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Social Life in Medieval Karnataka
by Jyotsna Kamat

Leisure and Pleasure

It was an era in which people had no difficulty in earning their livelihood, they had plenty of leisure at their disposal which they profitably used for their body-building and amusements. The importance of physical exercise was duly recognized by the Sastras and the scholars. Somadeva Suri says: ' Just as food is not well-cooked in a vessel that is neither covered nor stirred, so a man who has neither sleep nor exercise cannot digest what he eats [1].' According to the Agni Purana, a man should not take any physical exercise so long as the food remains undigested, or after a full meal ...., he should not bathe in cold water after coming out of a gymnasium.....Gymnastic exercises remove cold [2].

Physical Activities

© K. L. Kamat
Body Conditioning in Medieval Karnataka
Pictures 166- 171 Show various Body Building Exercises


A good number of sculptures of the period depict different types of physical exercises and acrobatics that were in vogue. It is evident from a sculpture in which a youth is taught by the teacher to bend a crowbar (Fig. 166) and that regular coaching was given in such exercises. In a gymnastic feat a youngster lifts his entire body weight on his hands (Fig. 167). In a public performance, a smiling athlete bends a crowbar with ease (Fig. 168). In yet another sculpture, a couple of boys are being intensively trained in fighting and self-protection (Fig. 169). Metallic bars of different kinds were used in body-building exercises (Fig. 170).


The word malla or jatti frequently occurs in literature and inscriptions, which indicates that wrestling was popular with the royalty as well as the masses. The kings glorified themselves with titles like ahavamalla (warrior-wrestler) and tribhuvanamalla (wrestler of three worlds). The term malla, in course of time, came to indicate strength (Fig. 171). The Akhyanakamanikosa refers to fighting with fists (mushti-yuddha) (Fig.172) and to wrestling as malla-yuddha [3]. Mallakalaga or jattikalaga is the term used for combat of wrestlers (Fig. 173). In the Kathasaritsagara, there is reference to a wrestler from the Deccan who defeated all the local wrestlers in a contest held at Varanasi on the occasion of a religious festival or devayatra [4]. Wrestling bouts formed part of everyday life of the people and sculptures provide ample illustrations. In a school of wrestling, youngsters were taught the technique of various grips (Fig. 174). There were women wrestlers (Fig. 175) who must have provided much entertainment to male audiences. There were professional wrestlers who gave performances before nobles and officials and earned a living (Fig. 176).

Three categories of wrestlers - jyeshthaka, antarjyeshthaka and govala - are mentioned [5]. These roughly resemble heavy, middle and bantam weight wrestlers of the present times. The Kannada poet Janna, who appears to have been a good sportsman, refers to jattis, govalas and jagajettis (world-wrestlers) getting ready for a fight [6]. According to their skill, efficiency and stamina, they were classified into ten groups. Up to twenty years of age, a wrestler was called bhavishnu and up to thirty years, he was known as prarudha. After thirty years, he was considered unfit for wrestling. Wrestlers known for powerful and tall build (mahakaya and mahaprana) were given maintenance allowance by the state. Bhavishnu and prarudha wrestlers were fed on a special diet comprising black gram, meat, curd and flour mixed with milk and clarified butter. The wrestlers, especially the bhavishnus, were forbidden from visiting women. They were to practice different exercises to build their bodies. Known as samasthanas, sthanakas and vijnanas, these consisted of various postures and grips (Fig. 177) and were practiced early in the morning. Bharashrama or weight-lifting (Fig. 178) was recommended along with long walk of one krosa (three miles) a day. They practiced swimming as well. In the evening, the wrestlers practiced bahupellanaka-srama or the exercise of lifting and clasping hands with a firm grip (Fig. 179). It is interesting to find that they practiced mallakhamb or pillar exercise called sthambhasrama. There was a supervisor over these wrestlers known as malladhyaksha [7].

According to the Manasollasa, there was a type of wrestling, for which the king personally selected wrestlers from among equals (Fig. 180) and heard them taking oath after saluting. The wrestling bouts took place in specially constructed arenas called akkhadakas (modern akhadas). They wore short and tight breeches (challana) or tight loin-cloth (dridhakachha) with their hair tied. After saluting the king and worshipping the idol of Sri Krishna which was installed beside the arena, the wrestlers started fighting. Various grips and clasps were tried. In the end, the one who did not tire out and who was able to break one of the limbs of his opponent, was declared the champion [8]. Poet Pampa refers to one such mallakalaga, witnessed by king Virata, in which the wrestler sent by Duryodhana kills all the famous wrestlers of Virata [9]. This type of wrestling, which was violent, subsequently went out of vogue.

© K. L. Kamat
Wrestling Scene
Wrestling Scene
Sculpture from Khetappaya Narayan Temple, c. 16th Century

These state-patronized wrestlers seem to have attended to other duties also. The priest Sribhuti, who was found guilty of breach of trust, was given choice of three punishments by the king, one of which was to receive thirty-three blows administered by powerful wrestlers [10].


Anka (dueling) has been widely prevalent throughout the world, through the ages. Duels were fought with fists (boxing) and also with different weapons. The Agni Purana testified to state control over duels and gambling, with five per cent of the fine to be received by the king [11]. The Manasollasa confirms strict state control over dueling [12]. Ankakalaga or duel was fought between men for specific reasons [13]. The king was advised to discourage such combats and to allow them only in exceptional cases [14]. This is in sharp contrast to gladiators who were sacrificed to provide a Roman holiday.

