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Updated on February 7, 2017
An inscription on Eru thazhuvuthal at Government museum in Tamil Nadu.
An inscription on Eru thazhuvuthal at Government museum in Tamil Nadu. | Source



'Jallikattu' also popularly known as 'eru thazhuvuthal' or 'manju virattu' is a traditional performance typically practiced in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu pongal day. It is traditionally played on the third day of Pongal. The term 'Jallikattu' is originated from the Tamil words 'Jalli' and 'Kattu'. 'Jalli' refers to gold or silver coins and 'Kattu' and both these words combined together meaning that coins are being tied to the bull's horns.

'Jallikattu' is referred to as a bull taming event in which a 'Bos indicus' bull or sometimes known as 'indicine cattle' or 'humped cattle' is allowed to set free inside an arena witnessed by a large group of people where various human participants attempts to take full control of the bull by grabbing the large hump of the bull with bare hands and cling on to it for as long as possible until the bull manages to escape. The successful tamer will be declared the winner.

History and Significance:

'Jalllikattu' is an ancient tradition that has been known to be practiced for over 2000 years ever since the Tamil Classical period (400-100 BC). There was a common belief among the ancient people 'Aayars' who inhabited some parts of Ancient Tamil country that this bull-taming sport was played as a ceremony to select a bridegroom. The person who emerge victorious in taming the bull would soon get to marry the maiden.

The sport was played by the 'Mayor' or 'Yadava' during those days and later evolved as a platform to display their strength and bravery. Prize money was also introduced for participation encouragement. This customary bull-taming sport is also observed as an offering to Lord Muniswara.

Why Jallikattu is so close to every Tamilian's heart?

'Jallikattu' is a reflection of their cultural identity and image. This bull-taming sport plays a pivotal role as many farmers are relied on this event for their livelihood. Those bulls which can perform well in the event could fetch them higher prices in the market and worth a great deal of money. It is a chance for them to showcase their skill, strength and personal affection for their cattle.

Furthermore, this tradition is practiced to avail one of the most powerful and virile bulls in making the offspring grew more stronger, more resistant to diseases and ability to produce higher quality of milk in such a way farmers are able to safeguard and conserve the genetic strength of indigenous cattle breeds.

Controversies surrounding Jallikattu:

It is debatable since the blood sport often results in major injuries and death. Over the past two decades about 1100 people were injured and 200 of them have died as a result of this bull-taming sport.

Citing animal cruelty, numerous animal right activists backed by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) urged for the ban on this sport. The pleas were moved by PETA, Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) and various other animal right groups.

While people from all walks of the Tamil society including actors, activists, politicians and members of the civil society are opposed to this ban. They hold the view that the ban impinges the cultural identity of the people.

On May 7, 2014 the Supreme Court of India passed a verdict in support of PETA and AWBI stating that bulls must not be used during Jallikkattu, bull fights, bull races or any other similar types of events.

The Centre issued a notification lifting ban on Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu on certain conditions that bulls are to be treated fairly and not subjected to cruelty.

However, the SC rejected the plea to lift the ban on Jallikattu in the state mentioning that court finds no reason to allow the state in conducting the bull taming sport.


Bullfighting is not just confined to Tamil Nadu, it is popular in other places too. Bullfighting also known as 'Tauromachia' or 'Tauromachy' can be defined as a blood sport which is practiced in Spain, Portugal, parts of Southern France and other Latin American Nations like Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. It is not considered as a sport since there are no elements of competitions involved in it, instead Spanish people treat them as an art form which are closely linked with their country's history, art and culture.

There are three distinct stages or tercios ("thirds") in a Spanish bullfight. Each stage commences by a trumpet sound. The modern Corrida (bull fight) begins with a parade known as paseillo where participants enter the ring to greet the presiding dignitary.

Stage 1 - Tercio de Varas ("third of lances")

In the initial stage, a bull is allowed to set free into the arena. Later the matador and his chief assistant quickly prepares to test and assess the bull's reaction and condition. The chief assistant waves a bright yellow and magenta cape in front of the bull to make it charge. The matador then steps into the ring and begins his creative work by performing stylistically charged opening passes while attempting to take control of the bull.

Once the matador has taken control of the raging bull, two picadores each armed with a long lance, mounted on a large heavily padded and blindfolded horses enter the arena to jab the bull when it charges the horse. The picadores use their lance to inflict injury to the muscle on the top of the bull's neck and drain its general stamina causing the animal to bleed. When the picador stabs the mound of muscle on the bull's neck, the bull charges and exerts maximum pressure to lift the picador's horse with its neck and horns leading to further weakening of the animal. If the picador executes his job well, the bull will hold its head and horns lower making him less vicious while enabling the matador to move on to the next stage.

Stage 2 - Tercio de banderillas (“third of flags”)

In the second stage of the bullfight, the Tercio de banderillas or the three banderillos each attempt to fix two banderillas (two sharp barbed sticks) on the bull's shoulders to further weaken the animal and at the same time provokes the bull to become more fierce, violent and uncontrollable. Occasionally, the banderillas are placed by the matador himself.

Stage 3 - Tercio de Muerte ("third of death")

The third and final stage is one of the longest, complex and iconic phase of the corrida (bullfight). Tercio de Muerte (matador) have to re-enter the ring alone and confront with the raging bull which is the most dangerous and challenging one.

In this stage, the matador carries a muleta (a red cloth fixed to a stick) and performs a series of final passes known as faena in which the matador attempts to maneuver the bull by slowing driving the animal towards the center of the ring to kill it with an estocada (thrust of the matadors sword designed to kill the bull). He must employ an coherent strategy to kill the bull to avoid being gored by the bull's horns.

If the matador fails to accomplish the task with an estocada, a descabello (a verdugo sword used by the matador for the final kill in case of a lengthy attempt) must be performed by the bullfighter by lowering the bull's head and cutting the spinal cord to kill it instantly.

Once the bull is being slaughtered, its body is dragged out from the arena by a team of mules or horses. If audience feel the matador has performed exceptionally good, they may request the president to award the bullfighter an ear of the bull by waving white handkerchiefs.

History of Bullfight:

The first historic official bullfight took place at Vera, Logrono in 1133 in honor of the coronation of King Alphonso VIII.

Bullfighting Controversy:

Bullfighting has triggered controversy in many parts of the world including Latin American Nations like Spain, Portugal, Peru, Mexico and Ecuador. It was even recently banned in Catalonia, an independent region of Spain. Tensions are mounting over bloody tradition of bullfighting in Spain where death of a Spanish matador in the ring has ignited a national debate over the centuries old tradition. Several animal right activists plead for a total ban on bullfighting after a 29 year old Victor Barrio was gored to death during a bullfight in the Eastern town of Teruel. This incident was noteworthy as he was the first matador ever to die in the bull ring since 1985. It also unleashed a fusillades of criticism among social medias when Barrio's wife Raquel Sanz tweeted unfair comments on bullfighting tradition and Barrio himself.

Dozens of animal rights activists daubed themselves with fake blood and protested against commencement of weeklong San-Fermin bull running festival outside the premises of Pamplona's bullring.


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