Jallikattu: Beyond what meets the eye – I
by Balakumar Somu on 05 Dec 2016 13 Comments

There is no denying that some of the observations made by the honourable judges of the Supreme Court of India regarding Jallikattu have deeply hurt Tamil sentiments. It is because these observations have exposed how little understanding the judges, lawyers and the so-called animal rights activists have regarding Jallikattu and its vitality in preserving and improving the Indian Native Cattle breeds. World over, Tamils, rural and urban, educated and otherwise, are up in arms against these ‘observations’ showing how close Jallikattu is to the Tamil heart.


The honourable Supreme Court of India banned Jallikattu on May 7, 2014 citing animal abuse and torture in a case filed by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) along with the US-based animal-shelter organisation, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and a few other such animal welfare organisations. The Supreme Court imposed a blanket ban on all traditional cultural practices and rural sports all over India, that involved ‘bulls’, including Jallikattu, Manjuvirattu, Vadam, Eruthukattum Thiruvizha, Rekla and Bullock-cart races of Tamilnadu, Sethali, Kaalapoottu in Kerala, Bailgada in Maharashtra and bullock-cart races all over India.


In one sweeping order, the Supreme Court has brought to an end thousands of years of evolution of the Indian Native Cattle, the farmer’s best friend ever since it was domesticated by man. We should understand that these breeds have evolved according to the terrain, climate, locally available feed, and have co-existed peacefully with humans who reared them and took care of them as his/her own kin. The cattle, in return, helped man with his farm work, providing the much-required muscle power, and dung, urine.


This is a special relationship that every farmer understands, which, unfortunately, the Supreme Court seems have no clue of, even after a decade after the Jallikattu case entered the Supreme Court. The elite club of Animal Welfare Activist Groups which knocked the doors of the Supreme Court also does not seem to have comprehension in this regard. The Indian Native Cattle dung and urine were used by Indians as organic manure, pesticide and even as health products. Even today, Indians produce over 600 products from the dung and urine of Indian Native Cattle.


It is questionable whether the Supreme Court has taken into account the loss of revenue to the farmers, livestock keepers, and rural artisans who make accessories for Jallikattu, Rekla events, the hundreds of thousands of jobs that would be lost, effect on Hindu Religious sentiments, effect on women as they play a major role in rearing the Jallikattu, Rekla bulls, break-up of the already weak joint family structure and most important of all, the disastrous effect of this blanket ban on the Indian Native Cattle breed population.


It is questionable whether the judgement is fair, as the whole judgement is based on investigative reports filed by the Animal Welfare Board of India appointed /authorised investigators who are linked to AWBI or its affiliated organisations. When the AWBI is the petitioner, is it fair for the court to accept the so-called investigative report by the same petitioner as the sole basis for judgement, ignoring the reports of over 100 District Collectors who monitored and recorded the events themselves? Why did the Supreme Court refuse to have an unbiased third-party / independent investigation team? Why were the stake-holders, farmers and live-stock keepers, not consulted before arriving at a judgement? 


One of the observations made by the Supreme Court was that Jallikattu is an ‘entertainment sport’ and ‘why should you not play a video game of Jallikattu?


Is Jallikattu a mere entertainment sport? Jallikattu is NOT an entertainment sport and cannot be conducted for entertainment. A Jallikattu can be organised only once a year in a village and that too ONLY during the annual village temple festival. It is organised by the Village Temple Committee and not by any sports/entertainment club. There are no tournaments for Jallikattu. Unlike other sports that are organised for entertainment, there is no first place, second place winner. For each and every bull that enters the arena, either the sportsman is declared the winner if he successfully embraces the bull or the bull is declared the winner. Jallikattu is no sport at all; it is a cattle-show to showcase the magnificence of the village stud bulls.


Jallikattu – An Ancient Indian Breeding Science


Although Jallikattu is widely known only as a bull-embracing sport, it is actually an ancient cattle show and a stage for the village youth to demonstrate their valour, all rolled into one. In fact, it is an exemplary example of ancient Indian wisdom of cattle breeding science, branding and marketing.


