Assam keeps ‘carnival’ date with buffalo fight festival

Ahatguri: For hundreds of people in Assam it is a carnival, while for some it has all the elements of a full-scale battle. But the one-tonne buffaloes, like it or not, have to lock horns and fight it out in the arena.

The stakes are not high but still the matadors goad and cajole their tame buffaloes to fight and win them a prize - Rs.5,551 as the first prize in this event and some mementoes.

The village of Ahatguri, 80 km east of Assam`s main city of Guwahati, buzzed with activity Monday with the locals organising the annual buffalo fight - a tradition that goes back centuries. Some 108 buffaloes took part in the event.

For the villagers, buffalo fights are an entertaining sport held during Bihu, the weeklong Magh Bihu or the Assamese harvest festival where traditional games accompanied by feasting mark the celebrations.

"Buffalo fights are a tradition here, organised for pure entertainment. It also acts as a meeting ground for people from all religious faiths," said Pijush Hazarika, the local lawmaker from the ruling Congress party.

The mood was one of festivity with hundreds of people thronging the fighting ring with drums and cymbals, coupled with hoarse cries of the keepers as they goaded their flamboyantly decked-up buffaloes with vermilion splashed over their bodies.

After initial song and dance and rituals performed by a village priest, the buffalo fight began. The trumpet blared with the promoters calling out to owners to bring their animals to the ring -- a paddy field with spectators sitting in circles barely metres away.

"People are not bothered about winning or losing. The amount of thrill this sport provides to the people is what matters most," said Bolen Das, a 65-year-old peasant engaged in buffalo fights for the past four decades.

The fight turns aggressive at times with enraged buffaloes running amok, scaring spectators as they run for their lives. A spectator was injured when a losing buffalo fled the arena and in the process hit a man standing on the edge of the ring.

"Apart from minor injuries, we do not remember any major accidents during the event in living memory," Sailen Bora, a community elder, said.

For the locals, it is a matter of pride to bring their buffaloes to the fighting ring. "I have been preparing for this event for the last one year, spending an estimated Rs.30,000 for the upkeep of the animal.

"For us, the day is special," said Dhon Saikia, a villager.