No Bull

Surfing with livestock at the Maramadi Festival

Now, your own memories of ‘Harvest Festivals’ might be dominated by slightly lame collections of tinned food at school to give to local, old people. But with the Maramadi Festival in Kerala in Southern India, these guys know how to celebrate in style. When it comes to the fun stakes, singing hymns while filling baskets with out-of-date baked beans certainly pales in comparison to high-speed bull surfing.

That’s right, those fun-loving villagers in Anandapally in Kerala mark the post-harvest season by gathering to watch competitors making a splash by surfing through flooded fields while being dragged along by pairs of rampant bulls.

A Less Controversial Bull Festival

Bulls are no strangers to some of the planet’s more unusual festivals and this one is no exception. Without the blood, gore and controversy of Spanish bullfighting and also avoiding the mass panic and risk of being gored of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, at the Maramadi Festival the spectators are kept a safe distance away from the harnessed livestock, with crowds gathering to watch the excitement unfold on the soggy fields in front of them.

What Happens?

The racing takes place in the newly ploughed fields during the post-harvest season every year, with teams of farmers becoming jockeys for the day as they steer their bulls along the track, gliding through the ankle-deep muddy water. The pairs of animals are harnessed together and controlled by teams of three farmers, with two flanking them either side to steer and the third one having little influence over where the animals go but infinitely more fun as he is simply dragged through the water.

More Than an Air of Competition

As you may expect, making it to the finish line without face-planting in the mud is quite an achievement in itself, but most entrants are not content with just finishing and the festival takes on more than an air of competition, with around 30 teams representing different regions battling it out every year. Bulls are specially bred and trained, while the jockeys certainly know what they’re doing as well, with trophies, medals and cash prizes up for grabs.

A Colourful Affair

It’s a colourful affair as well, not only is the air thick with the caramel-coloured spray of the water, but the bulls are spruced up with painted horns and bright costumes. The crowd clearly love the thrill of the race as well, with plenty of whooping and hollering as the teams of three are dragged along the track. It might not have the elegance of Ascot, but it sure does looks fun.