KOMADAVOLU (WGODAVARI): It was yet another wintry day and the air in Komdavolu village, less than 3 km from Eluru, still carried with it a smoky odour from the early morning Bhogi bonfires lit on the main road. But, we had little time to enjoy the festive scene. It was already 10 a.m. and we had to rush to the village outskirts.
As we neared our destination - the arena amid freshly harvested farmlands - we could hear loud cheers, akin to the roar of the crowd at a cricket stadium or may be, the Colosseum. The action was just about to begin. “The fights have begun,” the announcer declared over a mega phone a few minutes later. The atmosphere was electric, tense with adrenaline pumping in every vein. Over 300 people, including some women, were on their feet.
“Kill him, kill him!” they yelled as two roosters faced each other in the middle much like gladiators. A dark blue-tailed rooster, called Kaki Nemali in local parlance, was pitted against a fiery orange-necked Dega. Their trainers made the birds peck at each other, and egged them on - to fight.
Kaki Nemali made the first move, slashing the left thigh of Dega. Nemali’s right leg claws were blazing in the sun, strapped as they were with two-inch razors. Within seconds, Dega was oozing blood.
The crowd went into a frenzy and started taking sides as if they were watching a professional boxing match.
The birds bit each other’s head and neck, while their claws with razors were aiming at each other’s vulnerable underside. Dega suffered several attacks and inflicted enough injuries on its opponent too. But, neither was ready to give up.
The checkmate somewhat dampened the interest of the spectators. It was momentary though. Dega lunged forward and smacked its razor into the right wing of Kaki Nemali. That was it. Blood started oozing out and Nemali started running away from its opponent. The organisers declared Dega the winner. Its owner took home his trophy - Nemali. The crowd broke into an applause and sat back, in anticipation of another combat.
Before and in between the ‘game’, the birds are conditioned much like professional athletes. Trainers spray water into their mouth, rear and also on injuries.
Generally, bouts are very short, spanning 3-5 minutes. “In the last 30 minutes, this has been the longest fight. It lasted for seven minutes,” remarked a bystander.
Meanwhile, two more fights began in the adjacent area. Watching the cockfights from the front row, 56-year-old Janakiramaiah desperately waved five Rs 2,000 notes to the bookmaker inside the gallery and shouted, “Put it on the white one”. Minutes later, he pocketed back Rs 20,000. “Cockfights are for thrills for some and culture for others. But for me, it is all about gambling,” said Janakiramaiah.
Spread over seven acres, the cockfight venue alone occupied nearly three acres. It is divided into four equal parts to conduct four bouts at a time. Before they enter the arena, each bird is measured for its weight, size and built and compared with the others. Trainers are given a couple of minutes to strap the two inch-long razors to the back of the rooster’s right leg.
Bets are then taken and odds given based on the breed and the trainer. The owners of roosters place bets amounting to Rs 5,000-Rs 25,000 against each other. “The organisers take a 10 per cent commission from both sides. Outside the arena, the bets range from Rs 100 to Rs 5,000 among onlookers.The bets run into lakhs in some places,” explained Chandrakanth, a farmer, and a big fan of cockfights.
Many fights end with a broken neck or immobilisation of the rooster due to loss of blood. “Most birds in fact end up dead either in the ring or otherwise. The winning owners feast on it. If you want one of them, we can get it for Rs 5,000-Rs 6,000,” offered a generous Venkat, one of the organisers. As we made our way back, politely rejecting his offer, the blood sport continued. It would even under flood lights till late in the night. By evening, around 110 roosters competed. Over 80 of them were cooked to feast upon.