Pongal, observed from January 15-18, 2024, saw vibrant celebrations in Tamil Nadu, with Jallikattu taking center stage. Despite a decade-long controversy surrounding the sport, recent recognitions from the central and Tamil Nadu governments, along with Supreme Court approval, have reinstated the traditional scenes of young men engaging bulls, particularly in the Madurai region.
Down To Earth (DTE) interviewed Karthikeya Sivasenapathy, managing trustee of Senaapathy Kangayam Cattle Research Foundation, located 80 kilometers from Coimbatore. Also heading the environment wing of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Sivasenapathy shed light on the renowned Pulikulam breed, prominently featured in Jallikattu events.
Cattle domestication occurred around 7,000-8,000 years ago globally, with the Indus Valley in South Asia being one of the pivotal locations. Scholars like the late Iravatham Mahadevan, R Balakrishnan, and others, coupled with Indus seals, trace the roots of Jallikattu or Eru Thazhuvuthal back at least 4,500 years.
India boasts three cattle types – milch animals in the north, dual-purpose animals in the middle, and the Mysuru-type animal in the south, primarily used for draught purposes. The Kangayam, recognized as the ‘forerunner of all breeds’ by the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, closely resembles cattle depicted in Indus art, according to R Balakrishnan.
The Kangayam was the first Tamil Nadu indigenous cattle breed acknowledged by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, followed by Bargur, Umbalachery, Alambadi, and Pulikulam. Pulikulam, situated near the archaeological site Keezhadi in the Sivaganga district, is central to Jallikattu events.
The Sangam Era, a casteless and classless society, celebrated bull-baiting in literature. Tolkappiyam, a 3,000-year-old Tamil literary text, classified the ancient Tamil landscape into five types, each protected by a deity. The Pulikulam breed, recognized by the NBAGR in Karnal, has a breeding research station near Madurai, ensuring quality calves for farmers.
Highlighting the historic connection between livestock and humans, the article suggests that legends about cattle defending against large carnivores may have roots in ancient lifestyles, such as those seen in the Bargur region. Despite controversies, Pulikulam’s popularity has surged following the lifting of the Jallikattu ban, aligning with the Tamil Nadu government’s stance and subsequent Supreme Court approval. The renewed interest in indigenous breeds, like Pulikulam, signals a positive trend in population growth.