Mattu Pongal, controvercial jallikattu and legend !!

Tamil Nadu, Jallikattu.

Mattu Pongal, a part of an important Hindu festival called Pongal is celebrated on the third day in the month of Thai (15 January)  after
the end of the monsoon season. Mattu Pongal ('Mattu' in Tamil means "bull or cow", Pongal means " sweetened boiled rice" in a metaphoric sense implies prosperity and also positivity.- we need both to move forwad in this competitive world,
Pongal [India Stamp 2006]. iStampGallery.Com

On the day of Mattu Pongal, both cows and bulls are worshiped by the Hindus; the former give milk and milk related products such as cheese, butter, etc without which humans, in particular, young children can not grow, whereas the latter play equally a vital role in the area of agriculture by plowing in the paddy fields to prepare the land for cultivation seeding etc., carrying the produce, hay etc., to the market. As a matter of fact, they do a variety of job in the rural areas. In the hinter lands they are of immense help to the farmers  to take care of their various needs. In the areas where groundnuts, etc are grown, bulls are being used to run pull the ''mara chekku'' (wooden oil press), a feature I used to see on my father's farm inThanjavur district (my native place) in the early 1950s.  In the past two decades, farmers have come to depend on a variety of agricultural machinery and only small farmers still depend on bulls for agriculture works. Electric oil press had already replaced the mara chekku long ago.
Srilanka postal stamp, Pongal./
Pongal is an important community celebration in the villages, in particular, of Tamil Nadu State. It marks the sharing of food prepared from the freshly harvested grains, among the rich and poor and sharing it with the animals and birds associated with men. This is done in an atmosphere of warmth and friendship among the communities.
Controversial Jallykattu, TN. /

Part of Mattu pongal is called the Jallikattu or 'Manji Virattu. an exciting village based sport in Tamil Nadu. This sport held generally on the evening of the Mattu Pongal and is about chasing big well-grown bulls by village youths. The aim is to subdue or tame the wildly galloping bulls in stressful surroundings to retrieve the money - a good amount that is tied to the sharp horns of the bulls. Jallikattu, an ancient sport of Tamil Nadu, is recorded in rock paintings of 'bull chasing sport' discovered on massive rock surfaces at Karikkiyur in Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. They are dated between 2,000 B.C. and 1,500 B.C. So, it is part of Tamil Nadu's culture strongly linked to Hinduism.

Jallikattu, Tamil nadu.

Jallikattu, body protection.

In the era of Nayak rulers ( valiant Nayaks  were originally military governors under the Vijayanagara Empire; when the empire was defeated by the Deccan sultans in the  battle of Talikota - 23 January 1565   several of them in Tamil Nadu declared themselves independent rulers -rajahs)  of Thanjavur and Madurai, it was a harmless sport but, now, it has become a poorly organized and dangerous sport. Since the youths engaged in the sports have neither basic training and skill  to deal with charging bulls. nor  do they have necessary protection against the dangerous bulls. The causality factor is of major concern to the parents and to the government. The trained bulls that run in a frenzy never get hurt, but, on the other hand, youths, hanging on to the horns of the bulls  to get the prize money are either thrown away badly or hurt seriously or killed by goring. 

Various Indian breeds of bulls.

various kinds of bull fighting.

The Supreme Court, New Delhi has temporarily banned the Jallikattu because animal protection organizations make  serious protests for many reasons, one being increasing injuries to the participating youths as reported in the media. In the aftermath, this village sport, common in South Tamil Nadu, has become a contentious issue. 
The crux of the matter is, it is part of the Pongal festival and has been in practice for centuries. This Param Paraiya sport is pushed to the lowly state because of laxity on the part of organizers who fail to tow certain norms to prevent injury to the participants. However, the court can lift the ban by fixing the age limit for the participants and making it compulsory to follow safety precaution against the dangerous bulls. Further, both the participants and animals need to be tested for drug/liquor abuse, based on which they will be allowed to participate in the sport.

Safety measures.

Let me leave jallikattu aside for a while. An important question that induces our curiosity is: Why are cows worshiped on auspicious occasions like Gopuja, Graha pravasam (moving into a newly built home), etc? Bulls, unfortunately,  do not receive the same attention as the cows do from the people. Further, bulls are mostly toiling in the agricultural fields with the farmers. Why is this discrepancy?


In a few articles on Indian bulls, I have come across a brief legend that is closely associated with Mattu Pongal. The Hindu legend goes as follows: God  Shiva once had sent his gate keeper and mount/vahana Nandi (bull) ''Basava'', from heaven to the earth. The purpose was to convey an oral message to the people living on earth that they should have an oil bath (head bath, applying - gingelly oil all over the body and head; sort of massaging with oil)  almost every day and eat once a month. God Shiva's intention was to avoid scarcity of food grains if people ate daily. Basava, the bull in a state of preoccupation, conveyed the message wrongly. He told the people that lord Shiva wanted them to eat every day and take an oil bath once a month. This ''slip of the tongue'' was unintentional, however, a diagonally opposite message had been passed on to the people by the bull. People also had begun to follow Shiva's advice and started eating daily, taking oil bath once a month.  To avoid the shortage of food grains, now, the farmers had to cultivate more lands to produce enough grains to meet people's  daily requirements. 

Bull Basava 's wrong message had bad impact on the agricultural front. Simply a careless act. When god Shiva came to know that his message was distorted and conveyed to the people wrongly by the bull and this would lead to chaos in the villages, he was upset and annoyed. With no choice to pardon the bull, in a state of rage and fury, he banished the bull Basava to live forever on earth to help farmers cover more lands and raise extra food crops required for their daily needs by the people. Hence, we see more bulls in the agricultural belts, plowing the lands, pulling the carts, etc. 

So, Mattu Pongal is also a joyous occasion for the hard working bulls to relax and take rest. Hence bulls are also worshiped on this occasion. Bull worshipping is common in Shiva temples where there is a bull stone image right before the Lord's shrine. Further, on the day of Pradosham (15 days a month, Trayodasi Thithi falls between 4.30 pm to 6.00 pm ) at all Shiva temples, Puja is first done to the bull and then to the presiding deity.

Pradoshakalam,decorated bull,Tiruvannamalai temple.Arunachala Grace

The worship of cows and bulls on the day of Mattu Pongal is a  special prayer for the prosperity and growth of the cattle population as well as our society with the blessings of gods  Indra and  God Krishna (Gopala), who himself was a cowherd.

Mattu Pongal. YouTube

Jallikattu and cattle.m imes of India

It will of considerable interest to note that the worship of cattle by Hindus during Mattu Pongal is not confined to the Hindu religion alone. There is a similar custom associated with the Christians, especially among the Catholics. A function is held on 17 January in Rome as Saint Anthony day, when cattle (the cows, horses, goats, asses and so forth) are blessed, according to one H.H.Wilson (1862).

Wilson, Horace Hayman; Reinhold Rost (1862). Essays and lectures on the religions of the Hindus, Volume 2. Mattu Pongal. TrĂ¼ber & Co. pp. 170–173. Retrieved 2009-12-26.