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Rediff.com  » News » Cowboys, bulls and tamers rock TN's Jallikattu!

Cowboys, bulls and tamers rock TN's Jallikattu!

Last updated on: January 16, 2013 16:16 IST

Cowboys, bulls and tamers rock TN's Jallikattu!

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The final day of Jallikattu lived up to all the hype surrounding the tremendously popular sport. A Ganesh Nadar shares his ringside view with us.

The night before Jallikattu – an ancient bull taming sport played in the villages of Tamil Nadu during Pongal festivities – was a quiet one in the village of Alanganallur in Madurai district.

Complete police bandobast across the village ensured that it remained calm. Hundreds of people, who had traversed many miles to witness one of the biggest events in the state's social calendar, managed to catch a few winks on the village streets.

They were woken up by the devotional songs blaring on loud speakers at 4.30 am. As the crowd came alive, the many policemen on duty grudgingly allowed them to enter the arena.

The galleries were crammed with excited onlookers within 15 minutes. Many people stood patiently beyond the sitting area, hoping to get a seat later.

The event was scheduled to start at 8.30 am. Unable to withstand the feverish anticipation of the crowd, the organisers started the sport at 7 am!

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Image: Inside the Jallikattu arena
Photographs: N Sundararajan

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Cowboys, bulls and tamers rock TN's Jallikattu!

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The commentator kept up the excitement with his lively and encouraging banter.

Sample these: "Here comes the bull, prices on this are a gold coin, a dhoti and shirt and a T-shirt -- come on man, it's a gold coin" and "This bull has a LCD TV riding on it. Come on, grab it, why are you standing there if you are not interested".  (That is the prize for taming the bull)

He also took a swipe at some participants, who, he claimed, were merely standing in the arena without "doing anything".

In no uncertain terms, he asked them to "buck up or pack up".

The man with the microphone also had some choice words for the owner of a bull which had not attracted any prizes from the sponsors.

"This bull has no prize money. Leave it alone, let it go. Dear bull, go home. There is no wager on you. Dear bull owner, next time make sure you put up a prize if no one else does," he said.

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Image: Bulls wait at the starting point
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com
Tags: , TN

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Cowboys, bulls and tamers rock TN's Jallikattu!

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If one of the participants managed to grab one of the hostile bulls and ride it for 30 feet, he would win all the prizes attached to the animal. And if he could not manage this feat, the owner of the bull would get the prize.

There is no fancy prize distribution function. The victorious tamers -- the men who dare to take on one of the bulls -- completed their mission, collected their prize, handed it to one of their associates and went right back in the arena to ride the next unfriendly bull.

Some young men -- who stood inside the arena but kept a safe distance from the bulls -- seemed to be afraid of either the rampaging animals or the veteran tamers from Alanganallur.

Underling the grave danger attached to a sport like this, paramedics with ambulances waited near the crowded gallery. At 10 am, three hours after the game started, they reported happily that their services had not been needed.

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Image: The packed gallery
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Cowboys, bulls and tamers rock TN's Jallikattu!

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A few policemen controlled the cheering crowd but most seemed engrossed in watching the Jallikattu from their vantage points.

A policeman, who was not very interested in the proceedings, grumbled, "I wanted to go for the security detail of the chief minister (J Jayalalithaa) in Theni district. Instead, they sent me here".

The local barber had an interesting tit-bit to share with us, "There is no power in the village right now. The people are standing on roof tops, on tree tops and on every available high surface to watch the Jallikattu. They could have ended up touching an overhead wire at one of these points, so we shut the power down. We do this every year".

Only 60 journalists, handpicked by the district collector, were allowed inside. The remaining journalists, who were not in the collector's list of favourite scribes, were not allowed inside the public gallery.

The policeman posted at the media gallery told us, "We were told to only allow those 60 journalists whose names are on this list".

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Image: Bulls wait for their turn near the local temple
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Cowboys, bulls and tamers rock TN's Jallikattu!

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To keep up the spirits of the cheering (and occasionally jeering) crowd, plenty of food and drinks were available near the venue. We could have our fill of tender coconut, curd, soft drinks, sugar cane juice, water melon, pineapple and food packets with tamarind rice and curd rice.

Mohammad, a young boy, handed over a pouch of drinking water to a policeman to gain entry into the public gallery.

At 11 am, bull number 117 marched into the arena, making the anxious announcer exclaim, "Hurry up with the bulls. There are 500 more waiting for their turn".

A local resident told us, "Last year, the collector stopped the event at 1.59 pm. This year, we have requested that the deadline be extended till 3 pm. But the collector may not agree. He wants the crowd to disperse and the policemen to go back to their regular duties".

The restrictions regarding time have been imposed only a few years ago and the villagers are still getting used to them. Earlier, the event started and concluded as per the organisers' wishes.

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Image: Mohammad, the water seller
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com
Tags: , TN

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Cowboys, bulls and tamers rock TN's Jallikattu!

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Many who had turned up late were seen arguing with the policemen.

"We have passes. Why are you not letting us in? We have come from Kerala," pleaded one of them.

The policemen retorted, "There is no space inside to even stand. How does it matter whether you are coming from Kerala or Andhra?"

The heated yet amusing exchange between the two continued.

"Why is the collector giving out passes to people without making adequate arrangements," the man demanded to know.

"That you ask the collector. Our life is such that everyone gets to abuse us," rued the disgruntled policemen.

After the bull completes its run of nearly 2 km, young boys deputed by the bull owners catch the animals and bring them back. Unlike the contestants, who have to ride the bulls, the young men have the more dangerous task of capturing the charged-up animals.

In a move that would make their cowboy counterparts in Texas proud, these young men used long ropes as a lasso to expertly rein in the bulls.

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Image: The paramedics on duty at the venue
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Cowboys, bulls and tamers rock TN's Jallikattu!

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One of them had another interesting nugget to share with us.

"These bulls are always fed by a woman, as only the presence of a woman can calm them down. But women refuse to come here," he said.

The arena is set up in a way that the bull, after finishing its Jallikattu run, cannot escape. It either runs back to the starting point or is captured by one of the eager young men tasked to do so.

When some of the bulls managed to give a slip to those trying to capture them and ran back to the starting point, they met the bulls which were heading in the opposite direction.

As the situation threatened to turn into a very real 'bulls-fight', the alert young men hammered on their drums, making a deafening sound that stopped the animals from tearing into each other.

Every arrangement seemed to be in place for the major and controversial event (the ancient sport has been condemned by animal rights activists for alleged cruel treatment).

The only hitch was the organisers' failure to arrange seats for the thousands of enthusiastic spectators. 
 
They could consider heeding the wise suggestion by our driver: "Maybe next year, they will hold it in a stadium."

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Image: Inside the arena
Photographs: N Sundararajan
Tags: Jallikattu , TN

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