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It is surprising to know that people like to watch animal sports even in the contemporary times when numerous modes of entertainment are easily available and accessible.

Akshata Sawant


It is surprising to know that people like to watch animal sports even in the contemporary times when numerous modes of entertainment are easily available and accessible. In the present arena, wherein humans exploit animals in every possible way, it becomes necessary to question their approach. Is it really necessary to use them for our amusement? Will this global phenomenon ever stop? Few agrarian communities find it acceptable but the subculture like PETA and others advocating against the cruelty hidden in these traditional practices which accept the castrating of bulls, neutering dogs as barbaric and unacceptable. All these agrarian cultures symbolizing various animal sports are under assault. Jallikattu is one among them and the true reform of the sport would be by restoring it as a tradition as it is devoid of cruelty to animals and practiced by agrarian communities to celebrate. 

In the year 2014, the Supreme Court’s ban on Jallikattu had become a point of negation on Tamil Nadu’s heritage and traditional cultural identity.


A sport that is played by over 2000 bulls and 700 catchers every year involving an aggressive confrontation between cattle and humans is South Indian’s famous bull-taming festival – Jallikattu. This is usually played on the second or the third day of the harvest festival, Pongal. This festival is also known as Madu Pidithal, Yeruthazhu Vuthal, and Pollerudhu Pidithal meaning, embracing the bull which has become a rallying point for Tamil identity over centuries. It’s been conducted to judge a man’s valor and strength. 

For the agrarian society of Tamil Nadu, this sport holds enormous cultural significance and an opportunity to exhibit their strength and the strength of their bulls which they claim to love. It is organized all across the state, Madurai being the most popular one. 

The bulls used in this sport are a specific Indian breed of cattle descending from the Kangayam bulls which is fierce, belligerent, and are prone to attack at the slightest provocation. According to the estimate, there were one million Kangayam bulls in 1990 and now reduced to 15,000 only. Therefore, prevention of this sport is been directly linked to the conservation of these specific Indian breeds which are going extinct. 

The bulls are decorated, draped with garlands, and are tied near the makeshift entrance or vaadivaasal with their owners. As the bulls are released from the entry gate into the arena, the bull tamer should try to catch the bull by its hump and should be able to hold it until the bull crosses the finish line. If the tamer manages to cross the line then he will be declared as a winner but if the bull manages to throw the tamer off on the ground than the bull is declared victorious.

In ancient times during the Nayaka’s rule, it was different and the tamers had to grab the piece of cloth full of gold coins tied between the horns of the bull. Once the tamer manages to get that then he would be the winner and was rewarded with many incentives along with the gold coins.


Historical indication of Jallikattu dates back to (400BC – AD200) the Tamil classical period which is also known as the Sangam period. Then, Jallikattu was popular among the warriors of the Tamil community. This sport can also be traced through multiple Tamil literary texts, the first elaborated description being found in Kalithogia, a Sangam anthology. Apart from this, it has also been prominently featured in modern Tamil literary texts. There are many references to this in the form of stories and novels which depict the celebration accompanying the sport, stories of bull and a young girl raising it, and many other stories.

Interestingly, we also find well-preserved seals found in the 1930s at Mohenjo-Daro and several rock paintings which are more than 3500 years old.

The word Jallikattu comes from a Tamil term “Salli Kaasu” which means coins (Salli) and a package (Kaasu). Jallikattu was before known as Salli Kaasu but later in the colonial period, it was termed as Jallikattu.


Jallikattu was first banned in the year 2004 by People for the Ethical Treatments of Animals (PETA) and the Animal welfare Board of India (AWBI). Hence, the Supreme Court banned the sport by acknowledging it as cruel and not suited, as it inflicts pain and suffering on the bulls. Later, in the year 2016, a review petition was filed by Tamil Nadu Government to lift the ban but the court had dismissed it. After the dismissal of this appeal a second appeal was filed by O. Paneerselvam, the then Chief Minister but the bench declined to issue an interim order. 

Later in the year 2016, after a decade long battle and imposition of penalties on its practice, the central government sought to reverse the ban by affecting certain conditions which triggered massive outrage and protest in Tamil Nadu. These protests were compared to the violent demonstrations of the 1960s when the central government tried to impose Hindi as the official language India. After more than a week-long protest, the Tamil Nadu government passed an amendment to the Prevention of cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 which was signed and approved by the President. Many animal activists opposed this as there were many allegations of ill-treating the bulls and often rubbing lime juice, chili powder, etc. to their genitals and their eyes to provoke them. In ancient times all this was not practiced, as time passed and people started sponsoring it all the ill practices started which also included injecting the bulls with narcotic drugs and feeding them with alcohol to increase their level of ferocity.

 When this matter was later taken up in Supreme Court than the two-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice R.F Nariman gave few important views from constitution law aspects and referring to the protection of this sport under Act 29(1) of the Indian Constitution. 

Article 29(1) of the Indian Constitution is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Indian constitution to protect the educational and cultural rights of India. Therefore, if Jallikattu is upheld by the constitutional bench as a cultural right and part of the collective culture of Tamil Nadu under Article 29(1) then the provision of other laws that undermine Jallikattu may also run the risk of being stuck down.

Hence, Justice Dipak Misra observed, “It has never been looked into whether a state can claim constitution protection under Article 29(1) for what it thinks it’s a cultural right.”


The Tamil Nadu state law cannot negate the fundamental cruelty of tormenting the bulls as the bulls suffer mentally as well as physically during Jallikattu many other sports also like that of Jallikattu do not qualify to be categorized sports as they are not registered under certain respective state sports councils but are argued to be a cultural or traditional event. Banning the sports completely isn’t the solution as these sports are age-long traditions that are being practiced but imposing rules and regulations on them so that the animals are not tortured and terrified can be a solution to the controversy.

But this remains an ongoing debate and controversy as double standard people are representing the animal activists, judiciary, and the government who ignore and legalize one such sport but allow another such sport to prevail as their palms are greased too.

Author(s) Name: Akshata Prashant Sawant (KLE Society’s Law College, Bangalore)