The Myth of Qila Raipur Rural Games: A Convergence of Tradition and Sports

by Saloni Poddar

At a distance of about 15 km from Ludhiana District in Punjab lies the village Kila Raipur. It is a rather sleepy little village, quiet and unassuming. As one takes the road from the bustling city life of Ludhiana and drives towards this quaint town, the Punjab of the ‘movies’ comes alive! The roads are lined with thriving mustard fields, their glorious yellow heads challenging the yellow of the sun. Farmers, working tirelessly in their lands, women dressed to kill, their ‘parandis’ matching the seductive sway of their hips. One can experience Punjab in its full and complete glory en route.

There is a tempo in the air. The vibrancy of colors and culture. And in the midst of this picturesque scene lies the quaint village we are talking about. Aside from those three days at the beginning of February, Kila Raipur is like any other village in Punjab – thriving with a lazy energy. People go about their daily routine at a leisurely pace, working hard from dawn to dusk, there is abundance, satisfaction, and gratitude in each home.

Come the end of January and there starts a buzz in the atmosphere. It’s like people becoming awake after a long period of winter hibernation. There is activity, something comes alive. By the first week of February, the hum becomes a vibrant, exciting frenzy of comings and goings as the village prepares to host its annual international ‘Rural Olympics’.

Initiated and visualized by Philanthropist Inder Singh Grewal, this is a unique sporting event that provides farmers from around the village a chance to get together and test their corporal endurance, started in 1933, in the past eight decades, the Kila Raipur Games have grown from a toddler to a youthful, energetic, festival, attracting people from around the globe. Today this event attracts more than 5000 sportspersons, from realms of both recognized and traditional sports and is witnessed by more than a million people physically, apart from millions who watch them on television or read about them.

When Inder Grewal started the festival, he had hoped for an annual informal event where people from in and around Kila Raipur could meet and get together. The basic idea was to test their endurance and celebrate their talents. Now, however, participants are welcomed from across the globe.

We all are well aware that physical or manual strength is an integral part of Punjabi culture as it is necessary for ploughing fields and taking care of animals. Hence, the best way to celebrate these qualities in true Punjabi spirit is through these games. Sports like wrestling, running, weight lifting, traditional martial arts, ‘kabaddi’, horse-riding, and conventional Punjabi warfare techniques are some of the prominent sports played here.

“A healthy mind resides in a healthy body” was the motto behind organizing this festival along with providing the talented youth and veterans inspiration to come out of their comfort zones to showcase their skills in cultural rural sports.

The ‘other’ Olympics, as they are often referred to, are not for the faint-hearted! It is a festival that is crazy, bizarre, insane and so unusual that it is occasionally regarded more as a myth rather than reality. On second thoughts, isn’t that exactly what Punjab is – crazily insane, yet vibrantly colorful and very, very real!!

Coming to the actual games; a man towing a car with his teeth, another one sitting sideways on a motorcycle, reading a newspaper while the driverless bike zip-zaps across the stadium, a bike rider riding a burning bike. It’s a good day! Nothing out of the ordinary.

‘Bazigars’ come from Northern India. These nomadic gypsies, dressed in colorful outfits, display exceptional acrobatic skills and incredible feats of strength.

Admits a mix of chaos and exhilaration the rowdy crowd (as expected from boisterous Punjabis!) cheers the participants and winces at the painful displays of bravery, which are many! Nonetheless, as each contestant attempts to outdo the other, sports and attitudes sometimes reach an escalating crescendo of danger with bystanders holding their breaths and keeping their fingers crossed behind their backs. The most outstandingly incredible record here is held by Rakesh Kumar who effortlessly hoists 82 Kg with his ear as if it’s child’s play! If that’s mundane for you, he continues by lifting a 40 kg weight with his eye!!

Told you… Not for the faint-hearted! In 2016, bullock-cart races, which were extremely popular were outlawed as being inhumane and were subsequently replaced by horses. This event is speeding madness! The riders, wearing no safety gear whatsoever, ride their horses at a maniac speed followed by a rickety cart, which appears to be on the verge of collapse, on a narrow track! Although there is zero barrier between the spectators and the competitors, the former is unperturbed, making the path for insanity when need be! The dare-devils of Punjab.

The greyhound racing is equally unnerving as fierce, howling dogs are let off to tear apart a fake rabbit! The Games also feature remarkable displays of ‘civilized’ horsemanship and camel riding to the sound of traditional folk drumming.

Track and field events are an imperative part of the event – sprints, long and short jumps, short put, and tug of war are some of them. A newly introduced Octogenarian race is another mega-event that showers the winner with honor, pride, and reverence. Another attention-grabbing game is ‘Kabaddi’. An Indian-originated contact game which is a sort of ‘soft wrestling’ between two teams.

No doubt, it is as whacky as it gets with people playing with fire at corners, stunts are performed on moving vehicles, use of teeth for lifting bicycles or bricks, lying under a moving tractor, so on and so forth. However, the festival transforms in the evenings as locals perform exotic folk dances like ‘gidda’ and ‘bhangra’ and girls sing folk songs ranging from happiness to sorrow, covering all life’s important moments along with spinning a ‘Charkha’, symbolizing the cycle of life. This event is usually organized at local homes and are called ‘tirnijen’.

Not to forget the Nihangs. The splendidly brave Sikh warriors dressed in blue, heads adorned with turbans, wrists with bracelets and weapons, and hearts full of courage and valor. They are the true Punjab. The timeless warriors. The highlight of the festival is their ‘gatka’ performance (Sikh martial art). They display unparalleled strength and formidable skill. Their horse-riding performances are the highest point of pride for the Sikh population.

One may call Kila Raipur Games crazy and eccentric but they certainly cannot be ignored. They tell a story to those who are willing to hear – a story, of strength, courage, and an unbreakable bold  between a community and its traditions. As the village echoes with cheers of the crowd and clatter of hooves of animals, it becomes evident that this is not just a competition but a celebration, of Punjab’s soul and identity.

Saloni Poddar

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