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Bull-baiting of yore

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PROOF POSITIVE: A seal made of stone, found at Mohenjodaro, depicting “jallikattu” (bull-baiting) that was prevalent in the Indus Civilisation. The seal, about 4,000 years old, is on display at the National Museum, New Delhi.
PROOF POSITIVE: A seal made of stone, found at Mohenjodaro, depicting “jallikattu” (bull-baiting) that was prevalent in the Indus Civilisation. The seal, about 4,000 years old, is on display at the National Museum, New Delhi.

T.S. Subramanian

Evidence of jallikattu in the Indus Valley emerges

CHENNAI: “Jallikattu,” which is bull-baiting or bull fighting, is an ancient Dravidian tradition that was practised about 4,000 years ago during the Indus Valley civilisation.

A well-preserved seal found at Mohenjodaro in the 1930s attests to this, according to Iravatham Mahadevan, a specialist in Indus and Brahmi scripts.

This seal realistically brings alive a vigorous scene of bull-fighting. It portrays a ferocious bull in action, several men or a single man (according to two different interpretations), thrown in the air by it as they try to control it.

Clearly, the bull is the victor. This seal, made of stone, is on display in the National Museum, New Delhi. It can be dated to 2,000 B.C., Mr. Mahadevan said. Several scholars had commented upon this seal as portraying bull-baiting during the Indus civilisation, he added.

Jallikattu is in the news after the Supreme Court on January 11 declined to give permission to Tamil Nadu Government and some villages for the conduct of this sport. It is traditionally organised in the State during Pongal which falls on January 15 this year.

The seal found at Mohenjodaro, now in Pakistan, shows a single bull with curved horns in the “action” of goring a single man or several men. Its horns are shown in the middle to depict the speed and fluency of its action: the angry bull has suddenly turned its neck sideways to toss the daring men and then its neck has come to its original position.

The seal has used the frieze technique to portray the charged atmosphere. There were two interpretations to what was engraved on the seal, Mr. Mahadevan said. One school is of the opinion that the seal shows several men, who tried to control the bull, thrown up in the air by the animal. A couple of men are shown flying in the air with their legs and hands spread out, a third man is seen jumping to grab the bull, another is somersaulting and yet another has pathetically come to rest on his haunch.

Mr. Mahadevan, however, is of the opinion that the seal shows only one man, who is flung into the air by the bull, his flying, his plunging, his somersaulting and finally sitting on his haunch.

A colour photograph of this seal is found at No. M 312 in The Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions, Volume 1, edited by Asko Parpola and others.

There is no script on the seal. Mr. Mahadevan’s The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables, is a seminal book on the Indus script. It was published in 1977 by the Archaeological Survey of India. He has also published Corpus of the Tamil-Brahmi Inscriptions (1966).

Bull-baiting figures in the Mahabharatha, which describes Krishna controlling a ferocious bull in the forecourt of Kamsa’s palace.

Outside India, bull-baiting is practised in Spain and Portugal.

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