Sankranti cockfights popular in Andhra Pradesh despite Covid
Hundreds of people gathered at Seesali village in Andhra Pradesh's West Godavari district on Wednesday afternoon to engage in cockfights and place bets worth crores of rupees as part of Sankranti celebrations.
Sankranti just started with Bhogi festivities on Wednesday, wherein people pile up old wood and burn it to symbolically ring out the old and invite the new in the wee hours.
Seesali is a small Godavari village, 10 km away from Bhimavaram by the JP Road, where some acres of flattened paddy fields host the bloody sport every year without fail, behind a defunct prawn packaging and exporting company.
Manthena Ramaraju, local MLA and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader representing the Undi constituency was seen to be busy at the event. He entered the ring many times.
As the specially bred cocks fight it out with sharp knives tied to their feet, Ramaraju was also seen enjoying the show from a vantage point, wearing dark sunglasses on the first day of cockfights in this village.
Other local big shots who attended the cockfights include G. V. Narasimha Raju, brother of former Narasapuram MP Ganga Raju, newly appointed YSRCP Undi constituency in charge Ramaraju and others.
In about five acres of levelled paddy fields, the organisers pitched makeshift tents. The central tent serves as the ring where the cockfights occur, which is surrounded by some more tents where the punters sit to watch and gamble.
Hundreds of plastic chairs are laid in the tents for people to sit and enjoy the show. On the other side of the tents, space is allocated for temporary food and beverage outlets where spicy fried chicken in Andhra style is making brisk sales.
Despite the arrangements, many spectators had to stand on their feet and struggle to catch a glimpse of the cockfight because the people sitting before would always block.
As the cockfights are planned to last for three days and also run till midnight, the organisers have fixed floodlights and a public address system.
Volunteers wield a whip like stick used to control bullock cart bulls to bring order when people do not follow discipline and block others view.
"Everybody should vacate the ring right now. Please leave the ring. If you do not cooperate, we cannot conduct cockfights, " requests a volunteer. He also warns that he will hit them and requests them not to feel bad later.
Meanwhile, a cockfight just got over, which triggers a chain reaction in the spectators. All of them faithfully exchange wads of cash pledged in the bet on their chosen rooster.
In addition to the two individual cock owners who place the main bet in the central tent, hundreds of enthusiasts sitting by also bet with each other.
Interested individuals choose a cock and tell his like minded neighbour on the agreed amount of money they want to gamble upon.
Punters show up with bags full of cash and the venue turns into a massive betting ground.
Many times, a cockfight may not last even a minute as the weaker one bites the dust and bleeds to death after a few knife nicks.
After every cockfight, organisers go to a bank of battle-ready cocks to fetch two equals for the duel.
Not only men, a good number of women and girls also turned up at the cockfights to gamble and enjoy the show, including a few families.
Coronavirus, bird flu or police restrictions have not dampened the spirit of the festival celebrants.
Despite Covid, only a few celebrants are seen wearing a mask as the vast majority are maskless.
"What Coronavirus does, God will take care. This sport is for the rich. I just lost Rs 5,000," told Bujji, 35, a enthusiast from Kalidindi village in Krishna district to IANS.
Bujji said the person with money will bet while the rest will watch.
One impressive feature of the cockfights is opening it to everyone. There is no restriction, people from all castes, communities and religions participate.
At the venue on Wednesday, a group of transgenders were also seen begging money and blessing the punters who have gave them alms. (Sharon Thambala can be contacted at email@example.com)
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