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Watching the bull tamers

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More people are going to Madurai from cities and towns

When Marina Beach in Chennai saw unprecedented protests in January 2017 against the Supreme Court’s order to ban jallikattu, the most visible participants were inquisitive youth who had come together from different parts of the State.

I was in college then. Scouting for articles for my college newspaper, I met people distributing pamphlets, giving rousing speeches, and singing songs hailing jallikattu. Tamil pride was in the forefront those few days.

But many of these participants had not seen the sport. For most, their knowledge of it came from television, newspaper reports, and Tamil movies like Virumaandi and Murattu Kaalai, they said. They would visit Alanganallur in Madurai, which was the fountainhead of the 2017 protests, they said, after their demands were met. “The sport has existed through time and it showcases Tamil culture. People in my ancestral village have participated in it. I have not seen it, but I must ensure that I save my culture,” said one college-goer. Did he keep his word?

On Pongal this year, I got the opportunity to see the jallikattu kalai (bull) charge out of Alanganallur’s vaadivasal (entry point). Seasoned participants held on to the humps of bulls for dear life, while the bulls put up a tough fight. Victors were hailed “warriors” by their friends, family, and all those in the arena. The best of the tamers received cars, bikes, cupboards, goats, and even air tickets as prizes. There were vivid paintings and banners on walls, and people recounted the protest as a “glorious time” in recent Tamil history. According to a local official, who was trying to control the unruly crowd, most of the people had flocked to Madurai from other parts of southern Tamil Nadu. Families visiting their homes in Madurai from bigger cities like Chennai added to the crowd, he said.

A woman from Palamedu, another village where jallikattu takes place, said that she is thankful to the youth of the 2017 protests because they “saved” jallikattu. An increasing number of young people have visited jallikattu arenas in order to learn more about the sport, she said, even though the numbers do not match the crowds at the Marina.

“Jallikattu was just a small and unregulated tournament earlier. With more safety measures in place, more youth are flocking to our village to learn about their heritage,” she said.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 12:40:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/watching-the-bull-tamers/article22451531.ece

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