Last month, many citizens nation-wide found themselves coming across this term in the news, most of them had no clue what it meant. A lot of people thought it was another typical news-piece snowballed into a big storm, rife with controversies and protests over its ban  in Tamil Nadu.

Jallikattu is a tradition that dates back to around 4th Century B.C., discovered at Mohenjodaro that shows bull-taming, is a reference to Jallikattu. The people enjoy witnessing and participating in Jallikattu in Silappatikaaram, one of the five great epics of Tamil literature, and two other ancient literary works like Kalithogai and Malaipadukadaam.

Jallikattu could be referred as “bull taming spectacle” typically practiced as a part of Pongal celebrations on Mattu Pongal day which is the third day of the four-day Pongal festival. It involves the release of a Bos indicus bull, commonly of the Kangayam breed into a crowd of people. 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 their hold.

Jallikattu literally means “the tying of the coins”. In the ancient times, a gold coin wrapped in a piece of cloth was fastened with coconut fiber around the horns of the bull. Tacklers hung to the hump of the bull with one hand and untied the knot with other hand to get the prize. Today, though the name Jallikattu still persists, coins are no longer tied, but as a token, a piece of symbolic cloth is fastened around the horns. This traditional sport is believed to be more than two millennia old and shares a lot of similarities with its Spanish counterpart. It is considered as a sport of valor, in which men pit their reflexes and skill the bull’s brute strength. Some of the animals are specially prepared for the event and winners are awarded with prizes. The bull that wins is used to service numerous cows, thus preserving the indigenous breed.

Why the outrage and the various calls for banning of this two millennia old tradition:

This sport is deemed controversial by many factions of the society for various reasons, the biggest of them being concerns over animal abuse.

An investigation by the Animal Welfare Board of India concluded that “Jallikattu is inherently cruel to animals”. Animal welfare Organization, The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization(FIAPO) and PETA India have protested against the practice.

PETA claimed that its investigation had shown without any doubt that the bulls, before released into crowds, were often subjected to harsh torments that included:

  • Prodding the bull with sharp sticks or scythes
  • Extreme bending of the tail (which can fracture the vertebrae)
  • Biting of the bull’s tail, among other atrocities.

There were also reports of the bulls being forced to drink alcohol to disorient them, or chilly pepper being rubbed in their eyes to aggravate the bull.


Organizations like PETA and AWO (Animal Welfare Organization) have been calling for the ban of this sport for years, arguing that the sport causes more harm than good and that it usually involves torture of the bulls involved.

In May 2014, the  Supreme Court of India banned the practice, citing animal welfare concerns. A Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Pinaki ChandraMisra said, “Forcing a bull and keeping it in the waiting area for hours and subjecting it to the scorching sun is not for the animal’s well-being. Forcing and pulling the bull by a nose rope into the narrow, closed enclosure or ‘vadi vassal’ (entry point), subjecting it to all forms of torture, fear, pain and suffering by forcing it to go the arena and also over-powering it in the arena by bull tamers, are not for the well-being of the animal.”

In January 2016, the Environment Ministry amended its earlier notification, initially issued by UPA in 2011, and declared that the sport could carry on irrespective of the imposed ban. This was seen in direct contravention with the Supreme Court’s order and was challenged by organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other such welfare organizations. PETA insisted that ‘cruelty’ is not limited to slaughter but includes unnecessary suffering and torture induced on animals for the purpose of human entertainment. Consequently, a stay order was issued by the court.

PETA’s campaign was vocally supported by celebrities like John Abraham and Hema Malini, who played an integral role in standing for the ban against Jallikattu.

Why The Protests against the Supreme Court ruling:

The protesters consider Jallikattu symbolic of Tamilian pride as it is an ancient tradition that has been carried on for years and considered the ban as an attack on their culture and its values.

Moreover, the proponents of the sport vehemently denied the claims made by PETA, terming them as nothing but baseless and that they served no purpose other than PETA’s own interests. The driving point of the protesters was their belief that PETA had an ulterior motive behind all of their actions, that, the organization wanted to ban Jallikattu in order to bring down the number of indigenous bulls, thus giving way to foreign bulls to pervade the Indian market.

What started off as petitions on the internet grew into a massive revolt. People of Tamil Nadu flooded the streets, cities and villages alike, protesting against the Supreme Court’s ban on Jallikattu. People felt more driven since superstars from Kollywood, including A-listers like Rajnikanth Kamal Haasan, Vijay, Vikram, Suriya, Dhanush and Simbu supported the protests.

The first large protests occurred on 8 January 2017, when several groups, organized largely via social media, conducted a protest at the Marina Beach in Chennai to revoke the ban on Jallikattu that was imposed in 2014. These groups also demanded that PETA be banned from India. The protests soon gained momentum and spread all over Tamil Nadu.

And despite the blanket ban over Jallikattu, many events were conducted at various places in many districts of Tamil Nadu, in open defiance of the ruling of the apex court. Folks in Tamil Nadu openly defied Judiciary by holding the event without fearing the police batons. There were also reports that Facebook groups were being used as a communication media for event planners.

After several days of protests, Jallikattu was finally legalized on 23 January 2017 when the Government of Tamil Nadu passed a bill to amend the PCA Act (Prevention of Cruelty Towards Animals Act), thereby making Jallikattu a permanent sport in rural Tamil Nadu.Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 to make jallikattu a permanent sport in rural Tamil Nadu.

Apart from the defiance of the general public with regards to the ban, there was an unexpected outcome of all this furore: PETA faced the brunt of many people across India. Social Media was abuzz with posts and tweets that had netizens castigating the organization and demanding its ban.

Never before has a traditional event gathered the attention of the public as much as Jallikattu. Though the issue has settled down for now, there’s no telling what the future holds for this deep-rooted tradition of Tamil Nadu.

It only goes on to show that, in a land that has innumerable traditions and customs, its people are not opposed to resisting the assaults on their customs, beliefs, and philosophy.



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