Jallikattu involves selection of the best of the breed, improvement of cattle breeds, cattle shows, creating a brand value for the cattle of the village/region and then marketing the same, thus commanding high prices for their produce (cattle). This exceptional system developed by Tamils thousands of years ago is still in vogue in Tamilnadu. It has continued non-stop even under Muslim rulers and the British Raj, except during times of great famine and epidemics like plague when the people voluntarily suspended it.


In today’s world, the value of everything is measured by its economic benefit, saleability, return-on-investment and profit. The western capitalist influenced world wants to make money as quickly as possible. Maximising profit is the sole objective. Agriculture and livestock keeping have also been taken over by this capitalist ‘mantra’. Hence, in the Western world, mass-production and factory farming are the norm. These factory-farms of the Western world, which the so-called animal rights activists strive to ape, have no place for the male species. The females are prized for their capability to produce eggs, milk and producing progeny.


The male species, apart from a fraction used for breeding, have no economic value. Hence the male species are killed immediately. One-day old chicken, ducklings, turkey etc., are sex-selected and the male chicks are ground into a paste in a custom-made grinder, dried, converted into powder and again fed to chicken or added to cattle feed. The pathetic truth is that most farm-factories do not even bother to gas/kill them and just grind them alive! The male calves are butchered for their highly-priced meat.


Factory-farms try to maximise profit by increasing production. The livestock and poultry breeds are ‘improved’ to produce more meat, lay more eggs, produce more milk etc, and more new breeds are created just to improve productivity, resulting in obese chicken that cannot walk, cows, made to produce absurdly high quantities of milk, with mega-sized udders that prevent them from being able to lead a normal life etc. To further increase production, the ‘useful’ breeds are kept in cramped cages, barely providing them space to move and lead a natural life.


Indian Farmers, who have not yet been swept away by this cyclone of self-serving capitalism, are still taking care of their cows, bulls, goat, sheep and native breed poultry with the same affection that they have showered on them for thousands of years. Even while most of India is slowly starting to change, the people of the Jallikattu belt of Tamilnadu have steadfastly held on to their ancient system of peaceful co-existence with nature, showering love on their bulls, cows, livestock and poultry, caring for them as their own kin. They have not created new breeds to cater to our ‘greed’.


However, there is no place for such compassion and pragmatism in the policies framed by Indian ‘netas’, brainwashed by Western capitalist ideologies, who are framing policies while ignoring the science behind our Indian traditional practices. They blindly impose western ideologies and practices on our farmers and ridicule those who choose to follow the time-tested path.


‘Temple Bull’ System


To understand how Jallikattu is a part and parcel of Hindu Religion, we should understand the ancient ‘Temple Bull System’ which is still in vogue in Tamilnadu.


Usually outstanding specimens of the breed of the region are selected for breeding (as stud bulls). Rearing and maintaining a stud bull is a 24x7, labour-intensive and expensive affair. Since stud services are free in Tamilnadu even today, it provides no revenue to the owner. The poor farmers of the village, who might have one or more cows, cannot afford to have a stud bull of their own. Hence the whole village collectively adopts a stud bull and designates it as the ‘Temple Bull’.

                                                                                                                                                                         The Temple bull is not restrained in any manner. It is allowed to roam around the village and does not even have a nose rope. It has the right to walk into any field and graze. Superstitions were created around the Temple bull, so that people collectively care for it. For example, people believe that if the temple bull grazes from one’s farm, then that family would have a bountiful harvest. If the temple bull visits one’s house seeking water or feed, then that household would receive some good news etc. The whole village pampers the temple bull; its only task is to provide free stud service to the village cows.


To diversify the gene-pool, a few more bulls would also be reared in the village. Depending on the number of cows in the village, the village may adopt more than one stud bull as temple bulls. Some of the more affluent people of the village would also come forward to rear stud bulls as a service to the villagers. This is a fine example of the Indian mindset of serving the community expecting nothing in return, which is in stark contrast to Western ideology.


The designated Temple Bull will be changed after three years; exchanged with the temple bull of another village, to avoid in-breeding by preventing the bull from mating with its own calf. Thousands of years ago, our forefathers practiced what the modern Western science has ‘discovered’ today!


