Jallikattu: Tug of war over bull-taming festival in Tamil Nadu continues

Trained bulls are lead through a restricted path; locals jump onto hump of bulls and try conquer it

Gireesh Babu  |  Chennai January 10, 2017 Last Updated at 17:38 IST

jallikattu, bull, bull fight
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

With Pongal, the biggest agriculture-related festival of being round the corner, the controversy on Jallikattu, a bull-taming sport celebrated in Pongal, has once again come to the fore.


What has been a tug of war between the traditional Tamil culture and a group of animal lovers, has also been intertwined with court cases and political discussions in the state and the centre.


The 2000-year-old traditional practice of taming a bull, which is linked with the cultural tradition of as a popular sport among warriors since the “Sangam era” finds a mention in the ancient Tamil text “Silapathigaram”.


The specially trained bulls are lead through a small gate to a restricted path, where the local lads try to conquer it by jumping and holding onto the hump of the bulls. Accidents, both minor and major, often occur as the panicked throngs its way through the gate into the crowd.


The State Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, describes the game as: “It is inextricably linked to rural, agrarian customs and has religious significance, with families donating bulls to temples in fulfilment of vows. also addresses the cause of conservation of native germplasm since bulls with excellent physical attributes are reared. Further, bulls are not harmed or physically tortured during Jallikattu”.


The government has now sought the central government to consider issuing an ordinance to enable people in the state to conduct Jallikattu.


This is at a time when animal lovers link the game with the fight in Spain, where the is brutally killed for the pleasure of the viewers. In a judgement on May 7, 2014, the Supreme Court of India, banned the conduct of in the State of and also held that bulls cannot be used as performing either for events or for bullock cart races in the states of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or elsewhere in the country.


“The ban on has caused widespread resentment and general disappointment among the people of Tamil Nadu, particularly in rural areas, since is intertwined with religious and social cultural ethos of Tamil society,” says Panneerselvam.


The centre is against since allowing the game could be a political gain for the ruling party in the centre. In January 2015, the government of had requested Modi’s personal intervention to enable the conduct of events in by denotifying bulls from the list of performing in a notification dated July 11, 2011, issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.


The centre has also issued a notification on January 7, 2016, which was expected to enable the groups to conduct during Pongal, which falls in the middle of January.


However, it was stayed by the Supreme Court and the game was not conducted legally during these years, though in some places, people tried to conduct it without the approval of the administration.


A review petition was filed by the government of on May 19, 2015, and the Supreme Court refused to review its earlier judgement, dismissed the review petition on December 16, 2016.


The state government has now demanded that the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, should clearly denotify bulls “as performing animals” from the notification issued on July 11, 2011, and suitably amend Section 11(3) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Act, 1960 by introducing a new clause in sub-section (3) of Section 11 specifically exempting in addition to other exemptions already provided in the Act.


The traditional game of has its own business nurtured over a period of time, Organisers and locals say the ban will have a direct impact on thousands of and his family, who depend on this breed cattle for livelihood. According to organisers, a can fetch as high as Rs 2 lakh to a farmer and it would cost about Rs 20 lakh in one major village.


had been organised in 24 places between January 14 and January 17 in Tamil Nadu. An event can raise upto Rs 15 lakh in a village apart from the prizes, said Balakumar Somu, one of the ardent follower of earlier. Somu, an IT professional quit a job in Singapore, relocated to Coimbatore and started a website supporting this sport.


According to him, a farmer invests around Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 to buy a calf and the entire family spends money and energy for 1.5 years to grow the calf into a healthy bull. They use as a platform to find a buyer and the bulls which wins can stretch around Rs 1.5-2 lakh to the owners.


The buyers, who are mainly rich people buy these bulls as a matter of pride, employee around 5-6 people to maintain it. The people who are employed, mostly women, get about Rs 800-900 per week as salary.


Thousands of artisans also get affected as in many villages, a major source of income has been creating decorative items, including specialised ropes for the bulls and for the race.


may be a three-day sports festival, but it has been the source of income for throughout the year, said Somu.


The organisers spend anywhere between Rs 50,000 and Rs 20 lakh to organise it depends on the village.


The money will be spent on preparing the ground for Jallikattu, deposit money, gifts including, motorcycles, gold coins, bicycles, steels almirahs and sheep and goats. The money is mobilised through sponsors and advertisers, most of them being local brands. These take space in t-shirts, which players wear on the ground and also merchandise including, coffee mugs, posters, coasters, pens, bedsheets.


This will also affect the special breeds used in Jallikattu, including the Kangeyam breed of bulls. Already, the number of Kangeyam bulls has come down from lakhs to tens of thousands.


“The banning of and the demand for banning of other rural sports like rekhla race will ultimately result in the vanishing of native species and ultimately result in the country turning into import dependent on bovine animals,” says Karthikeya Sivasenapathy, managing trustee, Senaapathy Kangayam Cattle Research Foundation (SKCRF).


The foundation breeds Kangayam bulls and cows and also works on the preservation of native breeds. According to him while the Kangayam cow costs around Rs 25,000-35,000 the is available for Rs 10,000 only.


Sivasenapathy said the population of Kangayam variety has come down to one lakh from 11 lakh in 1990. People with total disconnect with livestock, rural life or villages are ones who claim that do not love animals, whereas, farm are part of the rural household. He said cattle farming in India is part of the household activity and not a corporate activity.

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