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India’s rural Olympics - Village in Punjab hosting traditional sports events since 1933

India’s rural Olympics - Village in Punjab hosting traditional sports events since 1933
Qila Raipur Festival - India's Rural Olympics (Source- Amazing Indian Blog)

C.C. Chengappa

Published: 8 Feb 2021 7:53 AM GMT

When the famous India centric video game, Desi Adda released about a decade ago, there was much praise for the highlight of traditional Indian games such as Kite Flying and Gilli Danda. It was fabulous to finally see the incorporation of tradition with technology which was taking note of games that had been passed down through generations and were in some instances even frequent past times of kings and queens several centuries ago. The Modern Olympics as we know it was brought about as a revival of the old Greek athletics events that were frequently held. Events are added almost every decade or so to keep up with the advent of technology and passion for sports. India too has its version of a modern Olympics that takes place near Ludhiana every year.

History and origins

The rural Olympics or Qila Raipur Festival was the brainchild of Inderjeet Singh Grewal. He began this in 1933 as a way to bring together villagers and locals and it was his idea to introduce recreational activities as competitive events between people from different villages. The Grewal family has continued this in the capacity of the Grewal Sports Association and is extremely proud of this line of heritage that they carry. The venue for the festival is often a local sports stadium in the village of Qila Raipur. Held in February every year, the Rural Olympics are a symbol of India's glorious past that encapsulates the competitive spirit that has been developed over centuries and continues in great passion and spirit.

Who knew bulls could be marauding beasts used to pull carts while running at high speed? Is it possible for a tractor to run over a man and not break half his bones? And what use is your adam’s apple in a sporting event? All these questions will be answered at the Qila Raipur festival. Certain acts that are considered impossible or inhumane are a walk in the park for the farmers of Punjab, Haryana, and neighbouring states who make their way to compete in the several events lined up over three days. Some people make their way from all over the country and world. Locals turn up in huge numbers to support villagers who are taking part from their district or own village. Journalists, photographers, and several miscellaneous people from other states often land up just to be part of the whole experience.

Also read: Rani Rampal’s Shahabad – The nursery of women’s hockey in India


For those interested in Athletic events and Indian extreme sports, there is an abundance of events that one can attend. The athletic and sports events comprise track races such as 100m, 200m, 400m, shot put, kabaddi and hockey.

However, the entire concept of a rural Olympic event would be a waste if not for the other eccentric events that are held. Unconventional events are few and far between and one always needs a break from mainstream sports that take up much of a sports fan's time. For those interested in showcasing their strength, will to bear the pain, and the capability of balancing, some events involve a tractor running over an individual, holding a plough in the mouth, pulling a car by the hair, loading and unloading a tractor, dog/greyhound races, mule races, tug of war, horse races and several others. It is more of a competitive circus with the entire focus being on testing human capabilities to the fullest.

Some events cater to all genders and age groups with hockey being organized for children, singing being organized for women, and a few of the more challenging events being organised for elder men. This is the real beauty of the festival.

Bullock cart racing

Bullock cart race Bullock cart race

Until 2014, bullock cart racing was officially allowed and was the main highlight of the entire sports festival. However, a Supreme Court ruling put an end to any form of racing that terrified animals and was not considered ‘normal’. Yet, this event was one of the many that farmers and racers took personally. Livestock is an essential part of farming in Punjab and without their cows and buffaloes, farmers are nothing. Hence it becomes important to train and develop the animals because, at the end of the day, these are the same animals who will bring back laurels and honor for the village. Crowds would throng the stadium on the final day of the festival to see who the victor would be. It was exciting because there was never any assured winner or a single favorite owing to favorable circumstances that make up a large part of this competition. Bullock cart racing was one event that showcased a strong man-animal bond that was in the literal sense unbreakable and unwavering. This event was a true testament to a friendship that dated back to several centuries and one would hope that this event is brought back out of sheer necessity if not anything else.

Plough holding with teeth

Plough lifting with teeth Plough lifting with teeth

Another of the strange events is balancing a plough while holding it in one's mouth and standing on one foot. Competitors are expected to hold the plough from one particular end for as long as they can. This is not easy considering the weight of the plough is considerably heavy and is often welded from pure iron. Bad injuries are possible if the proper technique is not adhered to while holding the machine.


Tirinjen Tirinjen

Tirinjen is not any old social gathering rather, it is what can be referred to as competitive singing. The competitors are expected to spin a wheel marked out with different emotions felt by humans such as anger, pain, joy, etc. As in when the marker comes to a stop at a certain emotion, the contestant is expected to sing songs based on the emotion that is given to them. The winner in this scenario is determined by the individuals with the best responses to the songs and emotions given to them.

Rasa Kashi

Rasha kashi Rasha kashi

Tug of War is often done for entertainment and family events or at community sports events held across the country. However, it is a competitive event at the Qila Raipur festival and comprises teams that train year-round for this event. They face off against men and women representing other villages and towns and while the aspect of fun is retained in this event, it becomes quite heated often because this event is always going down to the finest of margins. The crossing of a line drawn between the two teams is a matter of huge pride and respect and most of the time, it is not the strongest who are the victors in this event.

For those worried about what else to expect, it would be a clear failure to mention the entertainment available alongside the events. There are frequent cultural performances both meant for entertainment and showcasing talent. Bhangra, folk singing, and pop concerts are all big attractions as well and the Punjabi Pride is on full display during these events as well. The entire Qila Raipur festival is a confluence of cultures that are brought together.

Also read: Gatka — The traditional martial arts introduced by Sikhs is now a nationally recognised sport

Perseverance to Preserve Traditional Sports

For the past decade or so, there have been a few events that have hampered the growth and development of the entire festival. Organisers have found it tough to attract people partly because main events like bull racing are banned and there are issues created with government administration having regular clashes with the organisers as well. In the midst of all this, it becomes crucial to take into account the belief that has kept the Qila Raipur festival alive.

Traditional sports and festivals are not just human innovation but are also part of century-old traditions that have been passed down in villages and families. Families are attached to these traditions and pass on their knowledge and information more out of personal belonging and emotion than out of necessity. Punjab has always been a sports haven and a conveyor belt of some of the fittest athletes that India has seen. The Qila Raipur festival has played its part in keeping the sports fervour running in the state and also ensuring that the traditions of rural India continue to be seen in a favourable light.

Qila Raipur Sports Festival Qila Raipur Sports Festival

Commercialisation has indeed ruined certain sports in India with the IPL an example of a sport going under the ‘scanner’. The Qila Raipur festival is sponsored by several local companies and brands thereby even helping local brands to flourish. There is no Coke or Pepsi to hoard the limelight and it is truly a local sports festival with an international outreach. The beauty of such an event is that it continues to take place away from mainstream media and the organizers, namely the Grewal Sports Association should be given due credit for continuing their family tradition since 1933.

If it were not for an individual like Inderjeet Singh Grewal who had made the effort and thought well into the future, traditional sports would have died out well before India gained independence. This would have left our country with a void that would be immensely tough to fill given that picking up long-lost traditions is always a problem. One does not know what might happen a few decades from now to the Qila Raipur Festival. It remains to be seen whether the festival will still be continued with the same passion and fervour as the past few decades. For now, Indians must revel in the sports that make up a considerable part of our history. It is this that defines our country and its unbreakable traditions of competition, sport, and most importantly the ability to sustain what is closer to us.

Also read: Moichara — The cattle race celebrating harvest in West Bengal

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