The writers visit Alanganallur before Pongal and get caught up in jallikattu preparation

Pongal is still a week away but Alanganallur is already bustling. The small town comes to life at this time of the year and grabs national attention. It is home to the annual bull fight or Jallikattu, witnessed every year by thousands.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, a strict code of conduct regulates jallikattu.

Over 2,000 bulls make their way to Alanganallur each year to participate in the event. Bull owners have to furnish a certification from the Animal Welfare Board and the bull fighters have to enrol themselves in advance. Both animal and man are insured.

D. Ragupathi, former chairman of the Alanganallur Town Panchayat says, “This year we have sealed the registration at 700. Though the sport is now regulated, the procedure is tedious for the stakeholders,” he adds.

Alanganallur Jallikattu is hailed as one of the biggest and the most fierce in the State. Unlike it is in other towns like Palamedu, here the narrow thoroughfare is converted into the arena and the face-off between the players and the bulls is intense.

Showing off a scar on his left arm, college student Perumal, who has started participating in jallikattu recently, proudly declares, “The risk is more here. My parents don’t like me taking part.”

Though jallikattu is more to do with individual calibre and valour, the bull fighters register as teams. “It helps to escape injuries because if the tamer is attacked by the bull, the other team members can come to his rescue,” says T.Vasu, who belongs to Satish Kumar Bull Fighters Club Mettupatti. There are several such informal teams made up of friends with a common interest in bull fighting.

The training for Jallikattu starts months before the event. A bull fighter begins as a passionate spectator watching his seniors bring laurels to the sport and themselves. He then graduates into a fierce fighter. “Even as a kid, I used to mock fight with calves. Fighting is a combination of clever dodging techniques and different ways of holding the horn of a bull and clinging on to the hump,” explains Vasu.

Nearly everyone is a bull owner or a bull fighter in Alanganallur. “Every house rears a bull named after the owner or a deity. It’s a custom followed from the times of our forefathers,” says Lakshmanan, a bull owner himself. The event doesn’t end with bull fighting. There are several other factors such as religious customs and social rivalry that add colour to Jallikattu. Many settle scores through bull fighting. If a bull loses, it brings humiliation to its owner and praise for the bull fighter. “Depending on whether the bull owner is a friend or a foe, we jump into the ring to save the bull owner’s pride,” says Satish Kumar.

The market value of the bull is directly proportional to it’s victories. Bulls known for their ferocity are sold for lakhs. The price of the bull varies depending on its victories.

Every year, the organizing committee mobilises funds and offers attractive prizes for the winner. The rewards range from mopeds and motorcycles to gold and silver coins and sometimes home and kitchen appliances.

This year’s ‘Man of the match’ and ‘Bull of the match’ prize is a motorcycle. Every bull owner or fighter who wins gets a goody bag with a dhoti, shirt and a casserole. There are also exclusive and expensive prizes sponsored by private companies for stunning performances. But, Sundara Raghavan, Organizing Secretary is at pains to point out that, “the passion for jallikattu rides goes beyond just taking part and winning prizes. It is seen as a challenge to manhood and a test of valour. Earlier, bridegrooms were selected on the basis of their bull fighting calibre. It’s an age-old custom. Bull owners gave their daughters in marriage to the one who fought and controlled their bulls.”

A slice of history

Bull fighting was has been common among the ancient tribes who lived in the ‘Mullai’ geographical division of Tamil Nadu. It is referred to as ‘Yeru thazhuvuthal’ in Sangam literature, (meaning, to embrace bulls). Later, it became a sport conducted for entertainment and was called ‘Yeruthu Kattu’ in which a fast running bull was corralled with ropes around its neck. In the Naik era, prize money was introduced and the sport became a display of bravery. The term Jallikattu was coined in this era. ‘Jalli’ referred to the silver or gold coins tied to the bulls’ horns. – R. Sundaravandhiya Thevan, Author of Piramalai Kallar Vazhvum Varalarum.

Tidbits:

Jallikattu is kicked off from Avaniapuram on the first day of Pongal festivities from where it travels to Palamedu, Alanganallur, Vadamadurai and villages in Dindigul and Sivagangai districts. Bull fighter clubs are present in Kizhadhiri, Keelaiyur, Arittapatti, Chinna Oorseri, Thiruvathavur, Karupayurani and Mettupatti.

Techniques followed in Jallikattu are Surukadithal (grabbing the rear limbs of the bull), Pinthangal (clinging on to the bull’s back) and Serukadithal (dodging the bull).

The other bull taming games similar to Jallikattu are Kayathupaichal (bulls are tamed inside a ring within a span of 30 minutes) and Manjuvirattu (bulls are left to run fast and are chased and caught by tamers).