My article in The National on the Jallikattu bull-running festival in Tamil Nadu – it was a lot of fun.
MADURAI, INDIA // The bull stops. Confused. Unaware that behind him is a straight run for freedom and glory. In front stand a hundred wild-eyed men, staring him down. They have their own glory in mind.
And also the promise of new kitchen appliances.
The bull charges and the men scatter, but one manages to grab hold of its hump and clings on desperately, his feet dragging along the hay-lined ground of the track as the animal bucks madly.
It takes more than three leaps of the bull to send the young man crashing to the ground. That’s enough to count as a victory.
He jumps up victoriously and rushes off to the judges to claim his prize. Moments later, he appears, beaming, with a new food processor in his arms. Before he can even reach the stands, another bull comes careering out of the gate at one end of the long track, barging its way through the crowd of young men.
This is the Jallikattu festival in the Madurai region of the southern state of Tamil Nadu – the ancient and often deadly tradition of bull-running that occurs during the Pongal harvest festival every January.
At least two people were killed and dozens injured this week in different races in the state.
Jallikattu is a sort of inversion of the Pamplona bull run in Spain. Here, it is the men that chase the bull – each hoping to grab hold of a hump for long enough to earn prestige for their village.
The men jostle violently for position around the gate, trying to balance their desire to get a grip on the bull without being directly in line with the horns when it charges. Many are battered senseless in the process.
At one of the most popular events in the village of Palamedu this week, it took less than half an hour before someone was badly injured, his unconscious body quickly scooped up by fellow competitors and taken off into the huge crowds that line the barricades.
Dozens are severely wounded every year. Many do not survive. In 2011, a 22-year-old spectator was gored to death at Palamedu after getting too close to the action.
The young participants are undeterred.
Masculinity is being tested here, and there are potential brides in the audience.
“I do this for honour,” said one competitor, a 20-year-old named Kumoransan Kovanam, head shaved, who was still waiting for a chance to get close enough for a ride.