Today is the 2nd day of Ponggal, the Tamil harvest festival. It is known as Maatu Ponggal (Cattle Ponggal) and it is dedicated to the cattles.
Many would have thought that the Tamils do not eat beef because of Hindu influence. That is not true. It is actualy the culture of the Tamils to respect these animals. Therefore, most Tamils will not eat beef.
The cattles have a very special place in the Tamil society. It helps farmers to plough the land, pull carts and its milk is an important element in the daily lives of the Tamil people.
Back in the olden days, many women died of child birth. Furthermore, due to poor health condition, many new mothers do not lactate during the first few days after delivery.
In such cases, cow milk is used as a replacement for mother's milk to feed the newborn. So naturally, most Tamils will not eat them.
However, the taboo is not applied to everyone. Tamil clans who are involved with leather works or the make of percussion instruments actually eat beef. The cows are not holy for them as their skin is a source of income.
We also have our own bull taming sport. It is commonly known as Jallikattu. It usually starts on Maatu Ponggal and can last for several weeks.
Unlike the Spanish bullfight, the Tamil Jallikattu does not require the beast to be killed. The ultimate aim is to either subdue the bull or grab the price money which will be tied to its neck. There are several type of Jallikattu sport.
1. The bull will be tied to a pole with a very long rope. Participant (one at a time) have to wrestle and grab the price money.
2. Bulls will be released in a fenced arena or an open arena. Participants will try to wrestle with it in a group and subdue the bull or grab the price money.
Jallikattu is a violent sport. Many participants have been killed by the bulls with its own horns. Some also receive injuries because of being trampled.
Yet, the Tamils do not aim to kill the bull. In fact, the bulls will be venerated. But of course, there will be some rotten apples who abuse the bulls.
Jallikattu was originally practiced by the martial classes. Nowadays, it sees participation from various clans. Jallikattu event was also used as a good avenue to select potential bridegrooms.
Before each event, bulls are brought to the local Muniandy temples for blessings. Such bulls are also nicknamed as Muniandy Kaalai or Kovil Kaalai. Kaalai is the Tamil word for bulls.
The bulls are usually of the Kangeyam breed or the Pulikulam breed. The Pulikulam breed got its name from a village called Pulikulam in my ancestral district, Sivagangai.
Long ago, there used to be a kulam (pond) in the Pulikulam forest. The local puli (tigers) come there to drink. These tigers were ferocious but the bulls were never afraid of them. Some will fight the tigers till death. So the courageous breed got its name from this place.
Jallikattu bulls are bred specially for the bull fight. They undergo vigorous training under their owners. Bulls will be brought to local water tanks for swimming. Bulls are also trained to ram their horns on thick piles of sands. These are all done to build the stamina and strength of the bulls.
Today's Jallikattu is different from its original form as practiced more than 2000 years ago. There are strict regulations enforced to ensure that both the participants and bulls are protected.