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Jallikattu – Bull fighting in Tamil Nadu on Mattu Pongal

Jallikattu is the famous bull fighting held in Tamil Nadu, India, during Mattu Pongal – the third day of Pongal dedicated to cattle. In 2024, Jallikattu begins on January 16 and will be held for a week at various locations in Tamil Nadu.

Jallikattu has nothing to do with the Spanish type of bullfighting and it is rather the taming of the bull with bare hands by men. The bull is never killed but it is only tamed.

Manji Virattu

Manji Virattu is another type of bullfighting held in rural Tamil Nadu and in it bags of coins are tied to the horns of fierce bulls and are released into the open field. Young men attempt to subdue the bull and grab the coins.

Jallikattu Sangam Age

The tradition of Jallikattu dates back to the Sangam age (200 BC – 300 AD). There is a mentioning of Jallikattu in the Sangam Classic Purananooru. Earlier, bull fighting was the means by which the brave young men vied for the hand of the village beauty.

Jallikattu On Mattu Pongal

On the morning of Mattu Pongal, bulls and cows are worshipped but sadly, in the afternoon the strongest bull is poked with sticks and released amidst a jeering crowd. Animal right activists have been fighting against Jallikattu but the age-old tradition still continues in rural Tamil Nadu.

How Is Jallikattu Held?

Jallikattu invokes the participation of young men who battle not only the bull, but also each other in their attempts to gain the best position for conquest. A person is declared the winner, when he calms the bull using only his bare hands.

During Pongal, Jallikattu is organized in several villages and towns. Each village in the particular region sends three or four of its strongest and fiercest bulls to compete. The number of bulls participating varies from region to region.

Usually, before entering the arena of combat, bulls are taken to the pond or nearby river to be bathed and decorated. The bulls are dotted with brightly colored tikkas and their horns sometimes painted in green or red. The bulls are brought to the temple to be blessed by the gods.

Finally, the bulls arrive at a small fenced-off filed led to a holding pen. The bulls are kept here before they are released for the fight on an open field.

Once the bull reaches the pen there is utter commotion. Crowds erupt and there are hoots and shouts and beating of drums to madden the animal. Some spectators poke sharp sticks into the animal’s sides. The agitated bull will be hitting against the cage and all of a sudden the bull is released.

The infuriated bull charges into the crowd and a great scramble follows. The competitors advances to catch and tame the bull and there are spectators who try to get away from the charging bull.

Soon bull after bull are released and many bulls would dart straight towards the open field but with young men attempting to tame the bulls some will change direction and head towards the crowd. Most of the bulls will successfully navigate through the tamers and crowd and collect in the nearby field.

One or two bulls will be subdued and the winners will be awarded prizes. Many young men and spectators will have bruised bodies and broken bones after the event. Deaths are also occasionally reported during Jallikattu.

Animal rights activists have been campaigning for banning bullfighting. But bans that were placed through court orders were lifted considering its historical significance in rural Tamil Nadu.