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Federation of India Animal Protection Agencies
A youth trying to take control of a bull in Jallikattu at Alanganallur.
Nicknames Eru thazhuvuthal, Manju virattu
First played 400-100 BC[1]
Mixed gender No
Type Traditional sport
Venue Open ground
Country or region Tamil Nadu, India
Olympic No
Paralympic No

Jallikattu (or Sallikkattu), also known as eru thazhuvuthal and manju virattu, is a traditional spectacle in which a Bos indicus bull, commonly of the Kangayam breed,[2] is released into a crowd of people and multiple human participants attempt to grab the large hump of the bull with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape. Participants hold the hump for as long as possible, attempting to bring the bull to a stop. In some cases, participants must ride long enough to remove flags on the bull's horns.[3][4]

Jallikattu is typically practiced in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day.


Ancient Tamil Sangams described the practice as Yeru thazhuvuthal (ஏறு தழுவுதல்), literally "bull embracing".[5] The modern term Jallikattu (ஜல்லிக்கட்டு) or Sallikattu (Tamil: சல்லிக்கட்டு) is derived from salli (coins) and kattu (package), which refers to a prize of coins that are tied to the bull's horns and that participants attempt to retrieve.[6] Manju virattu (மஞ்சு விரட்டு) literally means "bull chasing".


An inscription on Eru thazhuvuthal at Government museum in Tamil Nadu.

Jallikattu has been known to be practiced during the Tamil classical period (400-100 BC).[1][7] It was common among the ancient people Aayars who lived in the ‘Mullai’ geographical division of the ancient Tamil country.[5][8] Later, it became a platform for display of bravery and prize money was introduced for participation encouragement. A seal from the Indus Valley Civilization depicting the practice is preserved in the National Museum, New Delhi.[9] A cave painting in white kaolin discovered near Madurai depicting a lone man trying to control a bull is estimated to be about 2,500 years old.[10]

Variants and rules

Some variants include:[11]

  • Vadi majuviraṭṭu: This is the most common category of Jallikattu. The bull is released from a closed space (vadi vasal) and the contestants attempt to wrap their arms or hands around the hump of the bull and hold on to it to win the award. Only one person is allowed to attempt at a time. This variant is most common in the districts of Madurai, Thanjavur, and Salem.
  • Vēli viraṭṭu: In this variant, the approach is slightly different as the bull is directly released into open ground. The rules are the same as vadi majuviraṭṭu. This is a popular variant in the districts of Sivagangai and Madurai.
  • Vaṭam manjuviraṭṭu: In this variant, the bull is tied with a 15 m (49 ft) rope (vatam means "rope" in Tamil). There are no other physical restrictions for the bull and hence it can move freely anywhere. The maximum time period given is 30 minutes. A team of seven to nine members can attempt to seal[clarification needed] the bull.

There are several general rules to Jallikattu:[12]

  1. The bull will be released on the the arena through the vadi vasal, an entry gate.
  2. The contestant should only hold the bull by its hump. Holding by the neck, horns or tail results in disqualification.
  3. The contestant should hold the bull's hump for 30 seconds or for 4.6 metres (15 ft), whichever is the longer when the bull attempts to escape.[13]
  4. If the bull throws the contestant off before the line or if no-one manages to hold on to the bull, then the bull will be declared victorious.
  5. If the contestant manages to hold on to the hump till it crosses the finish line, then the contestant is declared the winner.
  6. Only one contestant should hold on to the bull at one time. If more than one contestant holds on to the bull, then there is no winner.
  7. No contestant should hit or hurt the bull in any manner.[not in citation given]


Bos indicus bulls are bred specifically by people of the village for the event. Bulls that are able to participate successfully in the Jallikattu event are used as studs for breeding. These bulls also fetch higher prices in the markets.[14]

Training and preparation

Bull being prepared for Jallikattu.


With the introduction of the Jallikattu Regulation Act - 2009,[15] by the Tamil Nadu legislative, the following activities were done in preparation of the event:

  1. A written permission is obtained from the respective collector, thirty days prior to conduct of event along with notification of the event location.
  2. The arena and the way through which the bulls pass through is double-barricaded, in order to avoid injuries to the spectators and by-standers who may be permitted to remain within the barricades.
  3. The necessary gallery areas are built up along the double barricades.
  4. The necessary permissions are obtained from the collector for the participants and the bulls fifteen days prior.
  5. Final preparation before the event include a complete testing by the authorities of the Animal Husbandry Department, to ensure that performance enhancement drugs, liquor or other irritants are not used on the bulls.


