Siravayal Manjuvirattu (JalliKattu) My First Hand Experience

Jallikattu – The Ancient Bull-Taming Sport

Jallikattu (also known by other names like Manju Viratu and Eru Thazhuvuthal) is a traditional bull-taming sport played in Tamil Nadu for centuries. In this sport, young men try to hold onto a bull’s hump (Eru Thazhuvuthal – meaning embracing the bull) for as long as they can. 

Jallikattu has its significance in Tamil culture beyond being just a sport. It’s a time when folks come together and enjoy a sense of community and also showcase bravery. The sport is linked to agriculture and festivals too.

Jallikattu is celebrated during the Pongal festival, which marks the beginning of the harvest season.

Jallikattu has been mentioned in ancient Tamil writings, like the Sangam literature (400 BC to 300 BC).

Image Source: Tamil inscriptions identified in the 400-year-old sculpture kept in the Government Museum in Salem, Tamil Nadu

I have never seen a Jallikatu / Manju Virattu in person and always wanted to see one. 

In 2017, I also joined the pro-jallikattu protests in Chennai Marina. It was a leaderless, apolitical protest. There were a lot of people congregating at the beach and I joined in solidarity. At that point in time, my thinking was we were fighting for our rights and this is an age old tradition of Tamil Nadu and we need it for our state.

Image Source: Leaderless apolitical youth pro-Jallikattu protest on the Marina Beach, Chennai, India (2017)

Celebrating Pongal in my native village – Kanadukathan

Most of my Pongals I celebrated were in Chennai or abroad.

This time around I decided to spend a few days at my native village in Kanadukathan in Sivaganga District. 

Celebrating Pongal with the village community

I thought as I am in town, it would be great to witness Jallikattu / Manju Virattu and was looking for the closest one. I had no idea what to expect, however there was a sense of excitement. 

My First Hand Experience of Jallikattu

I asked people in the village, what is the place to see Jallikattu (which is also called Manju Virattu) and what is the closest place to see it? They said Siravayal is the place closest to my town and asked me to go by 11:00 am or so. Folks also told me to be careful and not get out of the car. I took it casually. 

Again, I was excited. I wanted to go by 11:00 am, However by the time I left it was 12:15 pm or so and reached the venue by 1:00 pm. There was a sense of excitement. Some folks told me that Jallikattu was already over. I was a little disappointed that I could not see it in person. However, I still decided to go to the venue. There was a huge crowd, lots of people in cars or bikes heading back from the venue and also heading into the venue.

I also saw ambulances as I was trying to get near the venue. I thought some folks might have been hurt. Either way as I got closer to the venue, I saw bulls running around even on the roads. It was scary. I was hesitant to get out of the car. However since I traveled this far, I decided to go closer to the venue.

Reaching the Pottal (The Arena where the bulls are released)

The actual venue is one thing (vaadivaasal) and there is also a big playground kind of area (called Pottal in Tamil language).  Looks like bulls are let loose in the pottal and there are a lot of people who try to catch these bulls in the pottal. There was a huge crowd and I could not get the cars inside the pottal. I asked people what is the best way to get to the venue without getting into the pottal. I was scared to walk in the pottal. Some people recommended I not walk in the pottal and they also told me that one 12 year old boy from a place called Valayapatti was killed. He was watching in the pottal. I saw ambulances. I thought maybe the boy was hurt.

As I had come this far and also have never seen Jallikattu, I decided to go close to the vaadivaasal (bull release gate).  Anyways, I found a way to get to the pottal and get closer to the venue(Vaadivaasal). During the drive, there were lots of bulls charging towards the car and the people around. Got closer to the vaadivaasal. Luckily, since we had a car, we were able to drive through the pottal. As we went to the fag end, there were lesser number of bulls. Even then it was scary as I saw bulls rushing towards the car/ or even on people. 

We parked the car close to the vaadivaasal and saw what was happening in the vaadivaasal area (where bulls were let off one after the other). I think for bulls to be in the vaadivaasal area, you need to pay and get a token. For those who do not have a token they can let loose of the bulls in the Pottal. 

A lot of bigwigs including the District Collector, Locally elected public representatives inaugurated the event. Some of these folks donate prizes to the winners.  

After spending some time in the vaadivaasal area , I tried to get into the car as soon as possible and returned home. At the start, it looked  like a lot of fun. However on our drive back home, I could understand the magnitude of the situation. Anything could have happened there at the Pottal. 

As soon as I came back home, I decided to search for Siravayal. I did find out in the news that two people were killed/died and one of them was the 12 year old boy. I could relate to it. 

Looking back and reflecting on this experience, Jallikattu / Manju Virattu is not the same as I thought it to be. I also strongly believe that if we carry out Jallikattu or Manju Virattu in the current form, it will do no good to anybody. I only knew about the two people who died, however several of them were injured. Some of them even showed torn shirts/scratches. It was scary. 

Lessons/What should we do?

Moving forward, in the coming years, it is important that no lives are lost. In order for this to happen, we need to ensure the event is better organized with security measures taken into account.

Also, the prize money of this sport is not huge or anything (it may not matter). We need to ask, how can we do it in a way that is more organized and ensure no deaths (at-least of people) who come to watch.

I was thinking, why not in a stadium-like atmosphere with a stadium like seating? Before publishing this article, I read in the news today that the Tamil Nadu government is opening a Jallikattu Arena near Madurai today (Jan 24, 2024).

Image Source : Stadium for JalliKattu near Madurai

What is shown on TV is mostly what is happening in vaadivaasal. However there is a lot which goes on outside of vaadivaasal in the Pottal and Roads which is very dangerous. 

This is my first hand experience. We need to make sure we follow adequate security measures and no lives are lost.  I hope you find this post useful.

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