Jallikattu: The Ban Debate: Myths vs Facts

When we talk about bull fight the images that come to our minds is of Spain. Very few of us actually know that there is a concept of bull fight in India that is as old as 5000 years. For ages Jallikattu (the Indian bull fight) has been played in the villages of Tamil Nadu. Away from the influence of rural India the game continued to prosper even during the years of British rule.

The Recent News

Why all of a sudden so much attention is being diverted to the ancient game of Jallikattu? Is definitely a point to be considered? Is it the concern the animal activists have for the animals or the reasons are something else?

Well if we talk about animal activists then the banning of Jallikattu is actually going to do more harm to the innocent bulls than any good. We will explain why. In the beginning of the article we said that bull fights are associated with Spain, but there is a difference between the bull fight that you see in Spain and in India.

Bull Fight vs JalliKattu

The difference is that in Spain the bull is hurt so that it gets agitated and attacks whereas in Jallikattu the situation is absolutely different. In Jallikattu the bull is never hurt to chase the players. In Jallikattu the bull is embraced. This fact is enough to put to rest all the claims that the animal activists have been making.

Indus Valley Civilization

Why do we say that Jallikattu is an ancient game and is a tradition that is about 5000 years old? The roots of Jallikattu can be found in Indus valley civilization which was one of the most developed ancient civilizations. A coin was once discovered from the ruins of Indus valley that clearly showed the picture of a bull fight.

The main occupation of the people during the times of Indus valley was agriculture. Bulls played a crucial role as they were used for ploughing the fields. It was also common for the bulls to escape and attack other cattle as they were very powerful and controlling a bull was not easy.

The people of Indus valley civilization had developed many types of equipment and they also developed the art of controlling a bull that escaped. How they would do it? They would chase the bull and try to embrace the bull. Once they managed to get hold of the hump of the bull they would have to stay holding the hump for a while. Once you hold the hump of the bull for a few minutes the bull will automatically slow down. The best part no one is hurt at the end of it. This was perhaps a regular activity that most of the shepherds were capable of doing during the times of Indus valley.

From Indus Valley to India

A very little is known about what happened to the great civilization of Indus valley. However, many historians do agree with the fact that something must have happened that made the people of Indus valley to leave their city and move to some other part of the world.

The historians also believe that many people from Indus valley actually came to India. There are many ancient sites in India that show a very strong resemblance to the culture and architecture of Indus valley. It is quite possible that the tradition and concept of controlling the bull was brought to India by the people of Indus valley.

The Nayak Kings

It was during the rule of the Nayak kings that this daily activity got a form of sports. It is not easy for a human to control a bull. It definitely requires a lot of skill. The king would tie a few coins in a cloth and tie it to the horn of the bull. The players would have to chase the bull. Grab the hump of the bull and they had to ensure that they held on to the hump for some time in order to untie the cloth that was tied to the horns. Whoever could successfully untie the knot the coins would be his? Jalli in Tamil means coins and Kattu means tied. This is how Jallikattu actually started.

The Modern Version

In modern India there are no gold coins tied to the horn of the bull instead only a cloth is tied that has to be untied. The winner is given a trophy and a prize. Each village of Tamil Nadu will have a round of Jallikattu every year. The main street of the village is the track and the sides of the street are blocked so that the properties do not get damaged.

The Koyil Kaalai (the temple bull) is the spot from where usually the Jallikattu will start. The elders will visit the temple before the sport starts to seek the blessings of the god. Then the drummer will play the band which is an indication that Jallikattu is about to start. The young men of the village are the main participants in Jallikattu.

No matter which caste the person belongs to. Everyone come together as one to play the Jallikattu. Many educated youths from the cities also join in the sports. A tradition that has survived thousands of years is now facing the fears of extinction.

In the olden days extensive open spaces and dry river beds were used for Jallikattu. The more the space the better as more bulls could be let out at the same time. Thousands participate in Jallikattu and even more collect to cheer the participants and enjoy the game. The atmosphere of the village becomes full of energy and fun. People of all age come together and enjoy the day. A custom that has been followed for years.

The Ban Debate: Myths vs Facts

Let’s now get back to the debate of whether Jallikattu should be banned. The villagers who organise Jallikattu do not want a ban on it. They feel it is a part of their life and a means of entertainment. The people from the cities feel that Jallikattu must be banned as it is a threat to the animals.

This is not true; we have already explained that in Jallikattu the bulls are not hurt. Those who breed the Jallikattu bulls are completely against the ban. If Jallikattu is banned the prices of bulls will fall to nothing. In ancient times bulls were used in the fields and for various types of work.

Today most of the jobs that were done by the bulls are done by pumps. 100 years ago there were 130 breeds of cattle in India now there are only 37. This figure shows how drastically the number of breed has dropped.

If Jallikattu is banned the native breed of bulls in India will definitely vanish. When this happens what will increase is the number of slaughter houses and commercial cattle based dairies will also increase. These dairies will use imported cattle breeds that can give more milk but the quality of milk will be much inferior.

There is definitely a group that wants all the native breeds to eradicate so that the commercial dairies can get a strong hold in the rural areas of the country. Today the best bulls are bought and protected by those who breed the Jallikattu bulls. The bulls that do not find any takers are given to the slaughter houses for meat.

If Jallikattu is banned the bulls will be given only to the slaughter houses and they will be primarily used for meat. This will lead to the extinction of bulls. Is this what the animal activists actually want?

Some of those who support the ban of Jallikattu claim that those who participate in the game are hurt. This is true, but if you compare to the number of people who participate you will see that the ration of people getting hurt is actually very small. For example of thousands who participate only 7 to 8 gets hurt. The injuries are not fatal.

The deaths due to Jallikattu are almost insignificant.  Many activists have come up with pictures of bulls being hurt during Jallikattu. These are again very rare. The bull is respected a lot in these villages. It is considered to be a great sin to hurt a bull. When a bull dies the whole village will mourn its death and the priest will do a puja for the bull that died.

Some activists also claim that the bull is intoxicated and given alcohol. This is ridiculous as per the villagers. A glucose drink is given to the bull in order to ensure that the energy increases. A bull that is intoxicated can be impossible to control as they have very high level of testosterone in their body.

Under CBD (convention on biological diversity) the ancient practices or sports that use animals must continue but rules must be put in place so that no animal is hurt unnecessarily. Even in the case of Jallikattu the practice must go on.

If it is banned the ultimate result will be the eradication of the bulls. If the animal activists feel that Jallikattu is harming the animals in anyway. They must also suggest rules that can ensure that these animals are protected and more controls are brought in place. Banning of this ancient tradition is actually going to do more harm than good.

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