Photo Essays | Society | South Asia

India’s Rural Olympics

A local sports festival on the outskirts of Ludhiana, Punjab has been running since 1933.

By Ahmer Khan for
India’s Rural Olympics

Young Sikh men get ready to perform in different sports events during India’s Rural Olympics.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

One of the main attractions of the sports festival was 100 meter race for men 70-75 years old.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

Local Sikh men perform the Sikh martial art, locally known as Gatka. It is an ancient martial art which has been thoroughly battle-tested and has existed in northern India for many thousands of years.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

Gatka, a Sikh martial art, is considered to be a spiritual as well as a physical exercise.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

A Sikh villager pulls a vehicle with his hair in an impressive display of strength.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

A local man races to the finishing line during a horse race at India’s Rural Olympics.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

A greyhound race gets under way on the third day of festival. Greyhounds in Punjab can easily cost anything between $2,000 and $30,000.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

A local villager competes in a horse cart race. The main attraction of the festival — the bullock cart race — was not organized this year and was replaced by horse cart race.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

Local villagers compete in a tug-of-war match. Tug-of-war, also known as rope pulling, is a sport that pits two teams against each other with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

Local villagers participate in a tire rolling competition during India’s Rural Olympics, an annual sports festival.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

A man lifts a plow with his mouth as he demonstrates his strength and skills.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

A local villager shows off his skills, riding two horses moving quickly across the field.

Credit: Ahmer Khan
India’s Rural Olympics

A man races to the finishing line during a tractor race at India’s Rural Olympics.

Credit: Ahmer Khan

India’s Rural Olympics, formally known as the Kila Raipur Sports Festival, is held annually each winter in Kila Raipur on the outskirts of Ludhiana, Punjab. The festival has been running since 1933. The four-day festival is a celebration of, well, rural Indian culture. Competitions are held for major Punjabi rural sports and games including horse racing, being run over by farm machinery, horseback acrobatics, and other strange demonstrations of strength.

The main attraction of the festival — the bullock cart races — was not organized this year. Though the sports association had sought permission to organize these races earlier, they said that they would abide by the Supreme Court ruling that bans such races across the country.

Competitors ranged from teenagers to pensioners. The festival saw participants competing in unusual categories like holding bicycles in their teeth, pulling vehicles with their hair and more. Horses and dogs also competed in their own events.

Ahmer Khan is a freelance documentary photographer based in Kashmir.