Buffalo racing

Kambala is a race with a difference: the winner may not be decided directly on speed, but rather on how high they can kick up water.

Karunakar Rayker, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the Stats 3 post I observed that only one of the posts on this site captured the intersection between games & sport and food & agriculture so far. (It’s flapdragon, by the way.) Reader Nicoletta R. suggested another one, and it’s a doozy: buffalo racing.

To me, water buffalo are not exactly famous for their speed. I picture them pulling plows through paddy fields, or relaxing in ponds after a long day of plow pulling. But kambala manages to turn the water buffalo and the paddy field into an exciting – and very messy – sport.

Many variations of kambala are played throughout the region of Tulu Nadu in southwestern India. Two buffalo are yoked together and raced down a pair of long narrow paddy fields. It looks a lot like a drag race, but with less revving and more spraying water. In fact, in some versions of kambala that water spray is actually the point.

Rather than judging competitors on their speed, an advanced version of the sport requires them to kick up as much water as they can, as high as they can. Specially designed racing yokes with holes project the water upwards, and cotton banners suspended over the course mark the height for the spectators. The racers can get some pretty good height:

The driver traditionally whips the buffalo, which led to a ban on grounds of animal cruelty from 2014 to 2017. Buffalo racing is legal again in India, and similar races still happen in Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia.

[Thanks to Nicoletta R.]

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