The reasons for single combats were rivalry for women (paribhuta), greed or jealousy (matsara), land (bhumi), exhibition of prowess (vidya), revenge (vaira) and penitence for crime, redeemed by death (prayaschitta). Strange was birudanka or the challenge thrown by a swaggering desperado who rode a buffalo carrying a torch in broad daylight [15].

The ways for challenging to a duel are noteworthy. Some heaped abuses, others beat their opponents or cut their hair or otherwise incited them to demand satisfaction. Marco Polo gives a description of throwing a challenge in the Southern region, 'If it is an object with any man to affront another in the grossest and most contemptuous manner, he spits the juice of his masticated leaf on his face. Thus insulted, the injured party hastens to the presence of the king, states the circumstances of his grievance and declares his willingness to decide the quarrel by combat. The king thereupon furnishes them with arms, consisting of a sword and small shield; and all the people assemble to be spectators of the conflict, which lasts till one of them remains dead on the field [16].

The combatants took oath and the fight commenced on the following day. The king attended the arena with his retinue. The blowing of trumpet (kahala) was a special feature of the occasion. The rivals came dressed in gorgeous colors like green, yellow and black with belts of yellow metal and wore necklaces of conches. They paid homage to the king, sitting in the position of a tortoise and after getting the signal, started the fight. The winner was rewarded with dress, gold and ornaments, life pension (jivitam vrittim) and villages. Relatives of the deceased were also protected and helped by monetary grants. Since this was a fight engendered by personal hostility of private parties, no stigma was attached to the king, who merely permitted and supervised the combat (papam napnoti tesham) [17].


Both men and women specialized in archery in order to build up the body and develop concentration of mind. It made one's hand and vision steady. The Agni Purana says that the one who has made the vision both of his mental and physical eyes steady can conquer even the god of death [18].

Science of archery was inevitable in warfare and hence terms like dushkara and chitradushkara [19] were used in the military academy as well. In archery, footwork was given as much importance as skill with fingers. The Agni Purana mentions ten types of footwork. The royalty sported many feats in archery. Pampa refers to Chhaya-lakshya or aiming at the object through reflection which was arranged to test the highest proficiency. The Manasollasa calls it matsya vedha or piercing a moving fish by looking at its reflection in the water-pot placed below. Another feat was to draw the picture of a date-tree with arrows [20]. An inscription refers to the skill in archery of one Ereyanga. When a hunter (beda) aimed at his king and master, Ereyanga at once shot an arrow at him, which not only went through the hunter's skull, but to the amazement of the spectators, hit one eye of a kite that was flying in the sky [21].

Women Archers
Figures 181- 184 show archery in medieval Karnataka

Archery is one of the popular themes with sculptors. A glance at these sculptures gives a fairly good idea about this pastime. For easy movements, very few clothes were worn even by women. A young lady is shown dressed in a mini-skirt and headgear (Fig. 181). A huntress gets assistance in pulling out a thorn from her foot (Fig. 182). Another damsel is shown as resting in an archery session (Fig. 183). An exact posture of aiming at the bull's eye (Fig. 184) is carved. In one of the sculptures, a lady is practicing sitting on a cart (Fig. 185, based on a sculpture shown below), which probably indicates that she is expert enough to shoot from a mobile platform. Sculptures depicting archers are numerous. In one, the archer has grown a beard (Fig. 186) and wears a tight dress. In another, he wears a head-dress and loin cloth at the waist (Fig. 187).

© K. L. Kamat
Woman Rides a Cart Pulled by a Bird!
Woman Rides a Cart Pulled by a Bird!
Detail from a temple sculpture, Bhatkal, 16th century A.D.


This pastime was widely prevalent and equally popular among the royalty, nobility and the commoners. Works on the Niti (political science) and the Puranas recommend it. According to the Agni Purana, the king should hunt in a forest of preserved game, by way of taking physical exercise and inuring himself to hardship. It forbids excessive hunting for princes [22]. Mrigavavinoda or mrigayavilasa (hunting) was a conventional and favourite theme with poets and provides innumerable occasions of adventure in literature. Bilhana in his Vikramankadevacharita devotes a considerable number of verses for describing a hunting expedition of the king [23]. The Parsvanatha Purana provides a list of equipment of a hunter [24]. Inscriptions have preserved the memory of heroes who lost their lives fighting with a boar (Fig.188) or a tiger [25]. The Manasollasa devotes 292 verses to describe 21 varieties of hunting [26]. Hunting expeditions were undertaken usually during winter and the Vikramankadevacharita speaks of queens and courtesans accompanying the king on horseback. Dogs formed a necessary part of the entourage [27]. According to the Manasollasa, breeds of hunting dogs from Jullundur (Trigarta), Karnataka, Andhra, Vidarbha and the riparian regions of the Tapi among others were known for their valor. After describing their specific features, the methods of rearing and training them are given. Usually, bitches were employed and the lessons started with the hare-holes. When the boar at bay fiercely attacked the dogs, the king had the boar battered with iron clubs and speared with arrows [28]. The boar-hunt is nicely carved in one sculpture (Fig.188).

For the royalty, there were reserved forests, not far from the capital, full of fruit-bearing trees, free from fierce animals but containing different kinds of deer, ruru and shambhar (sambhar) and birds like peacocks and wild fowl [29].

