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Bullfighting is an Indian tradition

February 18, 2008

One associates bull-fighting with Spain. One also associates it with man vs bull. But there is another type of bull-fighting that is common to countries like Korea, Japan, and yes, India. Bull against Bull. It’s these pictures that that I want to share with you. These are pictures that a photographer we know personally (Rajiv Rai) sent us. He took these in Shahapur village (Khandwa District, Madhya Pradesh).

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nytimes.jpgMan vs Bull is also common in India. In fact this was in the news recently, because first the Supreme Court banned the four-century-old ‘Jallikattu‘ – event that attracts thousands of people (including tourists) during the Pongal harvest festival in the state of Tamil Nadu, as a “barbaric” way of treating animals, and then due to pressure from Karunanidhi, the Chief Minister, the ban was overturned. Karunanidhi said it would be hurting the religious sentiments of people – and this is the same person who has made statements against the Hindu religion!πŸ™‚ More likely that he knows that too much money rides on this sport to ban it all of a sudden. It’s also a popular sport and that will cost him votes.

Jallikattu by the way is different from the Spanish bull-fighting as the bull isn’t killed, and the man does not use a weapon. What happens is (Wiki):

In Jallikattu, an agitated bull is set to run in an open space. Several people, empty handed, try to tame it by controlling its horns. The winner gets a prize, which is generally tied to the horns of the bull. Only men take part in this game…Betting is also common during the game.

A travel feature on New York Times has a video on this too and you can watch it here. They say that bullfights are a 2000 year old tradition in India. Some sources say that bull-fighting in India is about 400 years old, which makes it older than the tradition in Spain. But actually bull-fighting (man against bull) goes back to pre-historic times in Europe.

You will wonder why I am writing about this…am I against the practice of bullfighting and is that my motive for writing?

Sure, I am against bull-fighting, and infact all violent sports including wrestling and boxing! I think these sports are disgusting and I guess that’s a typical female way of looking at it. I could never enjoy a bull-fight and nor could I ever watch any sort of wrestling match. But at the same time I realise that bull fights and other violent and dangerous sports are here to stay…so I have not written about this to moralize. What makes these bull sports worse is that the poor bulls are not asked if they want to fight…they are goaded to.

In conclusion, I want to mention that the Supreme Court has laid down guidelines, which say that the sport be conducted under strict supervision so that cruelty to animals is avoided. It’s anybody’s guess how much actual supervision will happen as this sport takes place in villages across India. And as far as I know these guidelines don’t apply to the Bull vs Bull sport.

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2008 9:58 am

    Like many of our traditions, this one is irrelevant in today’s context. What’s more, religion has nothing to do with it. If I remember right then here’s why bullfighting originated:

    These bulls were the pampered ones. They were fed the best feeds, kept in shape by regular work. In return these bulls had the job of breeding. They mated with multiple cows to produce the best offsprings – thus ensuring continuous enrichment of livestock. (These bulls had the strength to defeat other weaker males and thus pick the female).

    During non breeding season, all this energy had to be spent somewhere. Hence racing and bullfighting. Unless this was done, the bulls could have gone out of control. (physics: energy can only be converted from one form to the other)

    Sounds funny? But thats how the trend originated!

    cheers
    Priyank

    Thanks for that additional info Priyank. Another reason also is entertainment. Human beings like entertainment and before the advent of cinema and tv etc, I guess this was entertainment. Why, the guys in Rome threw humans to the lions! Gladiators I think. – Nita.

  2. February 18, 2008 10:28 am

    The sooner such cruel and stupid sports (where non-human animals are used to “entertain” and amuse human animals) are phased out, the better it’ll be. I have no objection to humans replacing bulls in such sports. One issue that should be taken into consideration is if this bull race/fighting is the only way of earning a living for some people, then training for another skill for such people and/or helping them make the transition is necessary.

