Jallikattu: History, Culture and Identity

in Module
Published on: 18 April 2019

Kalaiyarasan A. and Shruti Ragavan

Kalaiyarasan A. is Assistant Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai. He holds a PhD in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Previously, he was a faculty at the National Institute of Labour Economics Research and Development, Planning Commission, Government of India. He works on the political economy of caste, group inequality, and regional political economy in India. His recent works are on the political economy of agitations for quotas by the dominant caste groups in India.

Shruti Ragavan is currently a doctoral candidate at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. She undertook a study on Jallikattu as part of her MA dissertation at Ambedkar University Delhi. Her interest lies in understanding human-animal relationships in the urban.

Jallikattu is a festival/sport celebrated in rural Tamil Nadu on the occasion of the harvest festival Pongal, where men engage in a contest to try and catch a running bull’s hump in order to secure a pouch of coins hung around the bull’s horn. In light of the Supreme Court ban on the festival in 2014, the state witnessed a mass movement in January 2017. Protests and demonstrations against the ban on this festival/sport were staged across the state. Alongside this movement, there emerged a raging debate in electronic and print media (both in English and Tamil) regarding the history, politics and ethics of Jallikattu. This debate saw widespread participation of individuals—ranging from academics across disciplines and political figures, to writers, poets, and cultural figures, including at times, members of the Tamil film industry. The Jallikattu debate in 2017 became the fulcrum of discussions around questions of culture, folk tradition, modernity, region and regional identity, caste, gender, law, environment and animal rights. This module tries to provide an introductory understanding of this festival/sport from multiple perspectives.