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A victorious youth taking control of the bull in a jallikattu at Alanganallur, Madurai.

Jallikattu (Tamil: சல்லிகட்டு, callikaṭṭtu) or, the Old Tamil phrase eruthazhuvuthal (Tamil: ஏறுதழுவல், ērutazhuval) or manju viraṭṭu (Tamil: மஞ்சு விரட்டு), is a bull taming sport played in Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day.

Annually, Jallikattu is held from January to July, played first in world-famous Palamedu, near Madurai on January 15 followed by "Alanganallur-jallikattu" in Alanganallur, near Madurai on 16 January. There is a specific breed of cattle bred for this purpose known as Jellicut and from the place of a big breeder Pulikulam (புலிகுளம், pulikuḷam).[1]

In May of 2014, the Supreme Court banned jallikattu and bullock cart racing in Tamil Nadu, citing animal welfare issues.[2]


Salem Government museum

Jallikattu, which is bull-baiting or bull cuddling/holding, is a Tamil tradition called 'Yeru thazhuvuthal' in Sangam literature(meaning, to embrace bulls), popular amongst warriors during the Tamil classical period.[3][4] Bull fighting was has been common among the ancient tribes who lived in the ‘Mullai’ geographical division of Tamil Nadu[5] Later, it became a sport conducted for entertainment and was called ‘Yeruthu Kattu’ in which a fast running bull was corralled with ropes around its neck. In the Naik era, prize money was introduced and the sport became a display of bravery. The term Jallikattu was coined in this era. ‘Jalli’ referred to the silver or gold coins tied to the bulls’ horns. – R. Sundaravandhiya Thevan, Author of Piramalai Kallar Vazhvum Varalarum.[5] . According to legend, in olden days the game was used by women to choose their husbands. Successful "matadors" were chosen as grooms.

The term jallikaṭṭu comes from the term calli kācu (coins) and kaṭṭu (meaning a package) tied to the horns of the bulls as the prize money. Later days during the colonial period this evolved to jallikattu which is the term currently used. A seal from the Indus Valley Civilization[6] depicting the sport is preserved in the National Museum.

Tamil-style bull-cuddling[edit]

Jallikattu at Palamedu near Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

Jallikattu is based on the concept of "flight or fight". All castes participate in the event. The majority of jallikattu bulls belong to the pulikulam breed of cattle. These cattle are reared in huge herds numbering in hundreds with a few cowherds tending to them. These cattle are for all practical comparisons wild, and only experienced cowherds can mingle with them safely. It is from these herds that calves with competent characteristics and body conformation are selected and reared to become jallikattu bulls. Other breeds of cattle that are suitable for jallikattu are the palingu (or naatu) maadu, the umblachery and the malai maadu.


There are three variants of jallikattu:

  • vaṭi manju viraṭṭu - This version takes place mostly in the districts of Madurai- Palamedu, Trichy, Pudukkottai, Dindigul, Theni, Thanjavur, Salem. This version that has been popularised by television and movies involves the bull being released from an enclosure with an opening. As the bull comes out of the enclosure, one person clings to the hump of the bull. The bull in its attempt to shake him off will bolt (as in most cases), but some will hook the guy with their horns and throw him off. The rules specify that the person has to hold on to the running bull for a predetermined distance to win the prize. Only one person is supposed to attempt catching the bull, but this rule being strictly enforced depends on the village where the event is conducted and more importantly, the bull himself. Some bulls acquire a reputation and that alone is enough for them to be given an unhindered passage out of the enclosure and arena.
  • vēli viraṭṭu - This version is more popular in the districts of Sivagangai, and Madurai. The bull is released in an open ground. This version is the most natural as the bulls are not restricted in any way (no rope or determined path). The bulls once released just run away from the field in any direction that they prefer. Most don't even come close to any human, but there are a few bulls that do not run but stand their ground and attack anyone who tries to come near them. These bulls will "play" for some time (from a few minutes to a couple of hours) providing a spectacle for viewers, players and owners alike.
  • vaṭam manjuviraṭṭu - "vaṭam" means rope in Tamil. The bull is tied to a 50-foot-long rope (15 m) and is free to move within this space. A team of 7 or 9 members must attempt to subdue the bull within 30 minutes. This version is very safe for spectators as the bull is tied and the spectators are shielded by barricades.

Training of jallikaṭṭu bulls[edit]

Bull Taming, Alanganallur, India

The calves that are chosen to become jallikattu bulls are fed a nutritious diet so that they develop into strong, sturdy beasts. The bulls are made to swim for exercise. The calves, once they reach adolescence are taken to small jallikattu events to familiarize them with the atmosphere. Specific training is given to vadam manju virattu bulls to understand the restraints of the rope. apart from this, no other training is provided to jallikattu bulls. Once the bulls are released, then instinct takes over.


