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As the winter sun was gradually turning intense in the sky, it seemed like everything was falling into place for 25-year-old Arvind Raj on Monday. The annual Pongal jallikattu was gaining pace and it was his home turf, as the youngster hailed from Palamedu village. Arvind was one among the bull tamers who entered the arena at 7.45 am in the first round that day.
He was swift to tame bull after bull and was allowed to play the subsequent rounds as the top-scorer. He had already tamed nine bulls and was a top performer who would have won a new car if luck favoured him, but the 10th bull the youth decided to tame ended his luck — and life altogether.
A black bull that charged out of the vadivasal around 10.30 am pierced Arvind’s abdomen. For a few moments, he did not realise what happened but fainted as he was trying to regain his composure. Health workers on standby at the event attended to him, and his fellow tamers in the ring helped the medical staff put him on a stretcher and rush him to Government Rajaji Hospital. But the promising young bull tamer had died by then.
Arvind was one among the bull tamers who entered the arena at 7.45 am in the first round that day. He was swift to tame bull after bull and was allowed to play the subsequent rounds as the top-scorer. He had already tamed nine bulls and was a top performer who would have won a new car if luck favoured him
Arvind’s family said he had been taming bulls for the past six years and he was good at it. A construction worker by profession, Arvind was tall and had a muscular body toned from his daily labour. Above all, he was flexible — an important quality for a bull tamer, since a tamer should know when to engage the bull and let go and react quickly. “We were waiting for the Tamil month of Thai so that we would find a bride for our boy, but everything happened so quickly. And, he was gone so soon,” Arvind’s uncle Mohan said.
Arvind’s father is a daily wager and his mother Deivanai a homemaker who is confined to the bed. “He was the apple of her eye and we did not know how to console her,” said Mohan. The elder son of the family is married and Arvind Raj was the younger one.
After the Alanganallur Jallikattu ended on Tuesday, State Commercial Tax and Registration Minister P Moorthy headed to Arvind Raj’s home and handed over a compensation of Rs 5 lakh. The minister and Sholavandan MLA Venkatesan contributed Rs two lakh to the government sanctioned Rs 3 lakh.
For commoners, jallikattu may appear like a simple sport where the bull is released from the vadivasal and the bull tamer who manages to hold on to the hump till it crosses the boundary in the arena takes the prize. Or else the bull wins.
But there are many nuances to the bull sport of Tamil Nadu. A bull tamer has to closely observe the behaviour of the bull as soon as it enters the vadivasal. While organisers are busy unleashing it from the rope tied through its nose, the skillful tamer watches how the animal sways its head.
There are many nuances to the bull sport of Tamil Nadu. A tamer has to closely observe the behaviour of the bull as soon as it enters the vadivasal. While organisers are busy unleashing it from the rope tied through its nose, the skillful tamer watches how the animal sways its head
The bull tamer has to quickly decide which side it will charge to, the left or right, as it sprints out of the entrance like a rocket. He needs a strategic place to stand at the vadivasal so that he can evade the horns of the bull and would be able to catch hold of the hump of the animal. There is also politics involved, with tamers deciding to let go of bulls or thwart other tamers from touching bulls of the big shots who patronise the tamers in villages.
Weighing about half-a-tonne and raised for prestige, a jallikattu bull, like the tamer, undergoes rigorous training. The bull is trained to charge out of the vadivasal and shake off any tamer trying to touch it. Released into an unknown arena full of tamers, it looks for familiar signs including the whistling or clapping or screaming of its owner too.
“The bull that gored Arvind Raj to death was not something extraordinary. It was, in fact, tamed at Avaniyapuram Jallikattu the previous day. I am just wondering where Arvind Raj went wrong and sustained such a grave injury that claimed his life,” said a seasoned bull tamer R Viji from Kuruvithurai.
The tamers track every bull, especially the promising ones of every jallikattu. Modern gadgets and apps like YouTube have replaced word of mouth of olden times. They gather as much intel about the bulls as they can. “But it can still be unpredictable and that’s what makes Jallikattu so special,” adds Viji, who was gored a few years ago through his eye but survived after undergoing exhaustive surgeries on his face.
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