Animal welfare concerns are related to the handling of the bulls before they are released and also during competitor's attempts to subdue the bull.

Practices before the bull is released include prodding the bull with sharp sticks or scythes, extreme bending of the tail which can fracture the vertebrae, and biting of the bull's tail. There are also reports of the bulls being forced to drink alcohol to disorient them, or chilli peppers being rubbed in their eyes to agrivate the bull.[16]

During attempts to subdue the bull, they are stabbed by various implements such as knives or sticks, punched, jumped on and dragged to the ground. In variants in which the bull is not enclosed, they may run into traffic or other dangerous places, sometimes resulting in broken bones or death.[17][18] Protestors claims that Jallikattu is promoted as bull taming, however, others suggest it exploits the bull's natural nervousness as prey animals by deliberately placing them in a terrifying situation in which they are forced to run away from the competitors which they perceive as predators and the practice effectively involves catching a terrified animal.[19] Along with human injuries and fatalities, bulls themselves sometimes sustain injuries or die, which people may interpret as a bad omen for the village.

An investigation by the Animal Welfare Board of India concluded that "jallikattu is inherently cruel to animals".[20]

Animal welfare organisations, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations(FIAPO)[21] and PETA India have protested against the practice since 2004.[22]

Protests and ban

A vehicle displays "Save Jallikattu" as part of the anti-ban campaign in 2017.

The Animal Welfare Board of India filed a case in the Supreme Court of India for an outright ban on Jallikattu because of the cruelty to animals and the threat to public safety involved.

On 27 November 2010, the Supreme Court permitted the Government of Tamil Nadu to allow Jallikattu for five months in a year and 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 the event.[23] The Government of Tamil Nadu ordered that 2 lakh (US$3,000) be deposited by the organizers in case of an accident or injury during the event and enacted a rule to allow a team of veterinarians be present at the venue for certifying the bulls for participation in the event and to provide treatment for bulls that get injured.[23]

The Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a notification in 2011 that banned the use of bulls as performing animals, thereby banning the event[24][25] But the practice continued to be held under Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act No 27 of 2009.[26] On 7 May 2014, the Supreme Court of India struck down the state law and banned Jallikattu altogether.[25] The Supreme Court noted that any flouting of the ban should result in penalties for cruelty to animals under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.[24][27] The court also asked the Government of India to amend the law on preventing cruelty to animals to bring bulls within its ambit. The Supreme Court also ruled that cruelty is inherent in these events, as bulls are not anatomically suited for such activities and making them participate is subjecting them to unnecessary pain and suffering, so such events were outlawed.[28][29]

In May 2014, the Supreme Court of India banned the practice, citing animal welfare concerns.[30] On 8 January 2016, the Government of India passed an order exempting Jallikattu from all performances where bulls can not be used, effectively reversing the ban.[31] However, on 14 January 2016, the Supreme Court of India upheld its ban on the event, leading to protests all over Tamil Nadu.[32]

On 8 January 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Forests permitted the continuation of the tradition under certain conditions, effectively ending the ban;[33][34] however, this was overturned by the Supreme Court on 26 July.[35]

On 16 January 2016, the World Youth Organization (WYO) protested at Chennai against the stay on ban on conducting Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu. The WYO also demanded a ban on PETA in India.[36][37]

On 8 January 2017, some anonymous groups conducted a rally at Chennai Marina opposing the ban on Jallikattu.[38] The participants walked from the lighthouse to the labour statue bearing posters saying ‘save Jallikattu'.[39] It is reported that there were hundreds of participants in the rally.[40] A few churches openly conducted prayer mass and rally against the Supreme Court ruling.[41] Following the protests at Chennai, many students started rallies in various towns of Tamil Nadu.

After hearing the petitions which were led by the Animal Welfare Board of India challenging central government's notification,[42] the Supreme Court of India on 12 January ordered a stay, issued notices to the central government and the government of Tamil Nadu[43][44][45] and later refused to lift the stay.[46] Numerous Jallikattu events were held across Tamil Nadu in protest of the ban, and hundreds of participants were detained by police in response.[47][48] The Supreme Court has agreed to delay its verdict on Jallikattu for a week following the Centre's request that doing so would avoid unrest. The Attorney General Mukul Rahotgi informed the Supreme Court bench that the people of Tamil Nadu were "passionate" about Jallikattu and that the issue was being resolved between the Centre and the State government.[49]

