Kodava Hockey Festival 2018

I’ve been wanting, no dying, to attend and shoot the Coorg Hockey Festival for years now. I looked up the dates as soon as I moved to Bangalore about 2 years ago. Last year, I wrote to the organizers and they asked me to provide media credentials in exchange for access. I couldn’t send any across and I lost my chance to head there and capture the action.

When Red Bull called and asked me if I would like to cover this year’s festival, I jumped at the opportunity. I was excited to go back to the so-called Scotland of India, which is also a hotbed for nurturing world-class hockey talent.

Well, to start with, over 50 players from this region have represented India at different competitions. Therefore, it comes as a little surprise that there is a tournament, which runs for over a month, that pits families from the district against each other.

What began in 1997 with 60 teams, has now grown to a knockout tournament that featured 336 teams. Hosting rights are allocated to a family from the district through bids, and the host families have been decided up to the year 2025. The Kulletira family hosted the current, month-long edition of the festival. Kodavas from all over the world convene at the district at this time of the year, either to play for their families or to join the revelry in the sidelines.

Women dressed in traditional Coorgi attire are seen taking a lap of honor in order to hand off the responsibility to next year’s hosts. 
The women of the Kulletira family take a lap of honor around the ground before handing off the responsibility to next year’s hosts.

At this year’s finals, played on 20th May 2018, the Anjaparvanda and Chendanda families battled each other for the top prize. Three-time champions Anjaparvanda had the distinction of fielding an Olympian, Dr. A B Subbaiah, in goal. While defending champions Chendanda had Nikkin Thimmaiah, who represented India at the 2016 Olympics and won gold at the Asian Games (Incheon Games), play as a forward.

Dr. A B Subbaiah, goalkeeper of the Anjaparvanda, dressed in an India jersey, is seen giving a pep talk to his teammates before the start of the game.
Dr. A B Subbaiah motivates the Anjaparvanda team before the start of the game.

They weren’t the only two Olympians present in Coorg that day. M M Somaya–the only Kodava to win Olympic gold–watched the proceedings from the dais as the Chief Guest of the event.

Portrait of M M Somaya, a Coorgi that represented India at the Moscow Olympics, where the Indian hockey team won the gold.
M M Somaya, gold medallist at the Moscow Olympics was one of the chief guests at the finals.

The day began with the current hosts paying homage to next year’s host with a ‘passing of the baton’ ceremony. Once the fanfare was done, the administrators from Hockey Coorg and the chief guests inaugurated the game.

A wide-angled group photo of the Mukkatira family, which will host next year's Kadagu Hockey Festival. The men and woman have adorned traditional Coorgi attire.
Next year’s host family, Mukkatira, enjoys the hospitality of this year’s host, the Kulletira family.

The game began with a lot of intensity. The young legs of the Chendanda team ran circles around the aging Anjaparvanda defense. Chendanda’s sprightly forward, Mokshith in the no. 18 jersey, drew first blood with an assist by Sonu, wearing the no. 7 jersey. Sonu was a constant threat, pulling the strings from the midfield. As the first half came to an end, it was just one-way traffic. Dr. Subbaiah’s reflexes and lady luck kept the Anjaparvanda family in the game.

Sonu, a player with the Chendanda family, is seen flicking the ball over the head of an Anjaparvanda midfielder.
The Anjaparvanda midfield and defense couldn’t cope with the firepower of Sonu and the Chendanda family.
A Chedanda forward dribbles past a clearly aging Anjaparvanda defence.
The Chedanda midfield and forward line ensured that they kept possession and that their defence wasn’t troubled at all.

The second half was the Nikkin Thimmaiah show. He drove forward and dribbled with ease. He was at the heart of an exquisitely executed passing move that led to Chendanda’s second goal. And that was game-set-match. Anjaparvanda had no response and the team was relieved to hear the final whistle.

Nikkin Thimmaiah, a former India hockey player, breaks out into a dance in front of the fans after assisting Chendanda's second goal.
Nikkin Thimmaiah dances in front of jubilant fans after playing a crucial role in getting Chendanda their second goal.

The Sports Authority of India, Madeira (and at times Bangalore) uses the tournament to scout for new talents. And, this year too, the festival unearthed a few unknown gems. Lilavati from the Malamada family was the first female goal scorer at the event. She is joining the senior women’s team for a camp in Spain. She was nervous, yet excited at the same time at the prospect of playing for the nation. A product of the Sports Authority of India, Madikeri, she hopes that someday her family will host the festival and she can win the championship for them.

Portrait of a young Coorgi girl, Lilavati, whose excitement to play for India clearly shows.
A shy Lilavati reluctantly poses for the camera before the start of the day’s events.