Pongal o’ Pongal

Pongal is coming up and we have holidays in here in TamilNadu. It is a festival celebrated by Tamils across the world. Pongal is a harvest festival and is a four-day to-do. First, there is Bhogi – when they get rid of or burn the old stuff. The next day is Pongal – when they prepare Pongal (although my favourite is this one) and dedicate it to the Sun God. The third day is Maatu Pongal – dedicated to cattle. The fourth day is Kaanum Pongal – when you visit with your family and friends.

Of course, there are new clothes, ritual baths, prayers, ceremonies, great food and later a food coma as well. Fabulous fun and good times with near and dear ones for four days.

While celebrating the Sun God, and the harvest, there are also games. And one of them is the Jallikattu. It is a bull run held on Maatu Pongal. The bulls are let off and then the animal runs through a crowd.

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Jallikattu has been in place for centuries. There are epigraphs and inscriptions that show us that Jallikattu has been in place for a long time. The reason for Jallikattu to take place is to select the bulls that are to be used for domestic purposes and which ones for breeding purposes.

As the bulls run with a bag of coins tied to its horns, the people around, mostly young men, try to tame it. The ones that are tamed easily are used for domestic purposes. The untamed, for breeding. Also, the young men get to showcase their brawn, I figure. The bag of coins and the glory act as an incentive.

There has been a lot of hullabaloo around Jallikattu. It was banned in 2014. Then the Government of India reversed the ban in January 2016. A few days later, the Supreme Court of India upheld the ban on Jallikattu.

There is a lot of divided opinion on this. People have taken to the streets in protest of the ban. Some have upheld the ban as appropriate while condemning a barbaric practice. One thing is true though – there are people affected by this.

There are people who breed these bulls, local to the region.  Breeds such as the Kangayam bulls are well suited for the region with its high summers and little rains. They can pull a lot of weight and walk a long distance every day. They are known for being quite hardy and suit the needs of the farmers well. Another such breed is the Umblachery. The bulls from these breeds are prominent in Jallikattu.

While the concern of all animal activists is well placed, they must perhaps be ready to deal with the consequences of the ban on Jallikattu as well. While the game may seem brutal, the animals are not butchered later; they are taken up for breeding or for domestication. This actually works well for the farming community and in turn, these breeds continue to thrive.

Jallikattu’s ban is bad news for the local breed of cattle. The people breeding them may look for towards other enterprises and eventually we will lose these indigenous breeds.

Where then, are the agriculturists going to find cattle suited for the region? Perhaps, those in favour of the ban and the Honourable Supreme Court have already thought of this. We are waiting for answers meanwhile. And I am sure so too do our bulls.

I do not support Jallikattu, nor do I support the ban. I support the indigenous bull!

Note – This is not in anyway a post reviewing/commenting on the judgement or endorsing any views other than mine. It is just a rant, a worry about the future of those animals. 

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Some further reading on the topic –

Jallikattu: Why India bullfighting ban ‘threatens native breeds’

Banning Jallikattu Will Decimate India’s Indigenous Cattle Breeds

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