Villagers astride three horses, including one attired in Nihang wear, come galloping down from a distance raising a lot of dust. A battle cry goes up as they aim their lances at the pegs. All three manage to gallop away with the wooden pegs. The stands in the stadium reverberate with the cheers. The exercise calls for an uncanny sense of anticipation and clocklike precision. Carts pulled by mule's streak past moving unevenly. The cart owners call out to their mules to move faster. Soon the carts disappear into the distant crowd, the villagers moving out of harm's way as fast as they can. Then there are the six years old and the above 70s who show their physical strength and stamina. A young man pulls a truck with his teeth, a young boy spins on his thumb and one finger while an above 70 wields “mungli”.
These scenes are repeated every year at the annual rural Olympics games held in Kila Raipur village of Ludhiana district by the Grewal Sports Committee. These games are held in true Punjabi spirit. The Olympic torch can be gauged by flags of different countries fluttering in the race track or atop the structures of the Grewal Sports Stadium. And to give it still another international angle, this year kabaddi and kho-kho teams from Vancouver (Canada) took part in the competitions. Every kutcha and pucca road leads to the Grewal Stadium during the three days of the Kila Raipur games. The rural folk come in tractor trailers, bullock-carts, jeeps, trucks, cars, scooters and cycles.
But then there are others who trudge long distances on foot to be there. The average Punjabi villager is associated with this rural Olympic mela which has continued for the last 63 years, even when Punjab was facing the worst of militancy, this annual rural sports mela continued to be a major attraction. It was only one year that the sports mela could not be held and that was because of the bomb recovered from a nearby area.Villagers from different areas have their own competitions. The folks from Malerkotla bring their cocks and rams. The cockfights and ram fights see the spectators come closer. But then they retreat to the stands once the fights are over. The organisers are aware of the dangers the spectators face during cart races, dog races and horse races. A couple of ambulance vehicles and about two doctors are present throughout the games. A participant whose ram was killed in the fight was paid immediately a compensation of Rs. 3,500. He sold the dead ram for Rs. 2,500 and came back in the evening to announce a cash prize for one of the folk singers.
Besides the rural mela spirit there is serious competition like races on the track, hockey matches and kabaddi. The kabaddi competition, the cart races and the tent pegging are the favourites of the rural folk. But every participant, whether he is doing 500 push-ups in 15 minutes or having a two quintal rock broken on his chest, gets resounding claps from the stadium which is overflowing on all the three days. Yet another round of applause goes up as a Nihang gallops past on two horses (one foot on each horse), the women in the crowd, wearing colourful dresses, also join in the shouts and clapping. But the clapping comes after a tense one minute watch as one of the horses tends to move a wee bit away. But the Nihang on top waves to the crowd – he knows the horses will not forsake him.
All this time Punjabi folk songs are played on the public address system with the announcer time and again asking them to keep the tone down so that he can give a running commentary on the kabaddi matches. One of the referees of the kabaddi matches could put any cricket umpire to shade with his gestures and signals. The Kila Raipur Games now attract a number of VVIPs. In fact the organisers have a VIP giving away the medals after every event with a bugler sounding the bugle in true Olympic style. Almost every Governor and Chief Minister of Punjab has been among the chief guests of the games. In 1975, the then President, V. V. Giri, wanted to come, unfortunately, he could not land near Ludhiana at Halwara Air Force strip because of bad weather. After two attempts to land at Halwara failed, the president went back. Instead, the then Governor, Mr. D. C. Pavate, and Chief Minister, Giani Zail Singh, gave away the prizes.
About 100 metres from the stadium is the government school. There are no VIP kitchens. Lunch is served in the langar style and VIPs love it. The piping hot chapattis from the tandoor add to the flavour. The field of the school is the venue for the hockey matches and this venue has produced such hockey luminaries like Balkrishan Singh, Sukhvir Singh Grewal (also the chief organiser), Gurcharan Singh (1936). Realising the importance of the games and mass participation, many multi-national companies think it appropriate to sponsor the competitions. The Hero Honda group, for example, sponsors bullock cart and suhaga races and offers prizes worth a couple of lakhs. So does Bajaj scooters. They offer five scooters a year. Then the Coca-Cola sponsors some other events. In hockey, at stake is the biggest Gold Cup, Bhagwant Gold Cup, containing 100 tolas gold.
The Grewal Sports Committee runs a hockey centre at Government School where more than 100 youngsters receive regular training. The school holds the distinction of being Punjab champion and in coming years, the Grewal Sports Association hopes, half of the national team will come from this school. One hopes that with participants coming from as far as USA, Canada, England, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries, this unique festival will get “official” recognition.