• Thanushree Anil

Jallikattu: A vintage thriller

An agrarian traditional event dating back to before Christ was born has been in the controversial news for the past years.

Jallikattu has been known to be played in Tamil Nadu for many generations. The word was derived from sallikattu the literal meaning being salli; coins and kattu; package. It refers to a prize of coins that are tied to the bull’s horns that the participants attempt to grab.

jallikaatu evidence of past
Stone carving of a man holding onto a bull

Various names have been given to this event, eru thazhuvuthal, mancuvirattu, Manju virattu. The Pulikulam or Kangayam breeds are used for the event. They are hardy and ferocious indigenous breeds of bulls suitable for agricultural operations and hauling.


There are many versions of the sport.

One is grabbing the large hump of the bulls with both arms and hanging onto it and trying to bring the bull to a stop while the bull attempts to escape whilst released onto a crowd of people in a closed space.

Another is to remove the flags on the bull’s horns. Another is to release the bulls into the open ground called the Veli virattu. In Vatam manjuvirattu however here there are no physical restrictions, a maximum of 30minute time is given and a team of seven to nine men tries to untie the gift tied to the bull’s horn.

jallikattu, men trying to hold the hump
A team attempting to hold the hump

There are several variations and goals across the state, participants must hold the hump for 30 seconds or hold the hump for 15 meters. Some variations disqualify if the participant holds onto the tail, neck, or horns of the bull.

Why is it celebrated?

Jalikattu also is known as yeru thazhuvuthal means bull embracing.

Jalikattu is celebrated during the third day of Pongal celebrations, Mattu Pongal occurring in January.

The sport was never cruel and depicted the strength of men. Jallikattu encouraged the breeding of native species. If the farmers are forced to ban Jallikattu then the breeding of native breeds; Pulikulam or Kangayam could be threatened and may be forced to breed exotic or crossbreeds and it could affect the indigenous breeds of the state.

Jalikattu in Tamil ethos is considered as a test of masculinity. A tamed bull stood for virility.

Jallikattu depiction of masculinity
Jallikattu is a depiction of masculinity

The form of Jallikattu as we know now became highly competitive and people started betting huge amounts of money on animals. Linking caste pride and jallikattu made it even crueler.

Acts Leading to the BAN

bull struck with rod, jallikattu
A bull struck with rod

Participants tortured bulls with sharp weapons; struck them with whips, rods, sticks, and fists; and bit, twisted, and yanked their tails in the vaadi vaasal to agitate them and to force them into a menacing crowd.

bull bleeding jallikattu
Bleeding bull

Frenzied men pulled on nose ropes so hard that the bulls’ noses bled, and several men jumped on frightened bulls at the same time. This causes the panicked prey animals severe psychological trauma and physical pain.

Distraught bulls jallikattu
Distraught bull

Some bulls managed to break out of the event area, injuring spectators and goring bystanders to death as they fled. Many onlookers beat the distraught bulls as they escaped the collection yard, and some recklessly jumped onto their backs, creating a perilous parallel jallikattu in unauthorized areas.

2017 Uproar

The animal rights organizations voiced the cruelty involved in the sport.

The court has banned the sport several times as a result. The Tamil youth uproared against the ban gathering at the Marina beach to revoke the ban made in 2014 and bearing posters of "Save Jallikattu" .As an outcome, a new ordinance was made in 2017 for the sport’s continuity.

Pro-Jallikattu movement
Pro-Jallikattu movement

The protest was known as the pro-jallikattu movement.

The ordinance defines to protect the tradition, culture, and to ensure the continuance of native breeds of bulls. It is still a matter of question whether the ordinance is enough to safeguard jallikattu, the traditions as well as the animals subjected to the sport. The longevity of the ordinance is irrelevant. Unless the court stays it, suspends it, or sets aside the ordinance will be in effect in Tamil Nadu.

Restoring the tradition with no cruelty is the ideal reform.

Jallikattu played with stricter norms.

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