Jallikattu - raging bulls on the run

This is not Pamplona in Spain, where the running of bulls is staged every year in July in observance of the San Fermin festival. This confrontation of man and bull takes place in Palamedu and Alanganallur, two villages near the temple town of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil New Year festival of Pongal (specifically Maattu Pongal, the part of the festivities devoted to cattle) brings man and beast together in a rough-and-tumble battle of guile and brawn. Exciting, controversial and steeped in tradition, this is a battle of honor and courage, blood and guts, pride and prejudice.

A bull runs towards a crowd of Indian bull-fighters during a bull-taming festival popularly known as 'Jallikattu' …
A bull runs towards a crowd of Indian bull-fighters during a bull-taming festival popularly known as 'Jallikattu' in the village of Alanganallur, 500 kms south west of Chennai on January 15, 2005. This annual traditional rural sport is a part of the south Indian harvest festival Pongal. The bulls are freed one by one from a corner and the bull-fighter has to catch the bull and run with it for a distance of 30 metres to claim a prize. Thousands of people attend the festival in which more than 600 bulls take part. AFP PHOTO/Dibyangshu SARKAR 

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A bull runs through a crowd with a young bull-fighter hanging from its horns. Every year hundreds of injuries and a number of fatalities related to Jallikattu are reported across the state. The sport is a big part of local culture. While it evokes passionate support from rural folk, Jallikattu invites equally strident opposition from animal-lovers. Bull-owners take great care of their prize animals, rearing them on a special diet and training them to run and swim. Jallikattu bulls are seldom exploited as beasts of burden. AFP PHOTO/Dibyangshu SARKAR

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A young man attempts to catch a bull during the bull-taming festival of Jallikattu at Palamedu village near the ancient temple city of Madurai, 500 km south of Chennai. The event is celebrated as part of Tamil New Year or Pongal. Pride, bravery and honor are up for the taking as fighters take on trained bulls in what often results in a bloody battle. However, unlike the running of the bulls in Spain, no animals are killed or sacrificed. AFP/STR

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Bull-running is part of the harvest festival of Pongal. The bulls being traditional symbols of masculinity, competitors try to hang onto them and run with them for a fixed distance. Those who go the distance with the bull win a prize and earn fame as local heroes. Bull-owners, on the other hand, derive immense satisfaction in seeing their animals remain untamed. AFP PHOTO/DIBYANGSHU SARKAR

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A man is gored by a bull during Jallikattu, the annual bull festival in Madurai district in Tamil Nadu. The annual bull-running is part of the festivities of Pongal, a four-day harvest festival celebrated as a thanksgiving to nature. However, the festival has increasingly come under fire from animal rights activists for the cruelty meted out to the bulls. A few years ago the Supreme Court of India disallowed Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, provoking some sections of people to protest. The festival also raised concerns about safety when spectators, including on at least one occasion a young boy, were gored to death by the agitated bulls. AFP PHOTO/STR

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