With Pongal round the corner, bulls and bull tamers flex their muscles alike, getting ready for the game.

We are at the Vilangudi tank brimming with water and the Ayyanar temple on its bank has suddenly become a scene of action. There’s a small crowd gathered to look at Maran, Mayandi, Arul, Ramu and Anbu show their mettle in swimming. They stand tethered to trees, their eyes glinting; they seem vigilant and wary of the onlookers. “These are some of my star bulls that have won laurels in many jallikattu events,” says S Deepak, who owns 16 adult bulls and eight calves. As if in response, five-year-old Maran gives a nerve-rattling grunt and people back off in caution.

Meet the stars of jallikattu

In the colour of the night sky, sporting a pair of razor-sharp horns, Maran stands an impressive five feet, his hump towering over him. Kicking his hooves back and forth, he keeps grunting, signalling to strangers to stay away. But Deepak refers to the fearsome bull as his baby. “He’s just a kid and yet to grow into a veteran. However, in the past two years he has participated in over 40 jallikattus and won in nearly 35 of them,” beams Deepak, also a bull tamer. “The bulls are like my brothers and I have named them all after ancestors or deities. At home, they are docile and sober but when it comes to the game, they have to be watched out for.”

Except Arul, a three-year-old bull that’s a cross breed between Kannapuram and Poorni breeds, all of Deepak’s bulls belong to the Pulikulam breed, known for its agile build and medium size making it a perfect choice for jallikattu. “Traditionally, it was the Pulikulam breed, native to the Madurai region, that was used for the sport. For instance, the large and hefty Kangayam breed is not suitable for jallikattu and hence only rekla races are done using Kangayam bulls,” says 43-year-old Deepak, who has been a bull tamer for two decades now. “Apart from the breed, the bulls are classified based on the skin colour and pattern and are locally referred to with names like karisal (grey), macham(mole-like marks on the skin), kaari (black), mayilai (stripes), sevalai or kuraal (with a pink or red tinge to the skin tone).”

S Deepak with his bull Mayandi

S Deepak with his bull Mayandi   | Photo Credit: S James

Unleashing Maran, Deepak leads him to the water and the bull happily gets in and puts up a good show of swimming, keeping his horns and head above the water surface, breathing out through his flared nostrils. Two other bulls follow suit and swim about with the help of their trainers. Mayandi the bull seems calm; but once he’s lead on to a patch of soil, he just charges forth on to the ground, fiercely poking his horns into the earth and throwing up mud. “This is referred to as mannu kuthal and often misconceived that the bull is being trained to be violent, but this is an exercise that helps strengthen the spine and neck bones,” says Deepak.

There are different formats of the game for which the bulls are trained specifically. Games like erudhukattu, vadam, velivirattu and manjuvirattu are some other forms of jallikattu conducted in Southern Tamil Nadu. While the popular vaadivasal jallikattu takes place in eight districts, the vadam sport is held year round in Madurai, Dindigul, Sivagangai, Ramnad and Tiruchi districts. Some of these events are organised for church festivals as well. “In vadam, the bull is kept tethered with a 40 metre rope and a team of nine men try to embrace the animal within a closed area,” says Deepak. “I have trained five of my bulls for vadam, two for velivirattu while nine are jallikattu players.”

“Depending on off-season and the peak-season for jallikattu, we train the bulls like athletes. Apart from hour-long swimming sessions, we do cross-fit training with slow and fast jogging. On alternate days, the bulls are made to stomp clay for strengthening of thigh muscles and to plough sand for shaping up the shoulders,” explains Deepak. The animals are also given a nutritious meal that’s composed of cotton seeds, wheat dust, ground pulses such as urad and thuvar dal. Only during off-season, the bulls are fed rice while during jallikattu period, their diet is protein-rich. “The player’s diet also includes honey, figs, and dates,a kilo each daily. We also offer them home-made traditional medicines made of ginger, garlic and onions to build immunity,” he adds.

Bulls aged over 15 years are considered jallikattu veterans and become sought-after as breed males. Ramu, the oldest of Deepak’s bulls is 17-years-old and is a star in the surrounding areas. Some, such as Nondi even attain celebrity status and become viral on online platforms like YouTube.

This article has been produced from https://www.thehindu.com JANUARY 11, 2019 15:11 IST.

The original can be accessed at  :https://www.thehindu.com/society/with-pongal-round-the-corner-bulls-and-bull-tamers-flex-their-muscles-alike-getting-ready-for-the-game/article25969763.ece

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