Hunting Scenes
Figures 186 - 192 Hunting Scenes

Different modes of hunting are described by king Somesvara. One of them was hunting near water-places. The king and the ladies of the harem dressed in green and wearing trousers (dvipadis) sat concealed in hollows of trees near the water-places. On moonlit nights, when the deer came for a drink, they were hunted down with arrows. Some deer were trained to act as bait. Bridles were put on them and at the sight of the wild herd, these decoys mixed with it and at a signal returned to the hunters which was followed by the actual attack. Srigondekar interprets dipamriga as decoying deer [30]. In other hunts, the beaters made loud noises to frighten wolf, tiger, jackal, bear and other wild animals which ran in panic and were shot and killed. A similar technique was used in big game hunting. Young leopards were caught in nets and trained to catch deer. The methods of training them were ingenious [31].

The sculptors have tried their hand at carving different hunting scenes. In one sculpture, a frightened deer is leaping to save its life, while an archer tries to kill it at close range (Fig.189). Hunting was a hazardous game and a delicate damsel at times got hurt. In such an event, she used to get first-aid from her hunting partner (Fig. 190). In days when transportation from forests was not easy, the kill was carried by the hunters by tying its legs and passing a pole through them (Fig. 191). Hunting partners in a whispering consultation are also depicted (Fig. 192).

Fight with Animals

Men who fought with animals either for pleasure or to control the ferocious ones had a prestigious position in society. If they died, hero-stones were erected and grants were given in their memory. Even a bond-servant was not denied this honor. In the vicinity of Kuppatur town, a tiger had become a menace and had hidden in the Kedagi wood. A courageous bond-servant entered the wood, fought bravely with the tiger and clubbed it to death. But he succumbed to injuries caused by the tiger. The villagers gave him the title of ripu-mari (slayer of enemy) posthumously and gratefully erected a stone in his memory [32]. One Podaleya speared a boar to death but died in the process. The people of his locality honored him with a similar hero-stone in 1183 A.D. [33]. Sokka Ilingottan showed similar prowess and was killed along with his dog. Both are remembered in a monolithic monument [34]. A mahout named Rameya, while trying to control a palace elephant which had run amuck and was killing people, got killed and a memorial was installed [35]. Bull-fights which are popular in Spain and other Latin countries were prevalent in medieval Karnataka in one form or another. A sculpture depicts a woman cheering a youth engaged in fighting a bull (Fig.193). In another, a man is shown as taming a bull (Fig. 194). Men confronted an attacking boar (Fig. 195) and killed it with a spear. When a tiger attacked unexpectedly, a hand-dagger was tried by a villager (Fig.196). A duel was inevitable when a man-eater attacked (Fig. 197). Fight with an elephant was considered an extraordinary feat of strength (Fig.198). King Rakkasa Ganga is described as capable of stopping a lusty elephant with his left hand [36]. Krishna III, the Rashtrakuta emperor, bore the title of Anevedanga or marvel with elephants, and Vanagajamalla or a wrestler against forest elephants [37]. The Akhyanaka-manikosa makes a reference to sport with the intoxicated elephant (mattakunjara krida) of king Nanda [38]. An inscription of 1268 A.D. refers to a wrestler with wild elephant (kadanemalla) [39].

Fighting with Animals
Figures 193 - 198  Fighting with Animals


Numerous outdoor and indoor games, depending upon season, climate and sex, were prevalent. Several sports popular among the royalty and the nobility are described in the Manasollasa. In addition, Karnataka had several organized games played in specially constructed arenas and witnessed by a large number of spectators. A.L. Basham states that organized outdoor games were not common except among children and young women, who were sometimes referred to as playing ball. 'In general, ancient India did not put such stress on athletics as did the Mediterranean world [40].' But sculptures and literary sources of Karnataka give evidence to the contrary.


These were played riding a horse and employing bats and balls. Poet Janna calls it vahavilasa kanduka keli [41]. The Manasollasa describes a game vajivahyalivinoda which may be called Indian polo [42]. It was played between two teams consisting of eight members each. The bat (geddika) was covered in red leather, as also the ball made from the paribhadraka tree. Players wore a tight coat and belts [43]. Putting the horse into a trot, one player moved with the ball towards the goal of the opposing team, followed by the other members. The members of the opposite team would try to intercept the ball and take it in the opposite direction. Thus, the ball moved from one direction to the other. Instead of one goal post as in the modern game, there were two, one behind the other, and the ball had to be passed through both. Strokes like scooping, hitting in the air, driving, etc., are mentioned [44]. This game improved the art of horse-riding.

The other type of ball-game which resembles present-day golf is described in a Sravana-Belagola inscription [45]. The bat in this game was stick-like (kolu) by which the ball (girige) was hit on a circular field and after completing the circle, the player would send it inside the circuit (which might be a pit or a hole) which completed one round. The opponent perhaps competed in completing the round and who-ever covered more rounds at one stretch was presumably the winner. According to the inscription, the Rashtrakuta Indraraja would not be satisfied until he completed eight to ten rounds at a stretch. The expert player was called elepa bedanga and the strokes were known as charana or elepa [46]. The strokes could be divided into two groups. The first group included strokes in four directions, namely, sukara (right-inside), dushkara (right-outside), vishama (left-inside) and vishamadushkara (left-outside), and they numbered 338. Since a player with one ball could not make so many strokes, it is possible that more than one ball was employed [47]. The second group consisted of difficult strokes named mandala-male, trimandala, yamaka mandala, ardhachandra, sarvatobhadra. This terminology was used to describe the position of troops in the battle-field as well.