    Amit, I agree, these cruel sports need to be phased out! But as you said, it won’t be easy unless alternative forms to livelihood are available. – Nita.

  3. February 18, 2008 11:26 am

    do you have any data about the casualty rates or number of injuries in this year’s fight.

    Ankur, no I am afraid I don’t. I am not sure whether any reliable data on this exists. – Nita.

  4. February 18, 2008 11:52 am

    Cruelty to animals exist in the form of cockfight also where a knife is tied in one leg of the cock and witnessed as adventure sports. All these indicate that we are not fully civilized.

    That sounds cruel! I guess human beings have always tortured animals for fun. – Nita.

    • roshni permalink
      July 16, 2009 2:27 pm

      i think bull fight cock fight in fact even killing of goats and hens during festivals should be stopped .i think the law should take a step against these cruel acts of humans to aniamls

  5. February 18, 2008 12:06 pm

    @ Nita: Clubbing bullfighting with sports such as wrestling and boxing is not accurate. The latter two involve fully grown adults, willingly agreeing to compete in the sport, and they are not bloodsports. They require considerable skill and fitness to compete in. In a way, similar to Priyank’s explanation, in urban contexts, boxing (esp kick boxing and Thai boxing) can be a good way to channel aggression or excessive energy. Training for them also requires very intensive exercise and I know that from experience.

    Besides for Indians to be upset about cruelty to animals when we treat many people in our country would be funny, if it weren’t so serious. This is a tendency that the British also have – worried about moggies but not the fellow human. Something has to be said about priorities.

    But I have mentioned in my post Shefaly, that you cannot compare and I have also given the reason! So I think you are agreeing with me and giving a more detailed explanation, in fact you have put it far better than I have. Thanks.πŸ™‚ Also I agree with you entirely that we have some people here who are very vociferous against cruelty to animals but ill-treat fellow humans. In fact I know of a person in my real life exactly like that! But ofcourse there are those who feel animals need not necesarily come below humans, so there is that argument. – Nita.

  6. February 18, 2008 12:07 pm

    CORRIGENDUM: ..when we treat many people in our country SO SHABBILY..

  7. Guqin permalink
    February 18, 2008 1:02 pm

    Quote
    “All these indicate that we are not fully civilized.”

    Civilizing has nothing to do with cruelty. In fact, worse, since more inventive. Civilizing only means organizing. Then cruelty becomes more organized too (larger scale).

    What humanity lacks is being enlightened but being civilized. Civilization is the biggest delusion ever invented by people, I dare to say!

    But since it is impossible to have the entirety of humanity enlightened, I think the way out is to make women rule ( I am serious). Then there may be more hair pulling and gossipping, but less warring and cruel sporting. The Moso culture in China (a women-centered society) has demonstrated it.

    I recall a story ( I am not 100% sure of its truth, it was long before my time, but I believe I heard it more than once): When Chairman Mao’s wife (Jiang Qing) ruled, she made boxing illegal since she thought it was violent.

    I agree with Shefaly’s observation that people can be nicer to animals than to fellow humans. In US, some people like their dogs more than their neighbors. I wonder if it is because since the installation of powerful civilizations in nature animals can no more challenge people, so they become a harmless medium for people to express their ideas and emotions, while fellow humans can still be challengers and enimies. Here shows the fragilty of kindness if not a deeper hidden hypocrisy. One can easily see this in people’s “love” for their dogs and birds: they love them, but take away their freedom (especially that of the birds).

    A similar observation can be made upon western values on humanity. Often they take away treasures from deeper layors of humanity. The tynany of democrasy is one example: One is willing to force it by war. etc. I have better stop here before going too much off topic.

