S. Annamalai

Focus tends to be more on the human casualty in jallikattu than on the agony of animals Focus tends to be on the human casualty in jallikattu

Very few owners groom the bulls properly The animals are fed with arrack before they are let out into the arena Arenas are open grounds where mob frenzy rules

MADURAI: Every year, during Pongal, animal lovers make feeble protests against the cruel use of bulls in jallikattu in the southern districts.

The focus at these events tends to be on the human casualty and nobody takes note of the animals' agony, they lament.

In the last two days, three people were killed and hundreds injured in jallikattu at Palamedu and Alanganallur near Madurai. It is now touted as an international event, similar to Spanish bull fights. Historically, the sport was organised after harvest, during peacetime, by the rulers. The aim was to provide an opportunity for able-bodied youth to exhibit their valour.

The youth grappled with the ferocious bulls and those who tamed them got married to the daughter of the animal's owner.

The sport has degenerated over the years, with listless youth managing to hang on to the hump of the bulls for a distance of 50-100 metres to come out victorious.

Very few owners groom the bulls properly. They use unfair means to make the animals ferocious. The bulls are fed with arrack moments before they are let out into the arena.

Some inject the animals with a mixture of chilly powder on their back. Others bite their tail before releasing them for action.

The arenas are usually open grounds and not well marked. For the bulls, it is a run for their life.

The injuries they inflict on the players are in self-defence. Mob frenzy rules the arena, especially at Alanganallur.

No rules

The sport is devoid of rules. The youth seldom touch the horns of the bulls, and many catch them by their tail.

Rather than taking on the 'matadors,' the bulls, let out one by one through a narrow gate, are desperate to get out of the arena. The combat is never one-on-one. It is the bull against a mob.

In the past, jallikattu has even triggered caste skirmishes in some places.

But the spectacle of a single bull slicing its way through a mob has become so popular that Alanganallur is being promoted as a favoured destination for foreign tourists.