Bull Surfing — or the Maramadi Festival — is a post-harvest season festival celebrated in the villages of Kerala, the southern part of India, every year in August.
During this fiesta, a pair of oxen/bulls are hitched together in a harness and made to race 100 metres down padjdy fields covered in half a foot of water. The rice paddies are football-field-sized areas, freshly ploughed and flooded in ankle deep water right before the contest.
Bull Surfing in Kerala
When the bulls race down the sloppy field, the muddy water splashes out, creating a thrilling scene for spectators. The bulls, as well as the bovines, are specifically fed and trained just for this traditional race.
The bulls themselves are bred and raised for this race a few months in advance. Before they get muddy, the bulls are well-groomed, their horns polished and optionally decorated in a traditional way. On the day of the race, they are spruced up in bright colours.
Each pair of oxen is chased and ‘surfed’ by three men, who are professional jockeys. Two of these men (handlers) flank the bulls on either side by holding a rope to control and direct them to the finish line.
The third man (the surfer) sits on a plank of wood between the pair of bulls, who slide through the mud. All three men are soaked in muddy water by the time the race is finished.
Several of these bull races are held, but the most famous takes place in Anandapally village, in the Pathnamthitta District of Kerala, around August 15 every year.
It lasts for a day, starting around noon and continuing until sunset. About 30 teams participate, and it costs around INR 10,000 (US$155) to sign up. Spectators gather around the outside of the field, cheering and applauding the teams.
The swiftest pairs of bulls win cash prizes and trophies in different categories, from Best Dressed Bull to Style and Speed. It’s quite a thrill to watch, and many visitors flock to Kerala to witness the raging bulls and raw courage of the handlers and surfers.
During the event, the villagers round the fields keep a safe stand-off distance. Excitement is in the air as there is hard competition over these races.
So next time you visit Kerala be sure to be part of this excitement!