The faults of the player-perhaps 'playing foul' in modern terminology - are enumerated as going in a circle, rearing, turning round and retreating, evidently referring to the movements of the horse. These defects could be rectified if one got training from an expert [48].

Basham believes that a form of polo was introduced in India from Central Asia [49]. However, the purely indigenous words like girige, bidda and elepa in the Sravanabelagola inscription together with the description of ball-game on horseback as given in the Manasollasa indicate that this game was prevalent in Karnataka at least 4-5 centuries earlier than what Basham suggests.

Race with Elephant

Inscriptions suggest the existence of a class of athletes who raced with elephants (aneya harikarar) [50]. The Manasollasa gives a detailed description of a race between elephants and men. There were elephants which fought, but did not develop rut, and those that were in rut, could run but not fight. Medicines were prescribed to make race elephants stronger and furious. On the day of this sport event, no food or water was given to them. A proclamation was issued by beat of drum (dindima) that fat men, pregnant women, children and cripples should not move out in public thoroughfares, as there was grave danger to them from the excited elephants. Another proclamation invited the runners announcing cash rewards.

The king invited the princes, subordinate kings, ministers and other respectable gentry, along with their queens, courtesans, servants and others. These seated themselves in specially constructed galleries (alokana-mandira) round the race-course which was divided into three distinct fields. The king then called forth the runners (parikaras in Sanskrit and harikaras in Kannada) and ordered the commencement of the race. The runner who could maintain his place in all the three fields, ahead of the elephant, was considered the best (uttama). A runner who left the elephant in the previous bhumi (field) was declared to have won the race. If the runner went off the track (vithim hitva) or ran zigzag, he was considered defeated [51]. It seems that criminals were made to run with these elephants. A thief with hands tied was made to run in front of the elephant; if he survived the ordeal, he was declared free from guilt. The description of the game when the elephant was in the last stage of fury sounds macabre. When the elephant could not be controlled by the goad, it was brought to the arena with eyes covered. Kettle-drums (vira-sudas) were beaten, the runner was made to stand before the elephant, and the covering was then removed. The elephant rushed after the runner (parikara) to kill him, at which juncture, it was attacked by horseman. The elephant then ran after the horsemen, leaving the runner. With great difficulty, it would be brought under control, with the help of she-elephants and horses [52].

Children's Games

Hide-and- seek game is mentioned by Trivikrama Bhatta in his Nalachampu [53]. Pampa refers to the play of maragerase [54] (marakoti) in which children act as monkeys and climb a tree while others chase them. Viraballala, while conquering the fort of Uchchangi, tossed and seized as if it were an anekal or tiraikal [55]. Tossing pebbles (anekal) in the air is a favorite game with girls even today. A mechanical toy (kilagombe) and a doll's cradle (bombe dottilu) were promised to a young girl by her father in return for her offering milk daily to Lord Siva [56]. A doll's marriage is described in the Dharmamrita [57]. The game of kanduka or ball was a favorite with youngsters, as it is now.

Sports in Parks

This pastime known as vanakrida finds frequent mention in the classics of the time [58]. Somesvara describes in detail different kinds of trees and creepers grown in pleasure parks. The king is advised to sport in them with his harem. Buds and flowers were plucked, garlands and bouquets were strung and variegated floral ornaments were made for ears, hair and wrists [59]. There were garden-houses called latagrihas [60] or ballimadas. The Vaddaradhana speaks of thirty-two kinds of garden-houses like ekasala, dvisala, etc [61].

Aquatic Sports

Water sport (jalakrida) was equally popular. The Yasastilaka and other classics describe shower-houses (dharagriha). King Yasodhara spent the hot summer days in amorous water sports with his palace ladies in the hall of mechanical showers (yantra dharagriha) cooler than the snows of the Himalayas. Various waterfalls, mechanical clouds, streams of water gushing from the sprouts of gargoyles fashioned after various wild animals and fountains from artificial alligators are mentioned [62]. Bilhana wrote that king Vikramaditya spent the summers in specially constructed houses, filled with mechanical showers and having glass tiles (sphatikakuttima). Machines were used for spurting water on one another [63]. The Akhyanakamanikosa refers to a big step-well used for sport; it was in the compound of a forest-grove. Well-water was controlled by a mechanical contrivance of dolls [64].

Indoor Games

The Manasollasa describes the game of chaturanga or chess which was a favorite court game [65]. Indians taught this game to Persians and conquering Arabs who spread it in the Middle-East. The crusaders borrowed it from Muslims and spread it in Europe. The chess retained its present form by the late Middle Ages [66]. By the time Alberuni came to India, the Arab and the Indian modes of playing chess were already different [67].

Details of varatika-krida (game of cowries), phanida and pashaka krida (kinds of dice) and prahelika (game of riddles) are given in the Manasollasa. The game of cowries was played on Asvina Chaturdasi with women of the harem and other members of the royal family [68]. The Yasastilaka gives a fine description of the game: 'May the festival of lights bring delight to thee ...! It is enlightened by the flattering words of lovers, defeated in gambling (dyuta) and held fast by their mistresses excited by the game. It is charming with the varied adornment of courtesans, engaged in sports. The regions of the sky resound with the deep auspicious notes of instrumental music' [69].

