The Supreme Court will hear on February 12 a plea by PETA seeking to prohibit the buffalo race -- Kambala -- that is held in Karnataka during festivities that coincide with the Pongal celebrations.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud on Tuesday agreed to hear the plea by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as the NGO's lawyer, Arunima Kedia, mentioned the matter for an early hearing.
Kedia told the court that the Karnataka government had issued an ordinance conferring sanctity to Kambala, which has since lapsed.
The court was told that a Bill backing Kambala was passed by the Karnataka Assembly and was pending assent by the President.
A bench of Chief Justice Misra and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman had on December 12, 2017, asked the Karnataka government to respond to the PETA plea in three weeks and gave another two weeks to the NGO to file a rejoinder.
What is kambala?
Kambala is a traditional slush-track buffalo race held mainly in the Dakshina Kannada district between November and March. In these races, a pair of buffaloes tied to a plough run in parallel slush tracks, with a farmer controlling them while balancing on the plough.
A pair of buffaloes tied to a plough is followed by a farmer who runs behind them || Photograph Courtesy: Sampat Shetty
The origins of kambala are disputed. One origin legend claims that the sport originated some 800 years ago in the farming community of Karnataka as part of a festival dedicated to Lord Kadri Manjunatha, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. It was celebrated as a tribute to the gods, and to obtain the blessing of a good harvest, and the winner of the buffalo race was rewarded with a coconut among other things.
Another belief traces the origin of the sport to the Hoysala kings, who wished to gauge whether buffaloes could be trained as war animals. The tradition was later carried on by the feudal lords of the region and eventually continued by ordinary people.
While it is often claimed that kambala has a universal cultural appeal in the region, critics have often pointed out that the sport carries strong caste overtones. While the Bunts and the Jains are mostly organisers of the events, Dalits and others belonging to ‘lesser’ castes are resigned to jobs like taking care of buffalos.