Jallikattu–Bull Taming Sport in India

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Jallikattu or Manju Virattu is a bull taming sport played in Tamil Nadu, India as a part of Pongal celebrations usually on the second and third days of the festival. This is one of the oldest living ancient sports seen in the modern era. Although it sounds similar to the Spanish running of the bulls, it is quite different. In Jallikattu, the bull is not killed and the 'matadors' are not supposed to use any weapon. All that the fighters have to do is to pounce on the running bull, try to hold on to its hump and move along with the animal without falling or getting hurt. It requires quick reflexes and a fleet foot to tame the recalcitrant bull, which will try to get away, shake off the fighter and, at times, stamp or gore the fallen participants.

Injuries and deaths are common in Jallikattu. In 2004, at least 5 people were reported dead and several hundreds injured in various villages. Two hundred have died over the past two decades. Curiously, the bulls rarely suffer any casualties.


Photo: Babu / Reuters

But animal rights activists see it as mere baiting of bulls and display of cruelty. Bulls are often have chilli pepper rubbed in their eyes, are force-fed alcohol and have their testicles pinched, all in an effort to get them crazed and frantic. Villagers throw themselves on top of the terrified animals in an effort to "tame" them and claim the prize. Although the bulls are not killed as part of the sport, they often end up in slaughter houses as meat.

The history of Jallikattu can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization, more than 5000 years ago, making it one of the oldest surviving tradition in the world. A well-preserved seal was found at Mohenjodaro in the 1930s which depicts the bull fighting practice prevalent during the Indus Valley Civilization

Historical references show that ‘jallikattu,' known in ancient times as ‘Yeru thazhuvuthal,' was popular among warriors during the Tamil classical period. The term ‘jallikattu,' comes from Tamil terms ‘salli kaasu' (coins) and ‘kattu' (a package) tied to the horns of bulls as prize money. Later, in the colonial period, this term changed to ‘jallikattu.'


Photo: Babu / Reuters


Photo: Babu / Reuters


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Sources: 1, 2

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