As Ihear of more idiots have been rushed to hospital for running with the bulls in Spain, I was surprised to learn that India has her own mad bull riding extravaganza at Alanganullu, near Madurai in Tamil Nadu.
I understand you may may disapprove of my lack of sympathy. I do understand the rush of testosterone of men hoping to be heroes. My Tamil friends are now probably angry and you are welcome to write and tell me off. But if you visit the traditional bull taming festival of Jallikattu in mid January stay on your upstairs balcony if you don’t want to be run over.
Normally this panchayat town of irrigated sugar cane, rice, coconut and plantains sits quietly 16 kilometres from Madurai. But during the Pongal festival the town now draws international tourists.
Pongal is a Tamil Harvest festival from the last day of the Tamil month Maagazhi to the third of next moth Thai.
Once a trial for prospective bride grooms, now there is little reward now except your pride. For centuries, youths have attempted to tame specially bred Jalicut bulls as they make an entry into the Jallikattu ground.
Catching the bull by the shoulders they try to hang on while the bull, totally disoriented, tries to escape through a wall of adrenaline hyped men, slapping the bulls hide. You win if you can hang on for 50 metres and win a T-shirt.
I really can appreciate a young man seeking to win a maidens heart by bravery. But for a T-shirt? That’s stupidity, not manliness.
Bull holding is a Tamil tradition, that was popular with Tamil warriors during classical period. An Indus Valley seal may even suggest a similar more ancient sport. The ancient Mycenaean’s of Greece also jumped bulls.
Legend claims women chose husbands from successful bull tamers. The term Jallikaṭṭu comes from the term Calli Kācu (coins) and kaṭṭu (meaning a package) tied to the bulls horns as prize money. However, the present festival seems to have developed in Colonial times.
In 2014 it was reported there were 29 injured Tamers and a few hurt spectators.
According to The Hindu a total of 447 bulls and 475 tamers participated in the 2014 event, and the number of injuries was much less this year in comparison to the previous year.
1700 police were on hand and the whole event video recorded, apparently at the order of the supreme court.
Perhaps locals wished they had’nt. On May 8, 2014 the Supreme Court banned the sport to the dismay of locals and the delight of animal rights campaigners.