    Gugin, your words:

    Civilizing has nothing to do with cruelty. In fact, worse, since more inventive. Civilizing only means organizing. Then cruelty becomes more organized too (larger scale).

    are bang on! I agree with you entirely! Just look at what we do in the name of experiments and research, all for human good mind you!
    Also about many people preferring animals to humans, yes I find it odd. While I agree in theory that animal life and rights are as important as humans, the truth is that it is more natural to sympathize with your own species. Even animals will sympathise with their own species more (unless they are tamed and domesticated perhaps) so identifying with one’s own species is what comes naturally, whether it’s right or wrong is another issue. I know one lady who is obsessed with saving trees, in fact she is an activist and she is rude, unhelpful and anti-social! She was once my neighbour. I could never understand her, although I love plants (and animals). – Nita.

  8. Guqin permalink
    February 18, 2008 1:06 pm

    Nita,

    I am really really grateful for your having your site. I always wanted to learn more about India and her people. You have many good topics.

    You are welcome Gugin. This blog has also gained because of your comments. Thanks. – Nita.

  9. Guqin permalink
    February 18, 2008 1:12 pm

    By the way, in case of interest: cockfight was popular in ancient China. Some otherwise useless individuals even gained the emperor’s favor just because they were good cockfighters….

  10. February 18, 2008 1:32 pm

    Besides for Indians to be upset about cruelty to animals when we treat many people in our country so shabbily would be funny, if it weren’t so serious. This is a tendency that the British also have – worried about moggies but not the fellow human.

    Thank heaven for people having different priorities, more so when it comes to those who cannot speak against the cruelty inflicted on them.πŸ™‚

  11. vish permalink
    February 18, 2008 2:32 pm

    “and then due to pressure from Karunanidhi, the Chief Minister, the ban was overturned. Karunanidhi said it would be hurting the religious sentiments of people – and this is the same person who has made statements against the Hindu religion! More likely that he knows that too much money rides on this sport to ban it all of a sudden. It’s also a popular sport and that will cost him votes.”

    No Nita… ‘Pongal’ has got nothing to do with religion!
    It is a Tamil festival and irrespective of the religion people celebrate Pongal and there is no connection between ‘jallikattu’ and ‘religion’. There were protests across the state against the ruling as they felt that the supreme court has to understand the ‘regional (not religion)’ sentiments before it does something like that.

    Vish, I am simply quoting Mr. Karunanidhi. I don’t know anything about Pongal myself. I wonder if you read that link that I gave with the article. Ofcourse he may have been misquoted. Nowadays one is not sure of anything anymore! – Nita.

  12. February 18, 2008 6:19 pm

    @ Amit:

    “..when it comes to those who cannot speak against the cruelty inflicted on them..”

    I have never seen a human being able to manhandle an animal, if the animal does not wish to be disturbed. Usually the animal retaliates physically or by making appropriately scary noises.

    But their spirit can be broken too.

    One step further, animal rights’ proponents are amongst the most violent in the UK. They damage and vandalise houses and other private property, they terrorise other human beings unrelated to their causes (e.g, children of directors of biotech firms, outside schools or in public transport) and they cross the boundary of legality way too many times for any half-brained human to sympathise with them. They are not themselves averse to taking medication developed using animals, saying that they want to stay alive for the cause, thereby demonstrating breathtaking duplicity. I wonder if the animals, whose cause they purport to advance, would actually be ashamed of such humans being their champions!

    Through such actions, a human being’s spirit can be broken too. The UK has bled many good scientists who did not want to face this lawlessness and instead went to the US (you get our animal researchers; we get your stem cell researchers in a strange quid pro quo possibly representative of our respective adopted countries!)

    However while humans are being treated extremely shabbily, I would much rather spend my time and energy on their causes than on animals’. Those who wish to stand for animals are welcome to do so, but not on my time or my dime.

    After all, doesn’t Hindu philosophy also suggest that the Human form is the most evolved and prized form of life, which one gets after cycling through some 6.4M species in a cycle of birth, death and rebirth?πŸ™‚

  13. Raj permalink
    February 18, 2008 6:26 pm

    Nita,

    Thanks for this article ! I did not know anything about other forms of bull-fighting (bull against bull) and your article has enlightened me on this practice.

