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In Photos: The Weird and Wonderful World of India's Rural Olympics

Thousands of participants come together to compete in traditional athletics as well as weird and wonderful feats of strength such as lifting heavy items using ears, teeth, and hair.
Photo par Ahmer Khan

Can you lift a ladder with your teeth? Pull a car with your hair? Survive being run over by a tractor? Such activities might sound like a form of torture — but in the Indian state of Punjab they are celebrated sports.

Contestants aged from six up to 70-years-old come together each year for the nation's "Rural Olympics," pitting men and boys against each other in both traditional sports and bizarre shows of strength and skill.


Officially titled the Kila Raipur Sports Festival, the four-day event was thought up by the philanthropist Inder Singh Grewal as a way for farmers to get together and test their endurance in both recognized disciplines and traditional rural sports, according to the event's website.

"In over six decades the festival has grown from a toddler to a prancing, energetic youthful organization," it says. "Those who have been watching this festival grow from year to year can vouch that they have seen hundreds of Olympians and internationals in action on the bald but even playfields of perhaps the biggest Rural Sports Stadium in the country."

The festival saw participants competing in classic athletic disciplines such as sprinting and long-distance running, javelin throwing and shot put, alongside traditional activities such as bhangra dancing and tractor racing, and the weird and wonderful feats of strength such as lifting heavy items using ears, teeth, and hair. Horses, dogs, mules, and also compete in their own races. Bullock racing used to be an event but the use of bulls for entertainment was banned by India's Supreme Court in 2014.

All photos by Ahmer Khan

A villager displays his strength by allowing a tractor pass over him during the Indian Rural Olympics.

Locals also displayed their skills in fire blowing, also known as fire breathing.

Dogs also compete in the Rural Olympics. This year's greyhound race was won by a dog named Bullet.

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

A man competes in a horse cart race, which replaced bullock cart racing this year following a ban imposed by the Indian Supreme Court.

Participants compete in the ancient Sikh martial art known as Gatka.

The event was conceptualized in 1933 as a way for Indian farmers to test their endurance.

Bicycles are another of the unusual items lifted with unusual parts of the body during the four-day event.

A man lifts a 100lb weight with his ear to demonstrate his strength.

All photos by Ahmer Khan.