24 March 2010


The villages of Alanganallur and Paalamedu are hardly 17 to 20Km away from Madurai. It was the month of January, the weather pleasant.The quaint green landscape betrayed no signs of the oldest and bloodiest sport held every year in these villages. The villagers stood around the village temple debating this year's bravest fighters and the fiercest bull, while the 'Saami Kaallai' (God - Bull) placidly chewed on some fresh grass. Not far from this scene, a sport was raging to celebrate Pongal, the Tamil New Year. Young men were trying to tame bulls. I had to rush back to the venue. To witness the spectacle of Jallikattu. Jallikattu has a history of 2000 years, the most popular event being held at Alanganallur near Madurai. About 600 to 800 bulls and hundreds of young men participate every year. Some say that the spirit of Jallikattu is in their blood. Some risk their lives in an effort to impress the young women of the village. Some young men participate because their friends are participating. Some men do not survive to say why.

I was quite shocked to find the prizes that were being offered to the winners. A police officer standing near by pointed to the rows of cycles hung near the podium. Those are the rewards of the highest order; meant for the 'Veerans' (heroes) who manage to catch bulls with a reputation of being the fiercest in the state. Other prizes include steel vessels, dhotis, underwear, plastic cots, satin ribbons etc.

Tens of thousands of villagers and tourists had gathered to witness the event. The prime spot was somewhere near the 30m mark until which the participants are supposed to cling on to the bull. The crowd reeked of arrack and the Jallikattu of Paalamedu concluded with a man from the audience falling prey to the rages of a bull.

The wall art in these villages were mainly adorned with pictures of politicians. The popular ones sponsored uniforms, prizes etc. and watched the event with their families seated at an elevated podium specially made for them like the Kings watching gladiators at the Colosseum in Rome. Nobody was fond of talking about the Supreme Court ban on the event or its subsequent reversals by the State Government.

Sure, there were bamboo barricades every where. But at some point, I was sure that the crowd will break it open.

Back stage, the bulls were refusing to move towards the narrow passage clogged by the participants. A little birdie told me that bull owners often resort to rubbing lime in the eyes of the bull and other inhuman activities to pep up the show. When questioned about it, quite predictably, they staunchly refused. But the bottom line was that the poor animal was scared.

Once the bull is released into the arena, the more enterprising young men lung for the bull hoping to cling on to its back until they reach the 30m victory mark amidst the great din raised by the excited crowd.

A lot (actually most) of the participants ('Veerans' as they are popularly called) were terrified of the charging bulls. In fact, it was quite difficult to tell who felt more threatened - the men or the beast. The men tried to scramble over the crumbling bamboo fences and the beast would be struggling to throw the man of its back to just escape the crowd and the noise.

One of the low points for a Veeran is when a bull manages to throw him off its back and when he lands right in front of the bull, thus making himself an easy target for the beast. Although there have been a lot of instances in the past where the participants were gored by the bull, this year, the participants managed to keep themselves alive although some of them sustained injuries.

All that the bull seemed to care about was the route of escape. Only, the field opened into the village where the bull would go charging into anything it finds in its way. Much of the Jallikattu causalities happen during this time, when the half drunk, half dazed villagers are caught by surprise by the bull.

If the bull manages to shake the participant off its back before the 30m mark, the bull owner gets the prize, if not, the Veeran gets the prize. But often, more than one Veeran clings onto the bull (which is against the rules of the sport) and often all the men who clung on to the same beast are disqualified. Fist fights are common. Wounds are preserved fresh in the memories until the next year's Jallikattu. All in the name of a trophy in the form of a steel vessel.

The spectators seemed never once disappointed. They were omnipresent. Perched on roof tops, walls etc. Cheering on, whistling, hooting.

The event went on for the entire day and the bull owners left with a promise to return next year. Disclaimer : These images were shot in RAW format and later converted to its present avatar using Photoshop (the filter is called 'stamp'). If you'd like to try something similar, I would highly recommend you to try out this effect first, because afterthoughts just don't work.


  1. Love the way you have seen/treated the imges.

  2. Interesting post. I like the photos though I´d like to see also the images also without that treatment. Greetings.

  3. Like both the story and the accompanying photographs. You are fantastic.

  4. wonderful and creative..nice work!

  5. amazing shades of famous taminadu jallikattu!!

  6. At last had the time to post the images!!!
    Some very nice images and Well presented.the graphic work is a bit hard for me. how about sepia toned with high contrast images?

  7. tamilan rocks.. its our culture ... - Ponnappan