    ‘Jallikattu’ is one topic that has always brought out a dilemma in me.As a Tamil,do I support it because it is a part of rural Tamil traditions or do I oppose it because as an animal lover,it is against my principles to cause harm to animals? I am always torn between these two thoughts so I will express them here.

    First,I agree with Vish.’Pongal’ does not have anything to do with any organised religion.Every agrarian society has its own harvest festival.’Pongal’ is a harvest festival that is spread atleast over three (sometimes four) days.Without getting into the details,’Pongal’ is the farmers’ way of thanking Mother Nature and her forces for a bountiful harvest.It is rooted in an agrarian society’s pagan traditions just like ‘Thanksgiving’ in many agrarian societies is rooted in their pagan traditions.Infact it would be perfectly correct to call ‘Pongal’ as the Tamil equivalent of ‘Thanksgiving’ or vice-versa.Yes,’Pongal’ is usually celebrated irrespective of religion,especially in rural areas.So I really do not know if the Chief Minister had used the words ‘religious traditions’.In any case,everyone knows that he is an atheist,though agnoticist or rationalist would be better words to describe him.

    As far as I know,’Jallikattu’ was actually ‘real bullfighting’ or ‘bull taming’ where a man,if he had the courage and strength to do so,single-handedly took a bull by the horns and tamed it.The prize?A bag of money tied to the bull’s horns or even the hand of the daughter of the bull’s owner in marriage ! So it even used to be a process of selecting a bold groom for the beautiful daughter of the (usually) rich bull owner ! So,one could almost call it as a martial art like other traditional Tamil martial arts.

    Of course,it has changed over the years.The bull owners began to intoxicate the bulls with strong liquor and sharpen the bull’s horns to make the job even more difficult ! An intoxicated bull with sharpened horns is a menacing thing to take on,even for a Hercules,to say the very least ! So now it has degraded to something like the ‘Pamplona Bull Run’ in Spain.The bulls are never killed and many men (and bulls) are injured and it has become a case of many men against one bull as can be seen from the picture.

    But I would really like to leave the poor bulls alone.We Tamils can give up ‘Jallikattu’ in favour of the so many other traditional martial arts that we have.If we really have to take a charging bull by the horns to prove our courage and strength,I would prefer that we take on a charging motorcycle by its handlebars ! In this way,the tradition can be maintained without harming the bulls.

    About violent sports,I know that women may not like them.But I firmly believe that violent sports are good for both the body and the mind,provided that men (and women) do not harm each other.There are ways (or they can be found) to keep up the tradition of violent sports without degrading them to gladatorial contests.

    Raj, I agree that some sort of moderate medium needs to be found. Although difficult to implement in practice. Bans don’t work either as it is not possible to police such large areas. India has far greater uses for it’s police force! – Nita.

  14. February 18, 2008 10:04 pm

    @ Raj:

    “About violent sports,I know that women may not like them..”

    SOME women, just SOME women.πŸ™‚

  15. Raj permalink
    February 18, 2008 10:11 pm

    Shefaly,

    Thanks for correcting me.I did guess that some women love to watch men tearing each other to bits πŸ˜€

  16. Guqin permalink
    February 18, 2008 10:36 pm

    Regarding the paradox of Nita’s neighbor and Shefaly’s UK observation:

    The truth is that people do not realy love trees or animals. They love their ideas. Trees and animals are just their vihecles to dilever these ideas. Like a wife beater, he loves love, not his wife. When he is in bad mood, he doesn’t hesitate to beat her up. I hate to sound like an anti-civilization or anti-west, but to my observation and experience, this type hypocrisy is the most charecteristic of western civlization, especially its modern form. Which has been generating sequence after sequence of paradoxes: Forcing democrasy with war, tynany of law with highest crime rate, most surpressing in name of freedom, and eventually liking animals more than people. etc. Barbarians with ideas are still barbarians. A wife beater who writes love poems is still a wife beater!