Game of sticks (kolata) is essentially an indoor game of the female folk. But on days of festival and enchanting weather, men also play it in the open. Each person carries a pair of painted sticks and the players form a circle and move clockwise or anti-clockwise, striking the sticks with those of the adjacent player. They also sing folk or traditional kolata songs in tune to music and beat time with sticks (kolu). In a big team, they may fan in and out in concentric circles which provides a grand spectacle. Usually a team game, it could be played by two members as well (Fig. 199). In sculptures depicting kolata scenes, participants usually wore tight and gorgeous dress which allowed free movement of limbs. Expert players performed acrobatics such as touching their hair buns with their toes, while playing kolata (Fig. 200). Many pillars of temples, walls of palaces, etc., have different poses of kolata (Fig. 201) carved on them.


Games were played and sports were conducted in specially constructed arenas. Pampa calls such an arena as vyayamaranga constructed for the exhibition of the skill of the princes with different weapons. On the northern outskirts of the city, a square piece of land was measured; stones and grass were removed; a pucca arena was built fully equipped with galleries (hajara and halayige) [70]. An inscription of the Chalukya Bhuvanaikamalla's reign refers to sendina vahali or ball playground. The revenue accruing from the playground was utilized for the worship of god Mahadeva [71].

The polo field was a square that measured about 122 square meters (400' X 400'). It has fencing all around with two entrances. Tents for spectators were pitched, facing north or south, depending on the direction of the wind [72].

The arena for dueling was round, constructed on an elevation and measured 7.3 meters in diameter and 219 metres in circumference. Around the arena, there were thirty-two posts adorned with nimba (neem)  leaves or flags. Staff-bearers were posted round the arena. The visitors' gallery was square, extensive, raised and canopied [73]. The wrestling arena was known as akkhadaka. It had sixteen pillars. There was an altar for Lord Krishna and a vedika or raised seat for the king. In front, there was a pit 9.1 metres in circumference, filled with fine, sieved and moistened earth for the wrestlers [74].

The arena constructed for the races between elephants and men was more than 108 X 108 meters. The ground was made smooth and free from dust; it was raised towards east. The arena had two entrances decorated with torana, and a ditch next to the arena. Two spectators' galleries (alokana-mandira) were constructed on either side of the ditch and covered by nets [75]. The ditch and the nets protected the spectators from elephants which may have run amuck.

Some of these arenas had white pillars all around, with gold work on them; the ground was paved with mosaic or glass tiles (kacha-kuttima). All these sports and games were witnessed by the members of the royal family, nobles and others in big numbers. These organized sports continued in later centuries in Vijayanagara and subordinate courts of Ikkeri.

Pastimes and Amusements

Besides organized sports and games, there were a number of amusements in which the royalty and the commoners participated and took active interest. This stemmed from a lively sense of well-being, down-to-earth joy for living and a balanced view of life.


Kings, nobles or local leaders organized fights among animals and invited people to witness them. Elephants, rams, buffaloes, cocks and quails were trained for such fights.


A mural painting at Ajanta shows a pair of fighting elephants which indicates that it is an ancient sport [76]. Cosmos Indika Pleustus, who traveled in Karnataka in the sixth century, had noticed that elephant-fights were popular [77]. Strokes of different kind with tusks are explained by Somesvara. This was a dangerous game and either of the participating animals was likely to be killed. The game continued in the following centuries and Peter Mundy (1637 A.D.) has described an elephant-fight at Ikkeri [78]. In the present century, such fights were arranged at the Mysore court for the delectation of distinguished visitors.


Inscrptions [79] and literature [80] refer to buffalo-fights (mahisha-yuddha). Buffaloes from Vidarbha, Karahata, Jalandhara and Saurashtra were considered the best. From the description of a dairy farm in the Yasastilaka, it is gathered that Karahata (Karhad in Maharashtra) was famous for excellent breeds of buffaloes [81]. Saurashtra even today is a breeder of good species. These were fed on black gram and curds and allowed to enjoy long, cool baths. After five years, they were ready for fight. On the day of the contest, their bodies were smeared with mud and decorated with garlands of neem (nimba) leaves. The participants were allowed to mate before the commencement which gave them better concentration. They fought like elephants. The one wounded by its opponent's horns or trying to run away was declared beaten [82]. Buffalo-fights and races have survived in the form of kambala in the South Kanara district of Karnataka.


According to the Manasollasa, ram-fights (mesha-yuddha) were arranged on wager (pana-purvam). They were given wine and the drunken rams fought desperately. Birch-bark (bhurjapatram) was thrown on their faces to make them furious. A ram once defeated could never fight again [83]. These fights were common till recent times. A sculpture nicely depicts a ram-fight in which each owner encourages his ram to fight. Poet Nanjunda describes ram and buffalo fights and the wagers thereon [84].


Somesvara has elaborately described the amusement of cock-fight (tamrachuda vinoda) and given the characteristic features of different species and the techniques of breeding them. This was one game which gave scope for the exhibition of all the nine rasas. The training commenced when they were young. They were well cared for by giving periodical oil-baths, smearing of mud and salt on their heads, feeding with nutritive food and were guarded against their natural enemies.

