A. Vellodu, a village situated about 7 km from Dindugul, held its 159th Jallikattu yesterday ( February 16, 2014) . I was literally swept off my feet by the electrifying and orderly Jallikattu conducted in this village.
As I turned my car into the small single-lane road from the Karur-Madurai National Highway, I had no idea of what was in store for me. As I entered the village, I could see groups of young men walking around briskly. On enquiring for the venue, I was asked to 'just keep going straight' and so I did. The road narrowed down further and I was told that it was best for me to park my car in one of the by-lanes and proceed on foot.
The whole village adorned a festival look. Kids running around in their new dress, colourfully clad women adorning the ever-beautiful saree, men in stiff white shirts and dhoties. The whole village had transformed overnight into a carnival. Street vendors selling everything from sugar-cane, sugar-cane juice, palm juice and sweets to dresses, cheap chinese-made toys etc.
Armed with my camera, I started exploring on foot. A friend of mine had accompanied me for this trip. As most Tamils from the western Tamilnadu, his knowledge of Jallikattu was limited to what he had seen on TV. He had never seen a Jallikattu live and was quite excited and thrilled. Curious villagers smiled and often stared. I was not sure whether it was me or my camera. Pretty soon I realised it was my camera as people started making subtle comments like "Why don't you shoot a picture of us" followed by a big smile as soon I looked at them. I did oblige to several of them especially if I felt they would make interesting subjects. As I walked along, I saw a small road-side eatery manned by a very old lady. I requested her to pose for a photograph and she happily posed for me.
Most houses had a bulls tied in the courtyard. I went happily clicking the bulls. I could see men bathing the bulls, decorating them with a dash of colour powder etc. Some bulls were beautifully dressed up with intricately designed ropes, small bells hung on their necks, colourful clothes tied around their necks or head and horns painted in a variety of colours. I even spotted a bull with a lemon tied on its head - supposedly to ward off 'evil eye'. I could see the affection and love shared by the bull and its keepers.
Along the way to the venue, we saw 'Bull registration' and also 'Jallikattu Sportsmen Registration' going on. In the recent years, Jallikattu has become an orderly and strictly humane sport. I have been traveling to several such Jallikattus and as an animal-rights activist myself, I have always been on the look-out for any in-humane treatment meted out to bulls. The sport is now devoid of many backward practices of the yester-years, thanks to The Tamilnadu Government's Tamilnadu Jallikattu Act 2009 which bans any such activity. The new law has ensured that the 4000 year old traditional sport is played without any inhuman treatment to bulls and provides utmost safety for the bull-tamers and spectators. As a result, no bull-tamer has died in the last few years and reports of ill-treatment of bulls has almost come to a naught.
On reaching the venue, I looked around for the best spot from where I can photograph the event. A committee member of the village's Jallikattu Committee walked over to me and asked me to get on to the stage. I kindly declined as I had learnt from experience that with all the VIPs expected, I would find it very difficult to get a comfortable place there. I chose a nearby house with an open terrace, just 25 feet from the stage. The owner welcomed me and told me to make myself comfortable. We both decided to settle down there.
The event started at around 9.15am after a considerable delay caused by the late arrival of the authorities. First the 'Temple Bulls' of all the nearby villages were let free. As tradition goes, temple bulls should not be 'tamed'. Hence they all had a free run and then the bulls were let in one-by-one through the gate called 'Vadivasal' after announcing the name of the bull-owner. There were about 150 bull tamers in the ring. As the bull charge out, the bull-tamers try to cling on to its hump. They have to cling on till it reaches the 50 feet marker. If he succeeds, then he will be declared a winner or else the bull will be declared a winner. After several bulls ran away with the prize, the MC started chiding the bull-tamers and the crowd also joined making fun of the boys. Some boys did a great job. However many a time, two or more boys held on and no winners were declared.
There were a few bulls that 'played around'. These are the bulls that do not run away. They stand facing the bull-tamers literally challenging them to try and touch them. Some of them even go around the ring chasing the poor unarmed guys. It is fun to see the boys scattering and running like chicken. Some of them climb on to the barricades and some of them just huddle into a corner in the ground. The bulls just don't seem to be interested in you if you lie down and surrender! The octogenarian house-owner was enthusiastically pointing out to me the famous bull-tamers and as also the famous bulls. He also told me that if a bull played around, then its 'value' (price) would shoot up instantly by 100 to 500 % !
Witnessing these Jallikattus live, I realised how much the Tamils are striving to keep their 4000 year old glorious traditional game of Jallikattu alive. They are being constantly battered by foreign organisations like PETA for petty reasons. But the Tamils' never-say-die attitude which has been keeping their culture and language alive for thousands of years has also come to the rescue of Jallikattu. New laws have been enacted; new rules have been framed; game has been made safer; and no cases of animal abuses have been found. I am confident that future generations will surely be able to watch this glorious game in all its splendour.
By the time the Jallikattu ended after a few more hours, we were exhausted from cheering the bulls and tamers. As I walked back to my car, I could see happy, content and proud faces all around me. I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride myself, in being a part of the great Tamil culture that has one of the oldest living languages in the world and has survived thousands of years.