  17. February 18, 2008 10:47 pm

    @ Raj:

    As I noted in my earlier comment, the so-called violent sports require a great deal of fitness and considerable skill. It is possible to get so eeeuwed out by the gore that one fails to see the art behind the sport. I have a very high squeamishness threshold so I can get past the blood and gore.πŸ™‚ If men wish to tear each other up, that is fine.

    BTW one of the finest films I watched on bloodsport was called Bloodsport and featured Jean Claude van Damme. I recommend it highly. I am also fond of watching a series called Mind, Body and Kick Ass Moves on BBC about ancient martial arts which are no less bloody than boxing but the art form is so exaggerated that people forget the gore and focus on the art instead.

  18. Raj permalink
    February 18, 2008 11:37 pm

    Shefaly,

    Yes,I agree that martial arts are art forms after all.And if practised correctly and for the love of it,it can elevate the body,mind and even the soul.

    As Ernest Hemingway said:

    “There are only three sports-bullfighting,motor-racing and mountaineering,all the rest are merely games.”

    // If men wish to tear each other up, that is fine //

    I have always suspected that (some) women think that men are dispensable 😦

    Thanks for the mentioning the movie and the series.I’ll try to watch them if possible.

    Guqin,

    I love to read your comments inspired by Daoist thoughts.What you said is absolutely true.Thrusting the so-called “democracy” on others by means of war,torturing the so-called “terrorists” without even giving them a trial,hanging a so-called “dictator” after a trial in a kangaroo court are nothing but acts of barbarism.

  19. February 19, 2008 12:27 am

    I have never seen a human being able to manhandle an animal, if the animal does not wish to be disturbed. Usually the animal retaliates physically or by making appropriately scary noises.

    If you haven’t seen it, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.πŸ™‚
    You can find plenty of evidence on AR websites, or probably even youtube.

    All I’ve to say to the rest of your comments is that I’m well-aware of the violent and intimidating tactics (different from their message – valid in my view, ymmv) used by some activists. There are also some well-documented cases of corporations infiltrating AR movements and inciting people to violence – just something to keep in mind. Also what you do get to see on media is the outrageous or violent acts – there are many more peaceful activists doing their part who are hardly ever shown on the media – thus skewing the perspective.
    AR movement (just like any other organization/movement) is not a monolith, and one can criticize a system and work to change it while still being part of the system. Just because I earn my living in a capitalist system doesn’t mean I have to first find an employment in a non-capitalist system before I criticize it.

    OK. Let’s get back to the topic at hand – there will be other opportunities to discuss British AR movement.πŸ™‚

  20. February 19, 2008 1:58 am

    Even animals will sympathise with their own species more (unless they are tamed and domesticated perhaps) so identifying with one’s own species is what comes naturally, whether it’s right or wrong is another issue.

    Nita, there’s no dichotomy – stopping fellow human beings from acts of wanton cruelty can be considered as identifying with one’s own species.πŸ™‚

    I know one lady who is obsessed with saving trees, in fact she is an activist and she is rude, unhelpful and anti-social! She was once my neighbour. I could never understand her, although I love plants (and animals).

    This is common human behavior where we have this program in our brain:
    If x does {certain act}, h/she must have z qualities.

    Humans are complex beings and don’t really conform well to such if-then statements that we carry about others. The association is in our minds, without knowing everything about that person. Hardly that person’s fault, IMO.πŸ™‚

    If folks don’t know already and if they’ve put Gandhi on a big pedestal, it comes as a shock when they find out that Gandhi was a bad father to his own kids, or one of his sons converted to Islam, or about his sexual proclivities in his old age.