Two types of cock-fights were prevalent and instrumental music, song and dance accompanied both these forms [85]. In the first, notice of the challenge was stuck up to a post and held high; the king made his own cocks fight with those of his favorite queen. The arena was given a cow-dung coating and a board was fixed on it. The arena was divided into zones one for each deity. At a signal from the referee (mokshaka), the fight commenced. The successful party snatched away the flag-post with the challenge stuck to it. An Ajanta painting depicts this type of cock-fight. In the second type, small sharp knives (kshurika) were tied to the legs of the cocks and these were made to fight in an arena which was free from dust, mud and stones [86]. An injury to the cock was considered to be a defeat. If either of the cocks got killed or ran away, the defeat was through misfortune. Members of the successful party sat on the backs of the defeated and put them to shame by singing sarcastic triplets (tripadis). The second type of cock-fight is still popular in the Malenadu districts of Karnataka. According to Shrigondekar, sitting on the back is even today common in Gujarat in the games of miya miyaji, but not as a punishment for defeat [87].


Sometimes quails were employed instead of cocks. The arena was round in which a thin blue board was placed. It was enclosed by thin blue curtains or nets [88].

Domestic Pets

People gave special attention to pets and derived amusement from them. In literature, their mention occurs and in inscriptions there are instances of dogs being commemorated. The Atkur inscription of the Rashtrakuta period tells about a brave dog. A servant Manaler was presented with a hound named Kali by Kannaradeva for his help in a fight with the Cholas. In a boar hunt, Kali got killed and the owner erected a viragal or hero-stone, granted land for its worship, with a warning that any lapse in worship would be equal to killing the dog [89]. According to another inscription of 950 A.D., a hunting dog got killed which fighting and killing a cow-eating tiger [90]. Another brave dog Doka is commemorated in an inscription from Mulbagal taluka, which had killed seventy-five boars [91].

A good number of sculptures show men and women spending time with their pets. A well-decorated female is shown as talking to a pigeon (Fig.202). The mode of sending messages through pigeons was popular during the Chalukyan period. They were fed on grain and reared in golden, silver or wooden cages. The male bird was trained to carry letters tied round its neck which then flew to its mate which was already kept at the required destination. The pigeon could fly for more than 400 kilometers (thirty yojanas). Paravatas or pigeons are described as sacred, beautiful and useful for royal service [92]. Parrots were also reared as pets. In a sculpture, a matron proudly poses with her pet parrot (Fig. 203). A parrot pecking at a fruit is carved. A housewife spent leisurely moments talking to her myna bird (Fig. 204). Sculptors of the period depicted scenes familiar to them, such as milking a cow (Fig. 205), a young lady wondering at the sight of mating dogs (Fig. 206), hunting dogs attacking a boar along with their master (Fig. 207) and a snake-charmer with his cobra and monkey (Fig. 208), who entertained village children.


Swing-play was very popular in ancient and medieval times. The swings were erected in parks, palaces and private households (Fig. 209). In a story from Dharmamrita, a king while going for garden sport sees the beautiful daughter of merchant Gunapala playing on the swing in the courtyard of her house and becomes enamored of her [93]. In another story, a damsel while playing on the swing in the city park along with her friends is abducted [94]. In Somadeva's time, swing-play formed part of spring festivities and he gives a fine description of the lovers' play on swings [95] (Fig. 210). Outdoor swings and cradles (Fig. 211) were known which provided fresh air for babies.

The Parsvanatha Purana describes the sport of swings by which the royal ladies entertained themselves [96]. Bilhana calls it dola-krida and this amusement in the palace finds glorious description in his work [97]. It was a favorite with commoners as well.


The village acrobats (dombas or kollatigas) moved from village to village with their donkeys loaded with goods [98]. They performed many feats on the ground and on poles, living on favours of kings and masses. Some kollatigas (Sanskrit kollatikas) lived at palaces and were classified along with dancers and other entertainers. The best of them was he who was lightly built, could glide with ease and yet bear a heavy weight [99]. An inscription of Honnihal in Bijapur district tells about the gift of a village to dombas [100].

Choudayya, a devotee of Siva, was a peripatetic mono-actor and was also skilled in feats of jugglery. He had defeated celebrated jugglers of his time [101].

Sculptures of female acrobats are available. In one, a lady is shown exhibiting her strength by standing on one leg and balancing two kids and a bow (Fig. 212). Various exercises were practised by the acrobats to make the body light and supple to perform various feats. Another young girl had enough strength to balance three children and simultaneously perform a feat (Fig. 213). There were teams of female acrobats who exhibited their skill (Fig. 214).

The tradition of acrobats continued during the Vijayanagara period and there were teams that gave grand performances including the acrobatics of an elephant rising thirty feet high in the air [102]. There were Brahmin jugglers as well, known as vipra-vinodins [103].

