Tag Archives: Pongol

Jallikattu…

Its not every day you get baton-charged by police between turns of scurrying from tonne-weight bovines. Can only mean one thing – Jallikattu!

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The season for Jallikattu – or bull taming/bull wrestling – restarts in Madurai every year at Pongal. A Tamil rodeo of sorts – villagers from all over Tamil Nadu descend on the Madurai district to be pitted against specially bred bulls.

One of the first major events of the year then is the village of Palamedu (pop 8,187) 25km north of Madurai.

The Cattle

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A special breed of semi-wild cow – the pulikulam – is usually found taking part. There were 500+ bulls involved in Wednesday’s competitions. With a long history of shenanigans, in the last couple of years authorities have started a new regime of checking the animals (and competitors) over – so even the bulls have to queue.

The Crowds

img_1870With schools and most businesses closed for Pongal, Palamedu overflows and getting close to the action requires some maneuvering. Although there were plenty of quieter spots further down the track for families.

The “Taming”

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The bulls enter into the arena from the door at the right of the pictures. Tamers, to win have to grab and hold onto to the bull for a particular distance or time. There are also prizes as well for bulls who – presumably – put on the best show.

The horns are very real by the way. While they are no longer specially sharpened as was done in the past, that still didn’t stop 40+ tamers needing medical treatment. Police in the arena wear stab vests – not so the tamers.

Of course, this is not all without controversy. While ongoing tussles between animal welfare activists and the various central, state and Madurai administrators have brought about, it would seem, much needed regulation, the future of Jallikattu is uncertain. The Indian Supreme Court has gotten involved and while not calling for a ban yet, is said to be keeping a close eye on things.

And Afterwards

When all is done, the bulls still have to be caught by their owners and this often proves easier said than done. This year several bulls escaped the arena – including one who fell into a well.

IMG_1855But for the winning bulls at least, there’s a garland and no doubt an extra helping of rice straw before bed.

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Lastly, let me wish you all a belated Happy Pongal – farewell from Palamedu!
 

Wikipedia on Jallikattu
News report of this ear’s Jallikattu (The Hindu)
PETA India on Jallikattu

End of Term

Didn’t quiet know what to expect when I got invited along to the local school’s end-of-term Pongol celebrations (*1) – certainly didn’t expect to be among the guests of honour nor to have hundreds of cheering middle and high school students welcoming us into the school grounds. But you know, I can handle being a celebrity for a morning!

First off a Silambam demonstration from the students – this is a Tamil weapon-based martial art – teenagers with big sticks and sharp swords – they were having a great time.

Silambam Demonstration

Of course the guests of honour were expected to give it a go – less said about that the better. Not to worry, the Visitors vs Teachers Slow Bicycle Race would be a chance to salvage some pride… hmmm… thanks to Class 10’s Tamil language teacher, maybe not.

Slow Bicycle Race

It was on to judging the Pongol making competition after that – not before signing autographs for half the kids in Northern Madurai of course – with a fountain pen – beat that One Direction!

Pongol is the sweet rice dish that gives its name to the upcoming festival – seeing it was my first time to try it, not quiet sure how I ended up on the judging panel – especially with it such a tight competition. I will say though that I while I was very fond of Class 11’s pongol, in the end it was Class 8B that pulled it off – congratulations girls!

Given how traditional it is at this time of the year, Kolam & Rangoli drawing (i.e. house-front street drawings) were also part of the competition – even the staff got in on the act…

Kolam

Rangoli at the school’s entrance

So, we finished up then with presenting the prizes and everyone got a half day off school after that – even the celebrities. So btw, if anyone from Narayanapuram is reading – thanks for a great day!

Happy Pongol!

Happy Pongol!

*1 – Pongol is a Tamil Thanksgiving festival and probably the biggest festival all year round – it kicks off next Monday/Tuesday (Jan 13/14th).

Wikipedia on Silambam
Wikipedia on Thai Pongal
Article on Kolam drawing getting outsourced (TOI)