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The Annual Kila Raipur Sports Festival – Rural Olympics in India
Destination Ludhiana is the buzzword every year during the 1st fortnight of February, when the city attracts more than a million visitors from all over the world to witness the 3-day Kila Raipur Rural Olympics, besides several million others who watch it on their TV. The sports fair proudly exhibits a highly specialized performance by pedigreed bullocks, camels, mules, and dogs performing feats which belie imagination. The Kila Raipur Sports Festival, known as the Indian Rural Olympics, is organized annually at Village Kila Raipur, 20 kms south of Ludhiana city, Punjab.
The style and its setting are truly rural. The participants, who numbered more than 4,000 during the February 2012 tournament, were all almost rustic. The participants are not only Indians, or People of Indian Origin (PIOs) settled abroad, but the event is a major draw for the people of neighboring Pakistan. Not only participants, a significant portion of the motley audience is from that country. So much for Indias much trumpeted enmity with that country.
This unique event was conceived way back in 1933 by a visionary Inder Singh Grewal. His original motive was to enthrall his compatriots and divert their energies in a positive direction, away from the despondency of their colonial existence. This unique initiative followed in the footsteps of the 6th Holy Sikh Guru Har Gobind ji (1595 AD – 1644 AD), who had started a tradition of organizing wrestling matches among his followers, so as to build up their physique and to fortify their resolve, in the campus of the newly established Akal Takht. This was considered necessary in the prevailing times after the execution of his father, the 5th Guru Arjan Dev at the hands of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Gradually, this practice thrived over centuries to become a community supported tradition in Punjab, where a large number of villages adopted and fed wrestlers and instituted prizes to support them. As a part of this tradition, all village fairs and festivals proudly organize wrestling and other sporting events. The traditional archery, riding and fencing competitions during Hola Mohalla (Holi) and Deepawali have an age-old custom.
The 76th edition of the rural sports extravaganza unfolded on 9th February this year to present a three day spectacle.
The show commenced on a 7-acre open stadium in Kila Raipur and it offered an assortment of traditional sports and Olympic events exhibiting fantastic feats.
Bullock cart racing is a passion in Punjab, despite a central government ban. Likewise, in a token acceptance of government ban on hunting, hound-races are held by using a fake hare as bait. As a side show, cock-fights and pigeon fights are held and closely contested. As compared to the inhuman bull fights in Spain, many wrestlers take on bulls bare-handedly. As a matter of routine, the common people are not content with their own skills and prowess, but also train their bulls, horses, and dogs to take on worthy opponents in fierce fights. Other major events are Kabaddi, fire jumping, running with plow in the mouth and grass track bicycle racing.
These Rural Olympics offer three categories of contests –
Predominantly rural sporting events like wrestling, Kabaddi and weight-lifting;
Contemporary events like hockey, volleyball, football, handball and cycling;
Spine-tingling Performances similar to a racing tractor moving over one rib-cage, or a boulder being smashed while placed on one rib-cage, or twisting an iron-rod while placed on one Adam s apple and acrobatics etc.
The day-long sporting schedules conclude with night-long cultural events, which witness top notch performances by prominent Bhangra and Giddha players. By the time sun sets over the grueling sporting competitions, the audience starts looking forward to folk dancing and singing in gay abandon all through the night. During the entire three day schedule, the spectators come, prepared for an all night watch. Thus, not only for sports, this festival is also an arena to display Punjabi folklore and culture at its best.
The original objective of Sardar Inder Singh Grewal while initiating these games was to promote a healthy mind in a healthy body,with the watchword being excellence,in accordance with the Olympic motto of CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS. Subsequently, the Grewal Sports Association (GSA) continued to follow this concept meticulously. Not only the organization of the annual event, it provides a platform where boys and girls, men and even old hands could come and demonstrate their skills, whether in familiar sporting events or in time-honored rural sports.
The GSA is not content in continuing to host the annual Rural Olympics. It has big plans for sports promotion in the state, which can actually be considered its raison tre. It has established a hockey academy for school boys. This academy presently offers hockey training at international standards to 150 promising hockey stars on a regular basis; out of these, 125 are day boarders and 25 live in the hostel.
As on date, the Kila Raipur stadium offers accommodation to more than 50,000 spectators at a time. A hostel has been built adjacent to the stadium. The congenial and wholesome ambience of the sports complex is augmented by its twin grass-turf hockey fields and a multi-gym.
The GSA looks forward to increasing the capacity of the stadium, build an elegant hostel as an annexure to the Academy, set up an additional academy for track and field events, and cover the hockey field with Astro turf.
The folk culture generated by the Kila Raipur Sports Festival has helped spawn a widespread community based sports movement in the state, leading to village level events being held almost in every significant village in Punjab. The more significant initiatives in this category are – the Kalgidhar Tournament of Village Kamalpur which has completed its 50 years. Likewise, the Lala Lajpat Rai Memorial Sports Fair of Village Dhudike has completed its 30 years. A large number of such significant initiatives are spread out all over the state, which are difficult to count.
In a nutshell, one can say that almost all the 7000 villages of this state are bustling with activity in organizing, participating, or performing such rural sports competitions. Interestingly, the entire effort is community based, without any government support. Right from planning to performing, organizing to fund mobilization and hosting of participants and awarding those prizes, every thing is being taken care of by the simple rural folk. The board and lodge of all competitors are offered willingly by the villagers. So much so, these sporting events have now spawned an alternative paradigm of village development.