A coconut grove at Virattipathu was buzzing with activity on Sunday. Under the shades of the trees were seen groups of youth with roosters in their hands, gently caressing the birds and bouncing them up and down. Then they started patting the roosters in order to provoke them, to make them ready to attack their opponents.

It was one of Madurai’s traditional sports — cockfighting — this time conducted to appease the Rain God to save the farming communities. The organisers of the competition said it was a common belief in the region that organising such fights would bring peace and prosperity to all.

The event witnessed the participation of cockfighting enthusiasts from various parts of the State and from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. This time, the event was organised in the presence of veterinarians from the Department of Animal Husbandry on the directions of the court. Police too were present to prevent illegal activities such as betting and gambling.

The veterinarians examined each bird, carefully looking at the ocular and nasal discharge. They had to ensure that the roosters did not have any infection, and that their talons were blunt to avoid serious injuries to their opponents. Ten of the 310 fighting cocks were rejected in medical tests.

As the whistle blew, two persons picked two roosters, went to a distance from each other, fluffed, teased and prodded the birds before leaving them at the centre of the ring. The cocks flew instantly at each other at great speed, trying to tear into the opponent. It was not a continuous fight. After 15 minutes of sparring, a 10-minute break was allowed before the bout resumed. It lasted an hour. K.Pandian, one of the judges, explained the rules. “If a cock puts its beak on the ground or runs away from the fight, we consider it as defeat.”

Nine cocks received special prizes as they made their opponents run for cover in less than 15 minutes. Most participants were from different parts of southern Tamil Nadu, where rearing of cocks is not only a pastime but also a symbol of pride.

These birds are specially bred and trained for fighting; they are well groomed, well fed and pampered by their owners, who show them off with pride. The box-office success of the movie Aadukalam, where the protagonist is a Madurai-based youth who rears roosters and participates in competitions, has indeed created a craze among the youth to own roosters and engage them in fights.

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