Jallikattu is the function to honour the Temple bull, other stud bulls and their owners for their selfless service. In Tamil civilization, the greatest honour that can be bestowed on someone is to present a dhoti and drape them with a shawl. Hence the bulls and their owners are honoured during the biggest gathering in the village, which is the annual Temple Festival for the presiding deity (grama Devata) of that village.


Irrespective of caste, creed and religion, everyone in the village worships the village deity, usually located at the village entrance. The village elders visit the household of the bull-owner, present the owner, as well as the bull, dhotis and towels on a traditional platter and invite them to bring their bull to the Jallikattu during the Temple Festival. Amidst that huge gathering, the stud bulls of the village, decorated and looking their best, are ceremoniously brought in with the Temple bull leading the group. A special puja is conducted for the sacred bulls and the owners are honoured in front of the august gathering.


Jallikattu is a cattle show where the best bulls are displayed to the huge audience. In a modern-day dog show, the dogs are showcased and are made to perform several tests like obedience tests. How can a stud bull be judged? A stud bull can be judged for its strength and virility. Hence that is showcased in a Jallikattu. In India, different regions have evolved different methods of showcasing their bulls, depending on what the bull is capable of. Some regions have bulls performing ‘load-pulling’ displays, some breeds that are fast-runners are displayed using bullock-cart races etc. In Jallikattu, a challenge is thrown out to try to ‘embrace’ the bull.


Jallikattu is all about an unarmed man embracing the bull by its hump for a maximum of 30 seconds! And that is all there is to it. Just 30 seconds of embracing the bull by its hump. A human, however strong he may be, is no match to a stud bull which is many times stronger than him. Yet the youth of the village take up the challenge and try to embrace the bull. The bull, just like any other domesticated animal, loves to play and understands that it is just a game. Just like your pet dog that gets excited when you take it out for its customary walk, the bull gets excited when it is decorated and garlanded. When the nose rope is removed, it knows it has the freedom to play.


For a bull, an unarmed human is like a pin in a bowling game. Yet the bull does not chase a sportsman down and attack him. Not a single fatality has been recorded in the Jallikattu arena post-2009, after the Tamilnadu government introduced sweeping reforms. For those who have seen Jallikattu, they would have seen that the bull just makes mock-charges at sportsmen, teasing them to try to embrace it. Once the sportsman lies flat on the ground, the bull simply ignores him and moves on to the next contender.


The ‘fight or flight’ attitude that the animal rights activists tom-tom so much does not seem to be in display here. The bull has to be very agile and strong to keep the canny talented sportsmen at bay. To face a bull, a sportsman has to be courageous, tactful and strong. So it is a game of wits, tact and strength on both sides. The bulls understand the game so well that one can see many a bull slow down and walk carelessly as soon as it crosses the finish line! One can even see many bulls evaluating the sportsmen before emerging out. The bull, whether it wins or loses, goes back to its usual life of providing stud service, after the few minutes of limelight and glory, just for once a year.


Brand-creation and marketing village cattle


The outsider gets to see just this small part of the Jallikattu tradition. There is a lot more to it. The whole reason for the Jallikattu being conducted during the temple festival is to showcase to the outside world, the quality of the cattle of the village. The best bulls gain popularity at Jallikattu and a great demand is created for their progeny. If several bulls of the village become popular, the demand for all cattle of the village goes up.


In a few months, most villages of the region would have conducted their annual Jallikattus. After that the cattle-shandy (cattle fair like the famous Pushkar fair) of the region takes place. The cattle from all villages of the region participate in the cattle-shandy. The calves of the famous bulls and in many cases the calves of the whole village become more sought-after and command a higher price in the shandy.


Our forefathers created a system of producing excellent quality products, showcasing them, branding them and effectively commanding a good price for them. To this day, this system is practiced in Tamilnadu. Even today, the major cattle-fairs are conducted after completion of the region’s Jallikattus. Without even attempting to understand any of this, the honourable Supreme Court, in one stroke, banned this ancient, time-tested system that has been helping our farmers.


The honorable judge of the Supreme Court even questioned as to “why import a Roman-era sport and why should Jallikattu not be played in the form of a video game!”. Would he have said the same if he had known the reality of Jallikattu? No wonder Tamils feel slighted and hurt.


(To be continued…)

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