Tamilnadu - The Magnificence of Jalikattu


Jalikattu is highly misunderstood. It is nothing like the blood-letting bull fights of Spain, but a form of prayer for the well being of the cattle, the farmers and prosperity of the village



Rajkumar Samuel is the Senior Staff Photographer working for Deccan Chronicle newspaper based in Bangalore. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Visual Communication, with dual specialisations in Photography

Its Pongal time in Tamil Nadu, the festival of the harvest that every Tamilian celebrates with great reverence to traditions that has been there for ages. The festival that marks the advent of the harvest season, bringing a new beginning of prosperity and hope. A season symbolic of progressive and energetic faith of experiencing a prosperous future. But the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 marked a remarkable event for the entire people of Tamil Nadu. From across the world, Tamilians raised their voice in unison against the abolishing the of one sport that ruled the very sentiments of Tamilians. Lakhs of people, mostly led by the youth of the state went on protest rallies against the Supreme Court ruling and urged the Tamil Nadu government to lift the ban on Jallikattu by passing a special state legislative ordinance. They mustered their strength in numbers as people of all ages joined the protest in a nationwide outbreak of voices in support of Jallikattu. This popular sport, “hold the bull’s hump and ride a few meters”, is conducted in many places around Madurai on the day of “Mattu Pongal”, the third day after the harvest festival, praying for the people’s prosperity and livelihood. The intensity of protests was so high, that finally the Tamil Nadu government passed the ordinance to conduct the sport.

So when I saw the news flashing that Jallikattu was going to be held at Allanganallur Village in Madurai, I packed my camera and my bags from Bengaluru, for an overnight journey to witness the event in person on February 10th, 2017. The event was being held after two years, after the Supreme Court judgement. Curiosity was killing! I needed to find out for myself as to why every Tamilian from across the globe had protested against the court order. I was looking forward to finding some answers on the spot.

Allanganallur Allure

Allanganallur is a small but pretty hamlet. Early in the morning as I entered Allanganallur, the village was bustling with activities. There were farmers walking with their prized bulls decorated for the occasion, spectators swarming about, scores of policemen and government officials looking into every detail of the preparation of the famed event.

With great difficulty, I got access to the venue and took up position right in front of “Vadi Vaasal” which is the gate of the temple from where the bull enters into the sporting arena where hundreds of young men wait to get their opportunity to get a go. Jallikattu is organised by a committee of village leaders who determine the rules of the sport and collect funds to buy prizes. The prizes range from bicycles, pure gold and silver coins, pure gold finger rings and necklace chains, plastic chairs, stainless steel containers, steel wardrobes, to bikes, scooters, cars, farming tillers and small tractors. To win these prizes the rural sportsmen need to successfully hold the hump of a bull and ride for a distance of 50 or 60 meters as marked by the committee. If the tamer cannot hold down the bull, the owner of the bull gets to take away the prizes. If the bull throws off or injures the tamer or escapes from his hold, the bull wins the contest and no one gets the prize. At the start of the event, participants line up and wait for the bulls, which are examined by qualified veterinarians. Bulls with sharp horns, or suspected of having been given hormone enhancing drugs, are immediately disqualified and the health of all bull tamers are also examined for any malpractice. Jallikattu as always began after a pooja, thus invoking divine prosperity, fertility and good health to everyone and every livestock, the very means of livelihood for every farmer who takes care of the livestock just as his own children.


Once the event began, the atmosphere in and around the arena turned absolutely electrifying… blaring commentaries roared from loud speakers, cheering on-lookers, victory shouts from bull tamers after winning the prizes…. It was overwhelming.

Speed and taming techniques ruled the best of men. It was a great delight and challenge for me, a passionate photojournalist, to capture these high tensile actions in frames. Nearly a thousand bulls and over a thousand young men were sent into the arena ring in batches of hundreds, who tried to challenge the majestic and powerful bulls. After the curtains in the evening, I caught up with the head of the village, Sundararajan, who was also the head of the Allanganallur Jallikattu Festival Committee, a 6th generation leader whose family has been traditionally organising the event for hundreds of years. He gave me a clear perspective.

Sundarajan explained, “The Villagers, the

bull owners,

the participants, farmers and every Tamilian wants to reclaim this tradition of Jallikattu and ensure a new beginning for the well being of the entire village. It is not the pride and recognition we are concerned about, it is the livelihood and the prosperity that is at stake. When Jallikattu is conducted, we please our deities Kalliamman and Muthaalamman, who bless us with prosperity and bring new hope for the entire village. The event purifies the village, it unites all of us. Jallikattu keeps us healthy and strong. Most important of all this is one of its kind sport which preserves these magnificent bulls and gives us the will to emulate good health and prosperity.”

He added “Even the village girls never shy away from getting married to men who were injured in the valorous attempt to tame the bull. Army and para-military jawans hailing from the village travel all the way from as far as the borders up north and north-east on trains just for up to five days, to participate in the event and get back to their duties travelling again five or six days to man the borders.”

After spending the whole day witnessing the famous Jallikattu, I returned back to Bengaluru, pondering over a question: How could such a pure and traditional sport be declared banned? I was compelled to depict the experience. I really hope it gives new hope and a new beginning for the people of Allanganallur and millions of Jallikattu lovers…


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