Fine Arts

Music, dance, drama, debate, discussions, painting and singing formed the entertainments of prince Meghakumara [104]. King Somesvara was a great musicologist and musician and seems to have been a good dancer as well. He elaborately describes the dance called Jalasayana, which finds mention in the Parsvanatha Purana also. According to him, the king should direct dance performances and also participate, full of emotional rapture [105]. At a state banquet in the Chola court (1225 A.D.), Chau-Ju-Kua noticed that the prince, his ministers and others broke into music, song and dancing [106]. This indicates that singing and playing of instrumental music formed an integral part of a dance [107]. A sculpture gives a clear idea as to what an exclusively female dancing troupe looked like (Fig. 215). The dancers wore a semi-transparent and tight dress. A couple of singers are on either side of the dancer. A flute player and a ghatam artist are on the right side and players of cymbals and drum are placed on the left side. In another sculpture, the performer is a lady and the accompanying artists are all men (Fig.216). Some dancers had elaborate costume (Fig. 217). There may have been competitions among dancing groups. In one sculpture, participants are encouraged to give their best performance (Fig. 218).

Descriptions of drama (nataka) are found in literature and inscriptions, but it is doubtful whether the word was used in the modern sense of play. From the description of a drama in the Parsvanatha Purana, it appears that it was a dramatic performance combined with music and dance [108].

Carefree Moments

Inscriptions invariably use the expression sukha sankatha vinoda dim kalam geyyuttire to denote happy times, meaning that it was spent in delightful conversation and witticism. Conversation or gossip is a pastime in which all human beings participate in varied degrees. Gossiping figures are nicely illustrated by the sculptors. Housewives after finishing their chores are engaged in discussing an unforeseen event (Fig.219). A rural couple planning their future is depicted (Fig. 220). A housewife is engaged in a discussion with a visiting noble in another sculpture (Fig. 221). At times men outwit women in gossiping and rumor-mongering (Fig. 222). A young husband stretches himself and is absorbed in a day-dreaming, while his wife looks on (Fig. 223). A couple having some domestic problem is trying to talk it over (Fig. 224).

One does not get relaxation by just whiling away time. It includes activities indulged in a carefree atmosphere which gives immense happiness and feeling of living. Such moments are artistically captured in stone. While a man fondles his child, the lady of the house picks lice from his hair, sitting on a stool (Fig. 225). A father caresses the baby held out proudly by its mother (Fig. 226). When a learned man reads out from the scriptures, he gets a patient listening from god-fearing people (Fig. 227). There was no taboo for a woman to converse with an outsider (Fig. 228). A young mother gets medical check-up from a lady physician, while her child is sucking at her breast happily (Fig. 229). Giving a helping hand to her husband in tying his turban was a pleasant moment for a wife (Fig. 230).

People who could afford the luxury of having servants had their additional quota of carefree moments. A lady relaxing on a couch had her legs massaged by a servant (Fig. 231), who evidently found the job interesting. Even while a noble is engaged in conversation with his subordinates, his foot gets proper attention from his boy-servant (Fig. 232). An attendant supplies drinks to a couple making love (Fig. 233). On a sunny day, the master gets the servant to hold an umbrella (Fig. 234). In days when transportation was a problem, a noble got a comfortable ride in a palanquin carried by two servants (Fig. 235).

It will thus be seen that medieval Karnataka had developed organized sports and games with suitable arenas and sports-grounds for different games. This belies the usual cliche that the Hindus were more concerned with spiritual values than material benefits. The people approximated to the Greek ideal of development of body and mind as the plebeian exercises and the invention of chess bear witness. Uninhibited love of dance and music bespeak a free open society far removed from that of ours. Games played in teams according to prescribed rules like polo or golf developed esprit de corps, sportsmanship and discipline. Their training of leopards for hunting was copied by the Mughals. The people were refined enough to tune into nature, as is seen from their interest in outdoor life and seasonal festivals.


