Villagers in remote Uttarakhand Himalayas, celebrated ‘Makar Sankranti’ by playing their traditional game like rugby- with a leather ball weighing about 15 kg. Residents of ninety villages from Yamkeshwar block in district Pauri gathered on the banks of Thalnadi for the annual ’Gindi ke mela, (fair of the ball) on Saturday. The challenge is to carry the ball to the boundary of their village. 

The fair brought people from far and near at Thalnadi, about 80 kms from Rishikesh. The fair of the ball is being organized since the British period and even cold weather failed to dampen the spirit of local people. Over three thousand villagers were present on the venue, cheering their teams. The teams too were big this time, each consisting of about two hundred members. The target for each team was to carry the ball and run safely to their village’s boundary. 

As the match runs till late night, the villagers will get the result only on Sunday. Till filing of this report about 250 villagers were battling it out to gain control of the 15 kg ball. 

Anil Negi, president of the fair organizing committee, says, “There is no written record available on the Gindi ke mela, but it began in ancient time during the British rule. Forty-five villages each of the Ajmer Patti and Udaipur Patti take part in the traditional game. The game is played without any rule, fixed number of player, time and even area. The team taking the ball safely inside their village boundary is declared winner.”

Legends had it that during ancient time a girl name Gindi from Nali village got married to a boy from Khasiyali village. The girl was unhappy at her in-laws home and decided to flee.  As the girl reached near the border of her maternal home, villagers from Khasiyali and Nali  spotted Gindi. Both villages scuffled for taking control of the girl and in this process Gindi lost her life. Lord Manapgarh ( a form of Lord Shiva) appeared and asked the guilty conscious villagers to host a fair of ball in the memory of the girl. Since then the process started and is continuing since ages. 

Mahinder Bisht says, “The ball is made from goatskin, which is filled with wild plant called ‘Gindadu’. The average weight is about 10-15 kg.  Army men and other professionals from village working in different parts of India come to provide strength to their teams. We are happy that we have kept the cultural heritage alive.”

The fair of the ball is a rough game, in which participants can suffer injuries. During British rule up to seven causalities during the match was allowed and considered normal.

Santanu Butola says, “I am amazed to see so many elderly people turning up to watch the match. This also shows the deep attachment of villagers with the fair of the ball.”

On Saturday the Gindi ke mela began at 2.10 pm and till late evening both Ajmer and Udaipur pattis were fighting it out at Thalnadi for supremacy.