Jallikattu: The controversial cultural heritage!

An ancient sport played in Tamil Nadu for more than 2000 years!

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Image courtesy: Srinivassa Balaji

Dravidians‘ consider themselves ‘Indos’, that is ‘Dravidian Lions’, the ones who take pride in challenging lions, elephants, and leopards to prove their valour! This tradition later gave birth to ‘Jallikattu’, an ancient sport played in Tamil Nadu for more than 2000 years. Unlike the European ‘bullfights’, it is not considered to be a cruel sport.

In Sangam literature, this sport is called ‘YeruThazhuvuthal‘ which means kissing/embracing the bull. Jallikattu, is derived from Sallikattu which refers to the coins (salli) tied in a package (kattu) to the horns of the bull, which the winner takes as the prize. It has three variants – Vatimanju Virattu, VeliVirattu, and Vatam Manjuvirattu.

Jallikattu competitions are often held during the Pongal festival. During such competitions,  a bull is released in an arena to run free, and groups of young men, usually in their 20’s,  try to test their skills in conquering the bull. The participants have to grab the bull by its tail or cling onto its hump long enough to win the challenge.

The sport was largely active in Theni, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Pudukottai, Dindigul parts of Tamil Nadu until the Government banned it in 2011. In 2016 the Environment Ministry revised its earlier notification and allowed the sport despite its 2011 ban. However, this was challenged by PETA (People For Ethical Treatment of Animals), which led to a stay being passed against the sport. This later led to several protests in Tamil Nadu, where citizens rallied together for the conservation of their cultural heritage. This protest was supported by several people across India and internationally as well. Later in 2017, the Supreme Court finally took note of the cultural significance of the sport and the support it had garnered from people across the globe. The ban was then lifted, and the sport was allowed to be practiced in Tamil Nadu within the confines of a few rules and regulations.

Traditionally, Jallikattu is not considered a wild sport, several logical and scientific reasons are presented to signify its importance. First of all, nobody harms the bulls intentionally during the competitions. The bulls that compete in Jallikattu, are mating bulls used in selective breeding. Jallikattu is considered as an indispensable method for selecting the healthiest breed of bulls without involving any needles, tissue sampling or any such modern technology. The calves born through this breeding process are strong, sturdy and have high levels of immunity. India initially had 130+ native cattle breeds, whereas only 37 are now in existence, seven of these native breeds exist in Tamil Nadu. Hence, Jallikattu is now seen as one of the best methods of ensuring the survival of these breeds in this state.


Image courtesy:

Srinivassa Balaji

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