Courtyards decorated with colourful muggulu, check. Heady aromas of pindivantalu tingling the senses, check. Echoes of Gangireddula kolahalam and Haridasu keertanalu reverberating in the streets, check. Kite fights, check. And kodi pandalu ? Also check. Though cock fights are officially banned in both AP and Telangana , it doesn’t deter enthusiasts from thronging scores of makeshift tents and arenas that have been erected in orchards across the two Telugu states to place bets on fighter cocks.
“If Tamil Nadu can have jallikattu , I don’t see what’s wrong with Andhra and Telangana hosting kodi pandalu for just three days in the entire year,” says Sai*, a Vizag-based businessman, who is betting big this year. “I’ve seen people coming with bags of money and swanky cars, leaving without anything. I have also seen people going back richer. But it’s a tradition, so I don’t see what’s wrong with it,” he adds.
ACTORS, POLITICOS, NRIS, FARMERS — EVERYONE BETS ON FIGHTER BIRDS RIGHT UNDER THE COPS’ NOSES
The fact that kodi pandalu have been declared illegal seems to make no difference to Sankranthi revellers. While these events happen discreetly in almost all parts of the Telugu states, the East and West Godavari districts are the hotbeds of cock fights. Tollywood celebrities, politicians, businessmen, socialities and NRIs are said to be
patrons, betting big on fighter cocks during the three-day festival that sees Telugus travel back to their hometowns from all over the world. Dr Pavan*, a resident of Vizag’s posh Daspalla Hills, says, “There’s a large group of us who travel all the way to Amalapuram just for cock fights every Sankranthi. Even local MLAs and MPs, and a lot of NRIs take part.” These annual gambling galas held in small towns and villages, draw gamblers from neighbouring states as well. “It’s not just from Vizag or Vijayawada, people come all the way from Karnataka, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and even as far as Kolkata, Asansol, Durgapur to gamble at our village pandalu every year,” says Adi*, an engineering student.
For those from the host village, it’s a matter of pride to invite friends and extended family to the local kodi pandalu held during Bhogi, Makar Sankranti and Kanuma. Satvik*, a Hyderabad-based chartered accountant who goes to Amalapuram every year, says, “I just cannot imagine missing it. In fact, I drag my friends along too.” The kodi pandalu in Bhimavaram also attract big Tollywood celebrities, we are told. “I have seen so many stars at the pandalu every year. In fact, a big Tollywood superstar raises four fighter cocks at his Hyderabad residence on a special diet, just for this purpose. His uncle, also an actor, is an avid player. The duo are the star
attractions in Bhimavaram every year and they also bring their friends along. another superstar, who has given Tollywood some memorable mega hits, is also spotted. He’s a gambling veteran too. but he is very careful, doesn’t do it openly.”
ROOSTERS RAISED ON A DIET OF DRY FRUITS, ONIONS AND WORMS ONLY TO BE SENT OUT TO FIGHT UNTIL DEATH
The breeds used in cockfights include Sethu, Nemali, Dega, Kaki, Hamsa and more. Raised especially for the annual fight, some birds stand as tall as 3 ft. It’s a year-long project for the gamblers. “Every year, we buy at least two roosters come summer just for this purpose. We feed them a diet of dry fruits, worms and burnt onions. Our roosters are also made to swim in the pond so that their muscles are strong. The birds are also given steam baths and their claws are sharpened. This is a tradition passed down from our forefathers, so despite being caught by the police a couple of times, we find it hard to stop,” says Giri*, a real estate developer from Parvatipuram. Suresh* from Bhimavaram adds, “My bird was ‘born’ in an auspicious nakshatram, so I have not faced losses betting on him for the last two years. I bring him up like my son, I’m sure he’ll win this year too. These birds cost anything between `10,000 and `3 lakh,” he says, talking about his rooster.
Fights are conducted only between 7 am and 6 pm due to the superstition that wars must not be fought after sunset. However, some arenas continue the fight late into the night. “The owners send them to the battle based on auspicious timings set by their astrologers. Sometimes, the birds don’t fly as high as they should, and some try to escape, which is considered a big let-down. The bird that doesn’t fight is considered the loser,” says Abhi, an organiser. The losing bird is either given away to the winner or cooked and distributed among the losing party.
HOW GAMBLERS HOODWINK COPS
In remote towns and villages, everyone seems to be hand-in-glove. “In some places, tents are set-up in banana and mango orchards or farms, and it all happens inconspicuously. In fact, the tents of high bidders also have security guards. mobile phones are confiscated till the game is over,” says Ram*, a businessman from Vizag, who is a regular. “In Parvatipuram and neighbouring villages, things are more old-school. everyone plays at a venue pre-decided by the panchayats of five villages. There’s no limit on the bets placed and crores exchange hands on one day,” adds Giri*. Entry to the high-players’ tents is by invite only and includes unlimited food and liquor. “In fact, it’s like a desi casino. The highest amount won in Bhimavaram last year was `10 crore,” says Ram*.
Even if the police do show up, it’s all an eyewash, believe some. “Everyone says it’s illegal and every year cases are filed. Yet, new organisers just keep cropping up and the kodi pandalu happen undeterred. when MLAs and ministers themselves come to inaugurate these events, what do you expect the cops to do,” asks Sai*.
STOP THIS CRUEL SPORT
The Supreme Court of India has banned cockfighting as a violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. The Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act, 1974, gives the police power to arrest without warrant for gaming or setting birds or animals to fight in public street or place and to seize money, instruments of gaming birds and animals.Yet the cruel sport continues unabated. “The Supreme Court has time and again upheld the prohibition of cock fights. The sport is not only cruel to animals but also encourages social evils like betting, illicit liquor and child labour. Children are brought to defeather and cut up the dead birds. This inhumane practice must have no place in the society. It is high time authorities put an end to it for good,” says Alokprana Sengupta from Humane Society of India.