Bulled out! A look at Jallikattu and its striking peculiarity

As protests against the ban on Jallikattu gain momentum and uncertainty shrouds the festivities around Pongal, T. SARAVANAN and A.SHRIKUMAR read the pulse in Alanganallur, the epicentre of Jallikattu and surrounding villages where the sport is more than a tradition

The heavy police posse is overwhelming as we drive through the barricaded streets of Alanganallur. Numerous black flags flutter on shop roofs and treetops across the town, signalling protest against the ban on Jallikattu. As political leaders make a beeline mobilising people for demonstrations and agitations, the scene is cacophonic and tense.

Come Pongal, the streets of Alanganallur is a riot of colours. It’s this time of the year, when locals and tourists throng this little town near Madurai to catch a glimpse of the world famous Jallikattu. So much so, that the sport was popularised by the tourism department especially among the foreign tourists. With a striking peculiarity, Jallikattu is a sport that’s rustic and unique. Ever since the ban, Alanganallur has lost its sheen and we are fast losing our native breed of bulls, rue the villagers.

Amidst all the chaos, inside a shady coconut farm, a pair of well-grown Jallikattu bulls grazes idly, their massive humps gleaming in the afternoon Sun. They are fine specimens and are star bulls, says the proud owner R.Govindaraj. “My bulls are known all over the region as they have won lot of accolades in Jallikattu. I regard them more than my sons and treat them like God. It’s very unfortunate that Jallikattu has been misinterpreted by animal-lovers. It’s a sport that celebrates the bond between humans and cattle.” However, Govindaraj had to sell three of his other bulls as Jallikattu wasn’t happening anymore. “In the last two years, a lot of bulls have been sold off at throwaway prices. Star bulls used to get sold for a whopping Rs.5,00,000 and above. Now, they fetch hardly Rs.10,000. Earlier, Alanganallur town alone had over 2,000 bulls, with almost every household rearing one. Now, only a few hundred bulls remain in the town,” he informs. “In 18 villages surrounding Alanganallur and Palamedu, there were at least 7,000 bulls, more than half of which have been sold off already.”

O. Saravana Kumar, who rears five bulls in his Palamedu farm is still hopeful that Jallikattu will resume. “We prepare the bull for Pongal celebrations for months before the main festival. During the season, we double the diet for the bulls and give more nutritious food. We also take them swimming and keep them in good condition.”

“For thousands of years, the agrarian society of Tamils has considered cattle as family members. People spend minimum Rs.300 per day on their pet bull, buy the animal fodder and rich nutritious intakes,” says K. Mathiyazhagan. “The sole purpose of rearing a bull is for Jallikattu. The sport is a scientific method to pass on the best of genes to the next generation. It’s a method to identify the robust of bulls and create a superior genepool.” He warns that the native breed of bulls may be completely lost if the ban continues for a couple of years more. “We have already lost many native regional breeds of dogs and cattle. If the bulls are also lost, we will have to depend on artificial insemination for the cows.” To rear a bull is not an easy task as it’s both expensive and effort-intensive. The animal needs a lot of care and is exclusively for the sport and that’s why it becomes purposeless if Jallikattu ceases to happen.

With bulls and their owners facing the brunt of the ban, the Jallikattu participants have been rendered jobless. A large number of youth from around Alanganallur are regular bull-tamers who take part in the sport and bring laurels to their families and villages. Many of them win bumper prizes like bikes, bicycles and even household appliances such as fridge and air-conditioners that are given away to the winners. “I managed to marry off two sisters with the prize money and articles I won in Jallikattu events,” says M. Ajith Kumar, a school-dropout. “I am a casual farm labourer and Jallikattu was like a seasonal jackpot for me, once-in-a-year opportunity to showcase my talent.”

Apart from general public, many actors, singers and politicians are in favour of the sport. Popular music composer Hiphop Tamizha Adhi, who came out with an album ‘Takkaru Takkaru’ batting for Jallikattu, says that the sport is an integral part of rural ecosystem. “There’s a rural economy that’s based on Jallikattu,” says Adhi who also owns a bull. “When I camped in Madurai for six months researching for the album, I also bought a bull and started rearing it. That’s when I understood the unique bond people share with the animal. The Jallikattu bulls belong to the ‘Pulikulam’ breed and are generally ferocious. If you take the Kongu belt of Western Tamil Nadu, the popular breed is ‘Kangayam’, good at long distance running. That’s why they conduct ‘Rekla race’ during Pongal in Pollachi. Likewise, people have devised various sports for the different region-specific breeds of cattle, understanding the nature of that particular breed.”

S.M.Sri Bala Murugan, Toursim Officer, Madurai District, says the ban has dampened the spirit of the tourists. “There are enquiries from foreign tourists about Jallikattu. Earlier it was a star attraction of the Pongal tour package. We still take the tourists on village visits and show them the rustic festivities of Pongal. Many of them enjoy taking pictures with the decorated bulls even though the excitement of watching a Jallikattu event is absent.” This year, the department is taking tourists to Kodimangalam village.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 9:24:01 PM |

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