    Ofcourse you are right Amit! That lady was a psycho who took a neighbour’s three year old son to the police station (kidnapped him!) because he was making too much noise!πŸ˜€ I wonder if people like these are attracted to saving trees?πŸ˜€ Sorry, couldn’t help that!
    On a more serious note, yes the movement should not get a bad name because of the people who are running it. I agree with that wholeheartedly and support the banning of cruelty to animals. If only the activists were gentler. By the way here too (Meneka Gandhi) is very very extreme.
    – Nita.

  21. February 19, 2008 3:22 am

    Nita, another eye-opener on India from you!
    I am a bit shocked.But thankful.

    I was always thinking of Indians like of a peaceful ( in comparison to many others) nation…Could it be that bull-fightig or any other kind of aggressive sports is something many folks had to go through in their primitive state, and probably some things are left over…?

    Well, I think Indians are certainly more peaceful than other nations. India has never colonized any nation and nor has it ever been the aggressor, mainly because India has always believed in the philosophy of Live and Let Live. However, human beings do have aggression in them and Sports are a way to get it out. So I don’t think playing a violent sport makes a nation not peaceful! Not that India is peaceful of late, with all the internal strife (Naxals!).And by the way, I don’t the aggression in man (we are but animals) has gone or ever will go. Different nations channelize it in different ways, that’s all. – Nita.

  22. February 19, 2008 8:06 am

    So, you this now! Anyway, I just want to ask you about your take on the Karunanidhi’s hindu stance. Do you mean what you said? Are you referring to the setu-samudram thing, I wonder!

    One needs to have a better idea to talk on it like this!

    Oh, I also admire your views esp, from those posts explaining the north-south divide and agree for their need to be together.

    Your thoughts on the official state/national language are matched here!

    Keep up!

    Thanks Madhu. Yes I was referring to the Ram Sethu issue. About the issue, I have written about it here. – Nita.

  23. February 19, 2008 9:02 am

    I wonder if people like these are attracted to saving trees?πŸ˜€ Sorry, couldn’t help that!

    That’s nothing – wait till you find out more about me!!πŸ˜€
    I agree that some AR activists do tend to get angry easily regarding this issue, but to me that indicates the passion they feel for it.

  24. February 19, 2008 9:08 am

    axinia,
    while people are mostly peaceful, there are some instances that go against the grain – there was the issue of sewing shut mouths of cobras – which are popular during naag panchami (snake festival). I don’t know if it still happens or if the courts have passed a law against it. Poverty plays a role too.

    While cows are revered, you will also find old cows wandering the streets and people are indifferent to their sorry state.

  25. February 19, 2008 9:35 am

    Interesting that you consider wrestling violent. It is definitely about forcing submission, but far more violent injuries occur in football or soccer. Boxing on the other hand requires causing severe bodily harm to win.

    I wonder if the bull-fighting has any deeper psychological meaning. Something about wrestling with our ancestors. Or if people who consider cows sacred don’t participate.

  26. Bea permalink
    February 19, 2008 11:29 am

    Hello,

    I like reading your insights and information about things.

    About bullfighting, I’m totally against this as well. But, since I wouldn’t want that bull to fight a person just to spend its energy, I guess this sport should only be done for those who are willing to take an active part in it.

  27. Guqin permalink
    February 19, 2008 12:04 pm

    Raj,

    Thanks.

    Only sometimes Daoism, most of the time common sense will suffice. It is the endless invention and circulation of unecessary and insincere conceptions in the modern westernized world that has made common sense a rarity.

  28. February 19, 2008 12:09 pm

    I heard about Jallikkattu, but did not know that such bull fighting ceremony is conducted in the northern part of India. Nice pics!

  29. Raj permalink
    February 19, 2008 12:44 pm

    Guqin,

    Common sense is not so common in this world ! 😦

  30. February 19, 2008 12:54 pm

    Thanks all for the responses and sorry I could nto reply to all comments. Raj, I have replied to yours in the comment itself today.
    btw Jo, glad you liked the pics. I thought they were beautiful! Rajiv has really worked on them, if you notice he has blurred the outside and focussed on the main subject of the picture.

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