Bull race held at Kaakkoor peacefully

KAAKKOOR (ERNAKULAM DISTRICT), FEB. 26. Under the watchful eyes of animal-rights activists, court-appointed officials and policemen, the `Maramadi' competition passed off smoothly here on Thursday.

The highlight of the annual `Kakkoor Kaalavayal' festival in Thirumaradi panchayat, the `Maramadi' (bull race) was this year in the eye of a row as animal-rights activists had moved the High Court seeking a ban on what they called a cruel sport.

The court had, at the eleventh hour, allowed the Kaalavayal organisers to run the show, but warned against committing any cruelty against the animals. It asked the Muvattupuzha Revenue Divisional Officer to ensure that the bulls were not tortured. Hence, the RDO, K.C. Uthaman, other Revenue officials and a number of policemen were present at the `Maramadi' venue— traditionally, on a post-harvest paddy field— apart from video-wielding animal-rights activists.

Over a dozen pairs of bulls from the central Kerala districts participated in the event held in the specially-prepared slushy tracks. The competition was in three categories— `Idathu Kayar,' `speed' and `champion.' In the Idathu Kayar, one team comprises two bulls and three men handling them. One of the handlers runs ahead of the bull on the right-hand side thus guiding the bulls on the tracks. The left-hand handler controls the pace of the bulls by manoeuvring a rope attached to the left bull's neck. The third handler, often a teenager, keeps the `Njaviri' (a flat board attached to the yoke) pressed to the ground by hanging on to it as the bulls race ahead. Each team runs three times and the average of the three running times is taken as its performance. The team that took the shortest time to cover the distance wins the race.

Generally, bulls in their prime of youth and of medium build are selected for the race. They are specially fed, trained and taken care of. "It is quite expensive to raise and train a racing bull," a bull handler told The Hindu .

``This sport is a bit expensive and those who can afford to spare some hard cash can pursue it."

But, to the owners of the bulls, just participating in the Kaakkoor Kaalavayal Maramadi is a matter of pride.

In spite of the restrictions imposed by the High Court on the race, a large number of local people turned up for viewing the same. Most of the locals are cross with the animal-rights activists for taking Kaakkoor Kaalavayal, which has given their panchayat an identity and fame, to court. Mammen Philip, a Thirumaradi farmer, said, "To us, Kaalavayal is what Thrissur Pooram is to people in Thrissur." The post-harvest festival, linked to temple rituals, was into its 114th year now, he pointed. He denied that the bulls were subjected to torture to make them run faster. However, he admitted some competitors in the past had used "some prodding."

The Piravom MLA and Water Resources Minister, T.M. Jacob, who flagged off the Maramadi competition today, reiterated the local people's resolve to continue the tradition of Kaalavayal. The Thirumaradi panchayat president, Alice George, expressed her resentment at an animal-rights group's alleged effort to thwart the show. She vowed not to allow any cruelty against the bulls, and also pledged to hold Kaalavayal in the coming years too.