is traditionally known as 'Pookare' kamba, attributed with special magical powers. The pole is decorated usually with flowers or other material such as leaves or coconut fronds. The post is erected to pray for the proper conduct and success of the Kambala race ceremony as well to ward off evil spirits in the process.In other words, 'pookare' represents a decorated victory pole. The Pookare post is considered to have special magical powers to ward off evil spirits as well as to increase prosperity of the persons conducting the ceremony.In the olden days, kings used send their servants stealthily to steal the famous 'Pookare ' posts belonging to their rivals in order to acquire the the prosperity amassed by the latter.
Kare: Kair , totem tree.
The importance attached to 'Pookare' post suggest that it is a vestige of ancient totemistic tree worship cult, which latter evolved into totem poles and later into 'pookare' poles. The memory of ancient totem tree cult is explicit in the word Poo+kare wherein 'poo' represents the decorated, flowery aspect and 'kare' is a modification of 'kair' the symbolic totem or victory tree of many of the ancient tribes. The word 'kair', of African origin, means victory.It can be noted that the identity of 'kair' tree represented different arboreal species in different tribal cultures: North Indian 'kair' tree was different from Tulunadu 'kayar'. And among the Munda(la) tribal people (and also Kadambas) 'Kaim' or 'Karm' ( also known as Kadamba.) has been the totem tree. In the last case, note the word analogy between Kair and Kaim/Karm.
Pookare victory poles have evolved along with the civilization and the modified 'pookare' poles in pairs, usually ornate with mango leaves, or with areca-nut fruits were being used at the entrances for auspicious ceremonies. Similarly, banana plant trunks are used as welcome poles at the entrance to the ceremonial halls.In modern days, multiple pookare poles decorated with colourful fabric designs coupled with electric lamps are used extensively in modern stage crafts by set designers like Dr Mohan Alva.
Emotion runs high during this event, as is in a 'korikattada kala' (cock fight battle field, a popular pastime in Tulunadu). It is a game of manliness and grit, besides show of pomp and pride. Procession of participating buffaloes with their owners is a sight to enjoy.To run in a slush is a tough job, that too managing buffaloes running in different angles or trying to skip the race.
It can be seen that the word 'kanni' ( as in kanni-ponnu) has been adapted into Sanskrit as 'kanya', the virgin.
Some people have tried to explain the origin of the word Kambala as derived from 'kampa-kala '. or kampa+ala. In fact, the word 'Kampa' is genetically related to 'Kambala'. 'Kampa' or 'gampa' also means slushy, muddy field. The origin of the word Kampa is kan+pa, wherein 'kan-' represents soft or slushy and the suffix '-pa' represents an areal attribute. (For examples of usage of '-pa' as spatial suffix, check place names like Bajape, Alape, Didupe, etc).
Vishwanath suggests that there is one more angle to look at the etymology of 'Kambla'. Consider: Kamba (a Post or Pole with 'Nishana' (Aiming Point by means of a banner or flag) for judging height )+ la (water, i.e. water spurt during race by different buffalo pairs).
Poles are planted somewhere in middle of the race track length. These poles on either sides are connected with a rope with buntings or flag. This 'nishana' is meant for pairs of buffaloes tied down with a 'palayi' (wooden pane) with holes. The driver of buffaloes thumps as hard as possible on this pane when he nears the 'nishana'. Water spurts so high but may not reach the mark. One who reaches the mark early is declared a winner. Race of buffaloes without the panes is judged by the speed.
-With Hosabettu Vishwanath.