From Rural Olympics To Elephant Polo – The Amazing Lesser Known Sports of India

From Rural Olympics To Elephant Polo – The Amazing Lesser Known Sports of India

Perhaps suffering from some sort of sheep complex, given our sheer multitude in size, a majority of this billion strong population would still pick cricket as their primary sport of choice. Considering only 10 countries in the world play the sport, we have a bit of a bone to pick with the fact even if sports like hockey, tennis and football do manage an appearance every now and again. In a bid to break away from our ‘One Sport Nation’ tag, we decided to do a little digging and excavated something rather remarkable in the process. It would appear India is simply bubbling over at the surface with lesser known sports you’re likely to be surprised to find even exist.
So just in case things don’t work out for you on that cricket pitch, here’s a list of places you’ll know to look.

I. Maut Ka Kuan

Though this only rears its dangerous head at circus-like atmospheres of local melas during festival seasons, we think it’s more than fair to label it a sport in its own right. Functioning on the very basic principles of centrifugal force, these daredevil sportsmen ride bikes and drive cars on a barrel-shaped track, seemingly defying the laws of gravity as the force propels them to be able to do so. This crazy, gravity-defying, death-cheating sport is not for the faint-hearted, and can be found in many places in India.
You’re sure to spot it at the Jaamuri Maidan Mela during Dassera in Mumbai’s Worli Naka.
Still not sure what we’re talking about? Take a look at the video below:

II. India’s Rural Olympics

The Kila Raipur Sports festival conducted by the farming community in Punjab has been dubbed the “Desi Olympics” or “Rural Olmpics” due to the variety of sports that one can watch and partake in. From racing bullock carts, to wrestling, to pulling vehicles with your teeth – you can find it all at the 3-day festival. The event, which has been held every year since 1933, also has various modern sports like field hockey and cricket. Prizes range from one 1 lakh rupees to a small packet of ghee. Homegrown recently wrote a full-fledged article about the Rural Olympics and all the crazy sports it entertains, which can be found here.
This video does a pretty good job of decoding the event too:

III. Thoda

You might look at this sport and think its participants are, for lack of a better phrase, out of the ordinary. Well, we might have to agree. Thoda is a traditional martial art of the state of Himachal Pradesh which is contested between a group of people. One man holds a bow and arrow and the other wears a thick covering on his legs below the knee. What’s the objective? To hit the other person below the knee with an arrow of course. All while the other person tries to move and dodge it. Traditional music is played in the background and the participants dance around and enjoy the sport while the crowd cheers them on as they try and shoot arrows at each other. The person with the most/greatest hits, wins.
You can see what this unique sport is all about in the video below:

IV. Elephant Polo

A variation of the traditional Horse Polo, Elephant Polo is equally well enjoyed in various northern states of India. Legend has it that before a game of Horse Polo took place, the kings and other Royal servants would engage in a fun game of Elephant polo to entertain the crowd. The game is much slower than its horsey equivalent and is played on a much smaller ground, and there are no defined goals. The tradition has since been maintained, and Elephant Polo is played today only as a fun game to entertain the crowds.
Here’s what a game of elephant polo looks like:

V. Thang Ta

Indigenous to Manipur, Thang Ta is a sport played with a sword, spear, or axe. The objective is to display various techniques of self-defence rather than to harm the opponent. The techniques are often well-rehearsed and take years to master. Another variation of the sport is called Sarit Sarak, where the competitors fight without using any arms, just their bare hands.
Bare hands never looked so capable. Check out a video of Thang Ta sportsmen in action:

VI. Jalikattu

If you thought Spanish bull-fighting was crazy, a little trip down south will change your mind. Jalikattu is a sport where an angry bull is let out and various men try and “fight” the beast and try to tame it in a bid to win a girl’s hand for marriage. A bit medieval if you ask us but this bizarre tradition is held every year in January during the Pongal festival, and various men, young and old, participate to woo the ladies. Several of them lose blood, limbs, and even die, but the sport is still very much active in the state of Tamil Nadu, even today.

VII. Vetrukkaal Seval Porr

One of the oldest spectator sports, this is basically a variation of the famous Persian cock-fighting. Two roosters are thrust into battle until one of them either dies or its owner admits defeat and pulls it out before more harm is done. It has a rather Pokemon-y feel to it, where the two rooster owners throw the animals into battle and they start attacking each other until one of them is seriously injured. To make things worse, some of the owners attach blades to the legs of their animals, and the blood fest is actually cheered on by the crowd.
Forcing pain on helpless creatures for human entertainment is too far a cry from Homegrown’s philosophies to condone it but it does still exist and is worthy of a place on this list even if only to draw attention to something that needs to be stopped.

VIII. Gatka

A self defence technique, which dates back to the times of the Mughals, Gatka is a game that works along the lines of fencing but sans the protective gear. All the participants don is a small shield and a wooden sword before they’re thrown in the ring. The sport, while unknown in the rest of India, is so famous in Punjab that they even host a “Gatka World Championships.”

This video is as close to a rural Indian version of Game of Thrones you’re going to get:

IX. Vallamkali

A team sport, Vallamkali is indigenous to Kerala. It is essentially a boat race conducted in the backwaters where approximately twenty or more people sit in a long boat and try and race to victory, while a crowd cheers them on. The rhythm, teamwork and synchronisation is impressive to say the least. The sport is so famous down south that the second Saturday of the Onam festival, every year, is reserved for it.
In case you’ve never seen the sport in action, click on the video below:

X. Inbuan

A bit like Sumo wrestling, Inbuan is a traditional wrestling sport of Mizoram, where the objective is to lift the opponent off the ground using their belts. The sport is played over a course of three rounds on a specially prepared mat. The players must also ensure that they don’t leave the circle, as they can then disqualified. Players can use all body parts to wrestle, which brings in a whole array of techniques, making it all the more fascinating to watch.
Check out some of Inbuan’s unique defense moves in the video below:

XI. Naga Wrestling

Wrestling is the most popular sport in Nagaland where wrestlers try and outdo each other over a period of three rounds. The objective is to reach for the other wrestler’s waist belt, and they leave no stone unturned in the process. The person whose body touches the ground most number of times loses. The sport is famous in almost every village in Nagaland and since 1961, an annual championship is held where wrestlers represent their tribes to win the coveted title.
You can see what sets Naga Wrestling apart from other varieties in the video below:

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