JALIKATTU : The Game of Culture, Politics and a Bull

Jallikattu is the Only Reason For Tamil Nadu Farmers To Raise Bulls'

JALLIKATTU … I think all of you must have come to listen to this word during the past few days. As I don’t need to mention that how it came into ‘Extra Limelight’ due to politics concerning the upcoming elections in Tamil Nadu. But … something like JALLIKATTU holds a greater place and should be talked about definitely for something more than politics. On one hand it is long been blamed for cruelty over animals, while on the other hand it also symbolizes Tamil culture. So, let’s try looking into its significance, history and beliefs withholding it.

The History of the game

JALLIKATTU is a game where a packet of coins is tied on a ‘Bos Indicus’ species Bull’s horns and the MAADU (Tamil name for bulls or cows) are then let out in the crowd through VAADIVAASA (a narrow gate), the participants then try to get the packet by controlling the bull getting over its hump . This game is played on the occasion of MATTU PONGAL, the third day of the harvest festival to celebrate and thanks nature and harvest. This 2000 years old tradition honors the bull owners who rear them for mating. The prize which consists of a Dhoti, Towel, Betel leaves, Bananas and a Cash prize of 101 ; goes to the participants if they win and to the bull owner if they can’t.

Voice of Pheonix: Jallikattu history

The name JALLIKATTU comes from the Tamil word SALLY KAASU dating back to (400-100) B.C. The proofs of this game also lies in the excavations from 3500 years back in MOHENJO-DARO where seals and rock paintings have been found showing bull taming. ‘Sally’ (coins) and ‘Kattu’ (package). Historically, it is said that Hindu God SHIVA sent a message on Earth through his bull ‘BASAVA’ asking people to ‘Take an oil bath everyday and eat once a six months’ , but BASAVA got confused and gave the message to ‘Eat daily and take an oil bath once a six months’. SHIVA got extremely angry and cursed him that he will forever be ploughing the fields of humans. On this belief, the game became an integral part of Tamil culture present in ancient Tamil texts with even movies being made and novels being written around their plot.

What it means for the People … ?????

Considering the JALLIKATTU heartland, which is spread from Western Ghats to the ‘Vaigai Basin consisting Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Theni, Pudukkottai and Dindigul districts. It is an agrarian flatland with lots of heat and thirst. So, people belonging to farmers and land-owners get the opportunity to showcase the quality of their cattle and skill of their rearing in what they call their cultural manifestation. For the bull owners it is also a way of protecting these animals who may have otherwise been killed for Meat. This game where the margin of victory is as large as life and death, the people associated somewhat see it as an attempt to showcase their masculinity and identity. They also consider it as a resistance against the urban modernity trying to suppress them.

Jallikattu protests impact a year on: Young Chennai residents take up  bull-rearing, farming

The Controversy and Politics Behind

See … this game is being opposed from too long on the grounds of cruelty to animals and pertaining dangers to anyone participating in it. The game faced scrutiny for the first time in 2007 when Animal Welfare Board of India and other animal organizations moved petitions in the Supreme Court against JALLIKATTTU as well as Bullock Cart races. Tamil Nadu’s reply to the accusations has been on the grounds of Article 29 (1) of the Constitution which says that any section has the right to conserve its distinct culture. But regarding this Supreme Court in 2014 has said in its ruling that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 outpowers any culture or heritage. The ruling further said that for making the bulls getting Aggressive and to run, they are beaten, poked, prodded, their tails are twisted and bitten with knives and sticks, their eyes and noses are filled with lime juice and chilly powder. All these things are not acceptable under the name of any culture or heritage.

While the DMK led Tamil Nadu government legalized the game, it was the Environment Ministry under UPA led Central Government which effectively banned the proceedings in 2011. Supreme Court too banned this game back in 2014. Then followed a hardcore Uprising and protest by Tamil community including veteran actors like RAJNIKANTH and KAMAL HASSAN after which, BJP led central government who put aside the ban, when 2016 elections were around the corner. The thing is Tamil people see it as a suppression to their culture, as suppressive as to the idea of making Hindi a national language The matter was referred by the Supreme Court to a Constitutional Bench in 2018, where it is still pending. So now, when the elections are again knocking the door the politics has also started with RAHUL GANDHI attending the JALLIKATTU game, the game his own party banned and BJP leaders too actively participating in the Pongal celebrations.

Lock & hold

Conclusion : There is Only One Way Out

So, we can see what significance the game holds for the Tamil people on the basis of ‘expected’ origin of this game. Any attempt to stop this game may turn out into as aggressive a revolt as was against the Hindi Language in 1960s. But, at the very same time we can’t allow cruelty over animals just in the name of culture. I think , the only way out is to open a JALLIKATTU ACADEMY where bull rearers who are willing to contest their bulls will bring their Bulls who will be trained there by animal and circus professionals without hurting or torturing them. Then they can be used on the game day. In this day, animal will also be trained and the Tamil culture can also be maintained. This was one idea proposed by me which came to my mind. All of you should also think of a way out and we all should try keeping both sides satisfied, that too peacefully. By the way also watch the movie JALLIKATTU which is our official entry to OSCARS this year and as far as politics is concerned … it will go on.

5 things to know about 'Jallikattu', India's official entry for Oscars 2021



References :

  1. Jallikattu begins today — the ‘barbaric sport’ that celebrates hard-working Tamil farmer https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/jallikattu-begins-today-the-barbaric-sport-that-celebrates-hard-working-tamil-farmer/349508/
  2. Explained: As Jallikattu begins, recalling the cultural argument for an ancient tradition https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/jallikattu-tamil-nadu-pongal-celebrations-explained-7147339/

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