Injuries and even deaths occur in jallikattu. In 2004, at least 5 people were reported dead and several hundreds injured in various villages. Two hundred have died over the past two decades.[7] Unlike in Spanish bullfighting, the bull is not killed. There are rarely any casualties suffered by the bulls. Several animal activists object to this dangerous game every year,[8] but so far these objections have been in vain. In fact jallikattu is loaded against the matadors, unlike in Spain bullfighting. For instance, the bull's horns are sharpened and the matador cannot use any weapons.

The Animal Welfare Board of India took the case to the Supreme Court, which is considering an outright ban on jallikattu because of the cruelty to animals and the threat to public safety involved. Villagers throw themselves on top of the terrified animals in an effort to "tame" them and claim the prize. This is opposed by animal advocates.

A committee was formed called "Tamizhar Veera Vilayathu Peravai" which was headed by P. Rajasekaran from Madurai. With the support of the Tamil Nadu government, he appealed against the claim of Animal Welfare Board in Supreme Court of India.

On November 27, 2010 the Supreme Court in accordance with the law enacted on the regulation of events, permitted the Tamil Nadu government to allow jallikattu for five months in a year from January 15.

A Bench composed of Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice A.K. Patnaik made it clear in their order that the animals participating in the event were to be categorized as per the provisions of the Act.

The Bench also directed the District Collectors to make sure that the animals that participate in jallikattu are registered to the Animal Welfare Board and in return the Board would send its representative to monitor over the event.

The Act states that no jallikattu would be permitted or will be carried out without the permission of the collector and such permission should be obtained one month in prior to the event and the location should also be informed to the board before hand.

Considering the report submitted to the board, which stated the statistics of 12 deaths and 1,614 injuries at the event, the Bench directed the collectors to segregate the events into smaller and larger ones and also added that large amount should be deposited when the events were set large. The Bench considers the board’s suggestion for framing the rules.

The State also responded stating that jallikattu is an ancient, religious and sentimental cultural game that had been conducted for more than 400 years in rural areas during Pongal in January and also for few church festivals from January to December. However, as per the law directs, the event was restricted to five months between January and May.

The State added that at present two lakhs be deposited by the organizers for the benefit of the victims which also includes the victim’s family, in case of an accident or injury during the event.

The government said that a team of veterinarians would be present at the venue for testing and certifying the bulls for participation in the event to provide treatment for bulls that get injured.

Impression of the game

After the State Government enacted the 'Tamil Nadu Jallikattu Act', the stringent pre-conditions especially the huge caution deposit of Rs. 2 Lakh for small venues and Rs. 5 Lakh for big venues has caused a huge drop in the number of venues where Jallikattu is being held. Over 3000 Jallikattus were believed to have been held a decade earlier. This has now dwindled to just about 25 to 30 villages. The new rules have also meant that there are negligible reports of animal abuse and also very few cases of injuries to Jallikattu Participants (Bull tamers), spectators and bulls.

Ban by Supreme Court[edit]

The Supreme Court on 7 May 2014 banned Tamil Nadu's Jallikattu bull fights.[9][10] A bench of Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose also asked the center to amend the law on preventing cruelty to animals to bring bulls within its ambit.

The court also struck down a 2011 Tamil Nadu law regulating the conduct of Jallikattu. The law provided for conducting Jallikattu from January to May in various places in Tamil Nadu to ensure the protection of not only the participants but also of the spectators.

The ban order came as the apex court allowed an appeal by the Animal Welfare Board of India challenging a Madras high court verdict.

Artistic depictions[edit]

The event has fascinated movie makers for decades. Several movies featuring Jallikattu have been made in Tamil. The most popular among them is Murattu Kalai playing the role of a professional and the most successful bull tamer of the village. Virumaandi, released in 2004, had Kamal HaasSan playing the lead role, and offered the most realistic depiction. He is also known to have acted without stunt doubles.

Another single painting discovered in a cave at Kalluthu Mettupatti, about 35 km west of Madurai, between Madurai and Dindigul, shows a lone man trying to control a bull. Art historian K.T. Gandhirajan estimated that this painting, done in white kaolin, was about 1,500 years old.[11]

See also[edit]

Artistic depiction of jallikattu


  1. ^ "AnGR of TN for TANUVAS website" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-01. 
  2. ^ J.Venkatesan,"Supreme Court bans jallikattu in Tamil Nadu," The Hindu, 8 May 2014.
  3. ^ Google books version of the book A Western Journalist on India: The Ferengi's Columns by François Gautier. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  4. ^ Grushkin, Daniel (2007-03-22). "NY Times: The ritual dates back as far as 2,000 years...". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  5. ^ a b "Buzzing with bull talk". http://www.thehindu.com/. 2014-01-08. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  6. ^ T. Subramaniam (13 January 2008). "Bull-baiting of yore". The Hindu. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  7. ^ NDTV
  8. ^ "PETA founder held in India over bullfight protest". Reuters. 
  9. ^ Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraja & Ors., Civil Appeal No. 5387 of 2014
  10. ^ "SC bans Jallikattu bull fights in-Tamil-Nadu". The Times of India. Retrieved 2014-05-07. 
  11. ^ "Bull chasing, an ancient Tamil tradition". The Hindu. Retrieved 2014-01-13. 

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