Jallikattu: From Indus ritual to Tamil cultural icon

TNIE spoke to eminent scholars and archaeologists who conducted research on jallikattu to understand its significance and history.

Published: 17th January 2023 05:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th January 2023 05:43 AM   |  A+A-


Bull tamers try to tame a bull during Jallikattu at Palamedu near Madurai. (Photo | K K Sundar, EPS)

Express News Service

MADURAI: Sturdy bulls and their tamers sprinting amid cheers from a thousand throats. From sallikattu, a ritual that had its origin in the Indus Valley Civilisation some 4,000 years ago, to a sport deep-rooted in Tamil culture, jallikattu has come a long way.  

TNIE spoke to eminent scholars and archaeologists who conducted research on jallikattu to understand its significance and history. Maharajan, the author of Eeru Thaluthal: Vellan Urpathiyil Nagalthu Panpadum Varalarum and a Tamil teacher at Maharani Victoria Government Higher Secondary School, said bulls became an integral part of the ancestors’ lives once they started taking up agriculture and settling down.

To honour the bulls who toil with farmers, they conducted ‘Mattu Pongal’. In another event called ‘Eer Thaluthal’ or ‘Earuthu Katuthal’, farmers embrace their bulls in front of people to express their love and gratitude towards the animal. Texts from Mullai, Marutham and Kurinji state various names of jallikattu.
He added ‘Mullai Kali’ songs from Sangam literature feature multiple bull names like suri nitri kaari, ven kaar kaari, thiran sandra kaari, nun pori vellai, pulli vellai and semaru vellai.

Similarly, Pallu literature mentions some other bulls namely kudai komba, kuthu kulamban, madapulai, mayilai, mangal valan and more. “For agrarian Tamil communities, a bull is like a working partner. Hence, after cultivation, both need a period of enjoyment to showcase their talent. The customary practices of ‘Manju Virattu’, ‘Vadamadu’ and ‘Maddu Viduthal’ are conducted to fulfil this purpose.”

“Rock painting dating back to 2,000 and 1,500 BCE found in Karikaiyur near Kothagiri in the Nilgris is the evidence of Eer thaluvuthal, the initial form of today’s jallikattu. Similarly, other rock paintings in Theni and other parts of the state verify the occurrence of this customary practice,” Maharajan said.

Archaeologist C Santhalingam gives more insight into ancient jallikattu, pointing out that the original name of the sport is ‘sallikattu’, salli meaning coins tied on the bull horns, which are later collected by the animal’s tamer. Eventually, with greater use of the word, it turned into jallikattu. “A clay seal found in the Indus Valley Civilization and the Karumandurai inscription from the 17th century, showcasing a bull, a man and a gun, are shreds of evidence for the sport being conducted.  

Mullai Kali literature says women who lived in the landscapes of Mullai never expressed love to their men if they suffered no injury after participating in the “bull sport”, he said. 

Madurai Kamaraj University Department of Folklore and Cultural Studies professor T Dharmaraj said jallikattu was purely 'ritual oriented' in ancient times. "It was during the Nayakar period that Jallikattu was transformed into a sport. This made it a popular event attended by thousands of people, even from other states and countries. Today, Avaniyapuram, Palamedu and Alanganallur are conducting jallikattu competitions, and the winning bull owners and tamers receive appreciation as well as valuable prizes," he said.

Even though the casualties caused during the competition have made a group stand up against the event, the history behind its origin will retain Jallikattu unique, undimmed by time.


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  • P.Somasundaram

    In 1868
    2 months ago reply
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