Culture

In Pictures: What Really Happens At A Jallikattu

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In Pictures: What Really Happens At A Jallikattu

The Tamil sport Jallikattu has been in the news for the last few weeks thanks to a ban imposed by the Supreme Court. But what really happens at a Jallikattu? What does the sport mean and how is it ‘played’? Swarajya brings you some pictures from previous Jallikattu meets. All photos by Henck Oochappan.

The Gate

The participating bulls are all lined up behind a narrow gate and released one by one into the arena. Owners of the bulls may announce their own special prizes for the man who manages to hold on to the bull. These may be in the form of cash or jewelry. There have been narrations in which bull-owners give their daughters in marriage to successful men but this could just be Tamil cinema’s wishful thinking.

You can see a bull exiting a vaadi-vasal (the gate from which a bull exits). One participant’s life appears to be in danger already.

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The bull is released 
The bull is released 

In the Arena

Hundreds of men wait for their chance in the arena. Typically, the bull charges towards the crowd standing in front of the gate. The tumult and the shouting is a background score for this ‘reality show for the gods’ where men jump onto bulls, and bulls jump onto men.

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A bull charges towards the crowd and men are seen scattering on the double
A bull charges towards the crowd and men are seen scattering on the double

Hold onto the bull and dear life

The challenge for every participant at the Jallikattu is not to overpower, hurt or kill the bull in the arena; but to hang onto the bull’s hump until the bull gives up or throws him down.

Notice how a participant attempts to hold onto the bull’s hump in both pictures below (two different bulls). In the first picture he jumps onto the bull as soon as it exits the gate (to the left).

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Hang on. . .
Hang on. . .
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A bull tries to overthrow a participant
A bull tries to overthrow a participant

The Peril

Quite a few participants are killed or injured in the course of the sport. Many suffer minor injuries in stampedes. Death is typically caused by bulls goring the participants.

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A bull has thrown down a young man and attempts to gore him.
A bull has thrown down a young man and attempts to gore him.
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A participant has been thrown aside by a bull – unlikely he would have gotten away without any injuries!
A participant has been thrown aside by a bull – unlikely he would have gotten away without any injuries!
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A participant holds onto the bull which attempts to throw him “off hump”.
A participant holds onto the bull which attempts to throw him “off hump”.

After the meet

The bulls are brought under control after they have had their share of time in the area. They typically run through the route made available for them. In their native villages, native bulls which have not let the participants overpower them acquire a great reputation. Their presence in the next Jallikattu is eagerly anticipated. Contrary to the outsider’s imagination, many rural women raise bulls and bring them for the sport; but we do not encounter an image of a woman playing the sport.

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A bull gets a cool dip and some affection from his master
A bull gets a cool dip and some affection from his master