Tamils are a very ancient people – far more ancient that you might ever realize – remember it’s the oldest “surviving” language in the world. And this ancient sport of Jallikatu goes way back, before many parts of the world figured out how to say hi to one another, way before the Spaniards or the French or the South Americans started their famous bull killings that keeps playing on sophisticated channels like Discovery and Travel & Living, that many people travel half way around the world to see.
Rock paintings in Karikkiyur (40 km from Kotagiri, Nilgiris district, Tamil Nadu, discovered in 2004) has several rock paintings, more than 3,500 years old, showing men chasing bulls. Jalli kattu or Manju Virattu (chasing the bull) gained popularity during the Sangam period (300 BCE to 300 CE), the game was also used to help choose husbands. Successful “matadors” were choosing as grooms – an idea that’s reflected even today in “rustic” tamil movies. The ancient Tamil tradition was “manju virattu” (chasing bulls) or “eruthu kattuthal” (lassoing bulls) and it was never “jallikattu,” that is baiting a bull or controlling it as the custom obtained today. In ancient Tamil country, during the harvest festival, decorated bulls would be let loose on the “peru vazhi” (highway) and the village youth would take pride in chasing them and outrunning them.
It was about 500 years ago, after the advent of the Nayak rule in Tamil that this harmless bull-chasing sport metamorphosed into “jallikattu of today. It exists till today, happening during the harvest festival Pongal. Wealthy villagers raise the “kangeyam bull” specially for this day’s event, transforming it into a village’s version of “Gallery Sport”.