– Gameness til the End
Updated: Feb 13, 2017 15:43 IST
Hundreds of villagers gather at the fight spots that are organised every day at some village of the other in the Sunderbans.(Subhankar Chakraborty)
As Jallikattu and Kodipandayam (cockfight) are making headlines across the country, a similar ‘blood sport’ is silently played out in the Sunderbans in West Bengal. Neither the ban on cockfights nor demonetisation, have had any effect on this popular game, which is organised almost every day in some or the other remote villages of the world’s largest mangrove delta, infested with tigers and crocodiles.Popularly known as Morog Ladai (cock fight), it is Sunderban’s own form of Kodipandayam. But unlike Kodipandayam of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, which involves betting of crores of rupees, there is hardly any betting involved in the Sunderbans.
Quack vets are present at the spot to stitch wounds of the birds. (Subhankar Chakraborty)
The Sunderbans is the world’s largest mangrove delta and comprises 102 islands out of which around 54 are inhabited by man. The rest are forest and are home to tigers and venomous snakes. The rivers and creeks that criss-cross the delta are infested with crocodiles and sharks.
It is in these hard-to-access villages that these blood games are played out throughout the year, except for the monsoon season when the fields get too muddy. It is usually considered a man’s game and the village women stay out of it.
Hundreds of people from nearby villages congregate in a village field on a prescheduled day with their roosters either to take part in the game or to cheer and watch the cocks fight to death. The scene of dead birds piled up on one above the other with blood dripping from the lacerated wounds could be repulsive for a visitor. In one corner the local village quack could be seen stitching the gaping wounds of an injured winner.
“An owner first tries to find a perfect match for his bird. The opponents’ bird should be of equal size, strength and valour. Once the match is found the fight starts with two referees watching. The owner of the victorious cock gets the loser’s bird, which is either seriously wounded or killed. It is taken home as a trophy and feasted upon,” said Madhab Mirdha one of the fight referees.
Sharp small knives like these are tied to feet of the roosters. (Subhankar Chakraborty)
While blood is shed in one corner of the field, hariya – local intoxicant made out of rice and a mixture of several herbs – flows freely in the other corner. The beer-like aroma of hariya and telebhaja (local snacks) fill the air as village women come to sell the liquor at Rs 5 a glass. The crowing of hundreds of roosters adds to the intoxication. During the winter season when tourists visit the forests, some foreigners drop in to see the game, locals said.
Kodipandayam was recently banned by the Hyderabad High Court and the Supreme Court refused to put a stay on it, to stop cruelty to birds and gambling associated with the “recreational sport”. The three-day Sankranti festival saw thousands participating in duels organised by politicians, NRIs and others at huge fairs.
“Betting money over the fight is, however, not the norm in the Sunderbans. It is one form of recreation which has been going on for years now. No money is involved,” said septuagenarian Tarak Gayen, who sells and hires out the sharp blades needed for the cockfights.
Local toddy is freely available near the spots where the fights are held. (Subhankar Chakraborty)
But the rules seem to be changing. Thousands of youths and men from these remote parts of the delta are migrating to cities and towns across the country in search of jobs. Many travel to the south Indian states. When they come back they bring with them certain traits of the games which are popular down south.
Earlier only locally reared cocks – the desi varieties – were used. But over the past few years migrant labourers have introduced different cock varieties which are popular in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The migrants – mostly in their 20’s and 30’s – return with hard cash and sometimes take to betting. But that is done without the knowledge of village elders and involves only a few hundred rupees which can rise up to a few thousand during Sankranti and Saraswati Puja.