  1. YAIC, p. 112. 
  2. AgP, p. 1036. 
  3. AKMK, p. 14. 
  4. HCIP, V, p. 49. 
  5. MS, II, p. 229, v. 880. 
  6. ANP, XI, v. 27. 
  7. MS, II, pp. 230-34, vv. 885-945; p 235, v. 953. 
  8. Ibid., p. 238, v. 992. 
  9. PB, VIII, v. 58. This seems to be typical of Karnataka; Domingo Paes also noticed breaking of limbs in wrestling bouts held in Vijayanagar (FE, p. 261). 
  10. YAIC, p. 122. 
  11. AgP, p. 932. 
  12. MS, II, p. 228, v. 874. 
  13. Ibid., pp. 225-26, vv. 830-40. 
  14. Ibid., p. 226, vv. 840-41. 
  15. Ibid., p. 225, vv. 835-36. 
  16. TMP, p. 68. 
  17. MS, II, p. 226, v. 842. 
  18. AgP, p. 898. 
  19. Ibid. 
  20. MS, II, p. 168, vv. 159-60. 
  21. EC, VI, Tk. 61 of 1154 A.D. (Ereyanga). 
  22. AgP, p. 867. 
  23. VC, XVI. The whole chapter is devoted to the description of hunting. 
  24. PP, XII, v. 75. It includes rough shoes, necklaces of beads, black jacket, bows and arrows. 
  25. EC, IX, Kp. 11 of 1310 A.D.; Ibid., VIII, sb. 258 of about 1470 A.D. 
  26. MS, II, pp. 276-304, vv. 1433-1725. 
  27. VC, XVI, vv. 29-30. 
  28. MS, II, pp. 264-66, vv. 1299-1326. 
  29. Ibid., pp. 276-77, vv. 1334-44. 
  30. Ibid., p. 279, v. 1471; Intro., p. 44. 
  31. Ibid., pp. 303-04, vv. 1714-24; Intro., p. 48. 
  32. EC, VIII, loc. cit. 
  33. Ibid., VII, Sk. 159. 
  34. EC, IX, loc. cit. 
  35. Ibid., XV, B1. 339 of 1231 A.D. 
  36. Ibid., VII, Sb. 39 of 1122 & 57 of 1115 A.D. 
  37. EI, VI, p. 178, no. 16 of 949-50 A.D. 
  38. AKMK, p. 14. 
  39. EC, VII, Ci. 21 of 1268. 
  40. WTI, p. 210. 
  41. ANP, XI, v. 27. 
  42. MS, II, pp. 211-24, vv. 661-826. 
  43. Ibid., p. 222, vv. 793-94. 
  44. Ibid., p. 224, vv. 818-23. 
  45. EC, II, Sb. 133 of 982 A.D. 
  46. Ibid. 
  47. JKUH, 1963, p. 80 ff. 
  48. EC, II, loc. cit. (11. 142-45). 
  49. WTI, p. 210. 
  50. EC, VII, Hn. 7 and 8 of 1204 A.D. 
  51. MS, II, pp. 199-202, vv. 528-62. 
  52. Ibid., p. 203, v. 573; Intro., pp. 33-34. 
  53. MAR, 1924, p. 15. 
  54. PB, II, vv. 30-31. 
  55. EC, VI, Cm. 22 of 1177 A.D. 
  56. BP, XIII, p. 193, v. 4. 
  57. DA, III, V. 10. 
  58. PP, XI, v. 12; DA, II, v. 28. 
  59. A park containing numerous fruit-yielding trees and flowers-plants was maintained at a suitable distance from the city in which artificial lakes and mounds were created along with groves and bower-houses. During spring, the king accompanied by select members of his harem, dancers and musicians proceeded to such a park for an outing. He played hide-and-seek with other members, wandered in the sylvan surroundings and listened to music. While he rested, damsels fanned him with plantain leaves. The party greatly relished the various fruits of the place and drank water of tender coconuts. Garlands were prepared from different flowers. The king wore flowers, prepared bouquets and distributed them (MS, III, pp. 184-88, vv. 128-66). 
  60. AKMK, p. 17. 
  61. VD, p. 45. 
  62. YAIC, pp. 33, 37. 
  63. VC, XII, vv. 50, 62. 
  64. AKMK, p. 16. 
  65. MS, III, pp. 228-32, vv. 560-604. 
  66. WTI, p. 210. 
  67. AI, I, pp. 183-85. 
  68. MS, III, pp. 235-57, vv. 634-863. 
  69. YAIC, p. 157. 
  70. PB, II, v. 66. 
  71. INKK, no. 2, p. 5. 
  72. MS, II, p. 211, vv. 662-64. 
  73. Ibid., p. 226, vv. 846-47. 
  74. Ibid., pp. 198-99, vv. 515-24. 
  75. Ibid. 
  76. WTI, p1.LXXVII. 
  77. JIH, XLIV, Pt. III, p. 698. 
  78. SPLVE, II, p. 421, fn. 3. 
  79. JBBRAS, X, no. viii, p. 234. 
  80. PP, III, v. 92; DA, III, v. 81. 
  81. YAIC, pp. 71-72. 
  82. MS, II, pp. 261-62, vv. 1260-65. 
  83. Ibid., pp. 259-61, vv. 1239-59. 
  84. RNC, I, iv, vv. 78-81. 
  85. MS, II, pp. 241-53, vv. 1021-1169. 
  86. Ibid., p. 248, v. 1112. 
  87. Ibid., Intro., p. 38, fn. 1. 
  88. Somesvara describes at length the bringing up of three species of lavakas (quails) which could fight for hours, non-stop. Specific time was fixed for this sport and placed inside. Blue cloth nets surrounded the arena. If the lavakas could not fight for t bird was broken or if both the birds stopped fighting, that was the end of the game, the latter being judged as equal. The lavaka that ran away was declared defeated. Wagers were set on quails as in ram-fights (Ibid.,pp. 253-59, vv. 1170-1238). 
  89. EI, II, Atkur Ins. of Krishna III, p. 171 ff. 
  90. EX, X, M1. 162 of 950 A.D. 
  91. Ibid., M1. 85 of c. 975 A.D. 
  92. MS, II, pp. 263-64, vv. 1286-96. 
  93. DA, I, ii, v. 10. 
  94. Ibid., iii, v. 29. 
  95. YAIC, pp. 156-57. 
  96. PP, X, v. 44. 
  97. VC, XVI, vv. 15-19. 
  98. KK, I, p. 38; VD, p. 8. 
  99. MS, III, p. 120, v. 967. 
  100. SII, XV, 675 Honnihal of c. 14th century. 
  101. SCA, p. 103. 
  102. ED, IV, pp. 118-19. 
  103. TLIMP, Cuddapa dist. nos. 130, 144, 182, 326, 327 and 434. 
  104. AKMK, p. 14. 
  105. MS, III, p. 161, v. 1401. 
  106. FNSI, p. 143. 
  107. MS, III, p. 119, v. 954. 
  108. PP, XVI, pp. 21-22.



Full Text of Social Life in Medieval KarnatakaSocial Life in Medieval Karnataka
Foreword | Introduction  | Abbreviations
Food & Drinks | Leisure & Pleasure | Vanity Fair | Status of Women
Bibliography | Illustrations


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