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Jallikattu – a 2000 year old sport of Tamil Nadu

By Sharanya R C

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Jallikattu is a sport played in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India on the occasion of ‘Thai-Pongal’, a multi-day harvest festival.

Jallikattu, also known as ‘Eru Thazhuval’ derived from Tamil language, native to Tamil Nadu) is basically a bull taming sport. A wide arena is built for the event with a makeshift entry or a narrow passageway through which the bull enters the field. This entry gate, known as ‘Vadivaasal’ is decorated and the sport begins when the bull enters the arena. There is a pouch tied to the horns of the bull with the winner’s prize money. The players attempt to retrieve the package from the horns by catching hold of the running bull’s hump. The bull is excited by the players advances towards it and rages fiercely across the field. The players need to be quick on their feet and possess quick reflexes to dodge the horns and hold onto the hump long enough to extract the pouch and be declared a winner.

Initially, the sport was played to judge a man’s virility. It still continues to be so, except that it is more about the virility of the bull than the man. Nowadays Jallikattu is played to pick the strongest bulls as studs for the cows to breed high-quality calves.

There were more than 100 variants of bull breeds used for the sport of Jallikattu. But lately the native breeds have become less populous because of the rise of cross breeding and import of foreign breeds to the country. Still there are few native breeds of bulls like ‘Kangeyam’ and ‘Pulikulam’ preserved by the breeders and farmers of Tamil Nadu for the purpose of Jallikattu and gene preservation.

The three main venues where Jallikattu is held are Alanganallur, Palamedu and Avaniapuram, situated in the southern part of the state of Tamil Nadu. Jallikattu also attracts a lot of tourists during Jallikattu season and these towns are flooded with people from all over the world to witness the world-famous bull taming sport. It serves as an important revenue generating medium for these towns, where the primary income is mostly farming and allied activities.

In January 2016, India witnessed a huge protest by the people of Tamil Nadu when the organization PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) moved to Supreme Court of India to ban the sport citing that the bulls were subjected to torture during the sport and that it caused even fatal injuries to the players. The people of Tamil Nadu rose against the ban and called for continuing the 2000-year-old traditional sport stating that the ban is a ploy by PETA to wipe out the indigenous breeds. They claimed that the animals were not tortured and that the sporting venue was constantly monitored by the Government officials to ensure that the animals and the participating contestants were safe. The Tamil Nadu government finally allowed the continuation of conducting the sport, which was welcomed by the people of Tamil Nadu, especially the farmers who were banking on breeding these indigenous breeds which was their sole livelihood.

Till date Jallikattu has been conducted in the southern State of Tamil Nadu and is being widely celebrated as an exercise to preserve the nativity and culture of the State.


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