The ban was revoked on 21 January 2017, and the first Jallikattu game post the revoking will be conducted in Alanganallur, Madurai on 22 January 2017, inaugurated by Paneerselvam.[50]

In popular culture

Jalikattu is often shown in Tamil cinema where the hero tames the bull to prove his gallantry.[51] Some of the popular movies include:

Popular cinema, an integral part of the modern social and political life of Tamil Nadu, has often portrayed jallikattu as a symbol of masculinity, and social status. And there are instances of the portrayal running as a counter-narrative, wherein a subaltern hero tames an overlord's bull and turns it into a challenge to power and authority.[57] In films such as Cheran Pandian, Rajakumaran and Murattukaalai, the conflict between the hero and the villain is portrayed through jallikattu, during which the owner whose bull loses shoots the bull.[58] In Mannvasanai, the heroine's father declares that whoever tames the bull is eligible to marry his daughter, but, commits suicide after killing his bull - when an outsider from a nearby village tames his bull & lays claim to his daughter as the prize.[57] In Virumaandi the hero who returns from Singapore tames the bull, which means that his masculinity and traditional roots are intact - despite going to a foreign land.[57] In Thaikupin Tharam, jallikattu is built into the film's climax, and it helps the hero prove he is macho and win his love interest.[59]

See also


  1. ^ a b François Gautier. A Western Journalist on India: The Ferengi's Columns. 
  2. ^ Ramesh, C., Mariayyah, P., Senthilkumar, A. and Rajendran, K. (2014). "A Study of Sports and Recreational Activities of Pura Village People and their Attitude Towards these Activities". Journal of Recent Research and Applied Studies. 1 (7): 89–94. 
  3. ^ Anugula, Himakiran. "Banning Jallikattu Will Decimate India's Indigenous Cattle Breeds – The Wire". Retrieved 17 January 2017. 
  4. ^ "What is Jallikattu? - This 2,000-year-old sport is making news in India. Here's why – The Economic Times". Retrieved 17 January 2017. 
  5. ^ a b "Buzzing with bull talk". The Hindu. 8 January 2014. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  6. ^ "Politics of Pongal: Outrage over Jallikattu but not over drought in Tamil Nadu". 14 January 2017. 
  7. ^ Grushkin, Daniel (22 March 2007). "Fearless Boys with Bulls in Avaniapuram". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2008. The ritual dates back as far as 2,000 years... 
  8. ^ "Who said bullfighting is cruel?". Firstpost. 12 January 2012. 
  9. ^ T. Subramaniam (13 January 2008). "Bull-baiting of yore". The Hindu. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  10. ^ "Bull chasing, an ancient Tamil tradition". The Hindu. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  11. ^ "An ancient tradition sport". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 26 June 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2013. 
  12. ^ "Jallikattu: What are the rules of the game". Outlook. Retrieved 20 January 2017. 
  13. ^ "SC agrees to put jallikattu verdict on hold for a week". The Hindu. Retrieved 2017-01-21. 
  14. ^ Natarajan, Swaminathan (19 July 2016). "Jallikattu: Why India bullfighting ban 'threatens native breeds'". BBC News. Retrieved 17 January 2017. 
  15. ^ "Laws of India  : The Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009". www.lawsofindia.org. Retrieved 20 January 2017. 
  16. ^ Ray, A. (Jan 19, 2017). "Jallikattu cheat sheet: 10 things you should know about the bull-taming sport". Economic Times. Retrieved January 23, 2017. 
  17. ^ Natarajan, S. (19 July 2016). "Jallikattu: Why India bullfighting ban 'threatens native breeds'". BBC News. Retrieved 20 January 2017. 
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  19. ^ "Jallikattu Ban: 'Send Them to the Butchers' is now the only option". The Quint. Retrieved 11 January 2017. 
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  27. ^ "SC bans Jallikattu bull fights in-Tamil-Nadu". The Times of India. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  28. ^ "'Jallikattu is an abuse, not a sport': SC to hear pleas against Centre notification lifting ban on Jallikattu". First Post. 12 January 2016. 
  29. ^ "Jallikattu: Red Rag For the Law". The Citizen. 14 January 2016. 
  30. ^ J.Venkatesan (8 May 2014). "Supreme Court bans Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu". The Hindu. 
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  32. ^ "Supreme Court refuses to vacate stay on Jallikattu order". The Hindu. 13 January 2016. 
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  51. ^ a b c "Rajni, Kamal did it". Behindwoods. Retrieved 8 January 2016. 
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External links