From Tekeli Bhonga to BMX, the North East can truly become India’s premier sports hub

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During the ongoing Rongali festival in Guwahati, some traditional Assam sports are on display. It is indeed welcome. Traditional sports are rooted in local culture and often steeped in centuries-old wisdom and philosophy. But scratch the surface and you may also find that what is considered local actually resonates globally. In this context, a traditional Assamese sport exhibited in Rongali that seems to have global ancestry is “Tekeli Bhonga” or literally breaking clay pots. This sport is traditionally practiced during the Bihu festival and consists of blindfolding the participants before being asked to break a clay pot held at a distance on the ground with a stick.

At first glance, the game looks a lot like the Mexican Pinata where blindfolded participants are asked to smash a dangling object – again traditionally a clay pot – filled with candies, small toys or fruit. While pinatas have become an integral part of Mexican birthday celebrations, their origin may lie in China. In the Chinese version, clay vessels in the shape of animals were filled with seeds and broken during Chinese New Year celebrations to wish a good harvest. This syncs with Tekeli Bhonga which is also a game played during the harvest festival of Magh or Bhogali Bihu.

So what we think is local might actually be “glocal”, or “global local”. In a similar vein, another sport that was on display at Rongali – this time not so traditional – was freestyle BMX or motocross stunt biking on special BMX bikes. Three of Guwahati’s BMX riders captivated onlookers as they performed a series of stunts on their BMX bikes. BMX started in the early 1970s in the United States when kids started racing bikes on dirt tracks. The sport has certainly come a long way over the past few decades, growing from a niche subculture to an Olympic appearance at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Speaking to two of Rongali’s BMX riders, Sam B Teron and Bikram Sarkar, it became clear that BMX in India is slowly but surely progressing. “People are definitely curious when they see us perform. It’s great when spectators and viewers on social media like us. However, we wish there were more public spaces for us to train and perform our stunts. Said Sam. “BMX bikes are not cheap. Each can cost between Rs 60,000 and Rs 70,000. It would be great if we had more sponsors supporting riders,” Bikram added.

Both riders have their own Instagram channels where they upload videos of their BMX stunts, performing at different locations in Guwahati and other northeastern towns. “We are also connected with all the BMX riders in India. We are a community and we encourage each other,” Sam said. “We watch YouTube videos of other riders and try to learn their stunts, so you have to be passionate about BMX to get far in this sport,” added Sat.

Since the North East is emerging as a stable for Indian sports, producing multiple international and Olympic level athletes in the fields of hockey, boxing, football, gymnastics etc., the promotion BMX in the region could open new paths. And with BMX now in the Olympics, perhaps the region could produce future Olympic medalists as well. But that would now require forethought and investment in Indian BMX. Only then can North East talents like Sam and Bikram shine and add to India’s sporting prowess.



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