Jallikattu: History, Legality and Public Opinion!


A popular traditional sport in the state of Tamil Nadu has recently been subject to a spree of controversial opinions across the country since it was placed for hearing yet again before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. Jallikattu, a traditional sport in which a group of young men also known as Bull warriors come together in a race to grab the large hump of a running raged bull with an object of stopping the bull or collecting a flag/small pocket filled with coins (Sallikattu) located on the bull’s horn. The bull warrior wins the race by grabbing the hump of the bull for the longest period or by collecting the flag situated on the horn of the bull, he is also considered as the bravest man in the village and a hot groom prospect for the villagers to get their daughters married too. Bulls that participate successfully in the Jallikattu are considered superior for breeding and also fetch higher prices in the markets. This sport has deep rooted history in the State of Tamil Nadu.

History of Jallikattu:

Jallikattu can easily be predicted to date back to 400-100 CE as imprints of Jalllikattu have been found in the ancient Tamilian literature “Malaipadukadaam” which approximately dates back to 210 CE. In an excavation in 2004, a cave painting done in white kaolin at Kalluthu Methupatti which shows a man trying to control a bull was discovered by Mr. K. T. Gaandhirajan, an Art historian and Prof. G Chandrashekharan a principal at Government College of Fine Arts. Mr. K. T. Gandhirajan estimated the painting to be about 1500 years old. As quoted in the book “A Western Journalist on India: The Ferengi’s Column” by Francois Gautier, “Jallikattu is an ancient rural sport having to do with bulls. It is believed to be more than two thousand year old and is referred to several times in Sangam Literature.” This sport is celebrated to express the love of the farmers towards their cattle stock for all the help they provide in the process of farming.

Recent Practice of Jallikattu:

PETA India in 2019 had published a 75 paged documented evidence of cruelty towards bulls during celebration of Jallikattu festival held at 5 different locations across Tamil Nadu. In the exhaustive report PETA India claimed with photographic evidence that the bulls were prodded with sharp sickles and scythes, their tails being bitten or extremely bended which could also lead to fracture of vertebrae, aggressive handling of the ropes inserted in nose of the bull which leads to continuous bleeding. In an article from “scroll.in” dated 12 January, 2016 mentioned one report from Palamedu which quoted: "Bulls were forcibly beaten, pushed and pulled into the vadi vasal. The reluctant bulls had their tails painfully twisted, broken and bitten. These abusive practices, though common, were particularly rampant in Palamedu. Bulls were hit and poked with wooden sticks. One of the organiser’s sole duty was to force bulls into the vadi vasal by striking and prodding them with a wooden stick. Shockingly, police in uniform blatantly hit and poked the bulls with their wooden lathis instead of stopping the abuse. On the sly, owners forced suspicious liquids, likely alcohol, down the throats of bulls in order to disorient them."

Such absurd practices got the attention of Animal Welfare Organisations and Animal Activists which subsequently led to litigation and involvement of Indian Judiciary in the matter.

Casualties arising out of Jallikattu:

The Hindu in a news article dated 8 February, 2018 referred to a letter written by The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to the Chief Minister citing the fact that between 2008 and 2014, 43 humans and 4 bulls were killed during Jallikuttu. In a recent report by PETA India which was submitted before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the Organization reported that – “Bull injuries and deaths are not always reported by the media. Yet between January and April 2019, at least five bulls and one cow reportedly died during Jallikattu events. In 2018, at least six bulls died, and in 2017, at least three bulls died. Over the years, there has been a steady increase in the reporting of bull deaths, confirming that no amount of regulation can prevent cruelty to and injuries of bulls. Human injuries and deaths are better reported in the media. So far in 2019, at least eight humans have lost their lives during Jallikattu events and 597 have sustained injuries. The total number of fatalities resulting from Jallikattu events in the last three years, from 2017 to April 2019, was at least 42 humans, per news reports, with 3,007 injured. As Jallikattu continues, a staggering number of human deaths and injuries continue to occur.”

Various other traditional sports leading to Animal Cruelty as per PETA:

  • Kambala – Karnataka
    Kambala is a popular traditional buffalo cart race practiced in Karnataka especially in coastal districts of Dakshin Kannada and Udupi of Karnataka and Kasaragod of Kerala regionally known as Tulunada. In a plea before Supreme Court by the Animal Welfare Organisations, a ban was imposed on various traditional sports leading to animal cruelty and Kambala was amongst it. However, in 2017, the State Government re-legalised Kambala by passing Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Karnataka Amendment) Ordinance, 2017. Even so, the whipping of buffaloes is still practiced during the festival. However, no human or cattle casualties have been reported yet while celebrating the festivities of Kambala.
  • Cock Fights – Pre-dominant in Coastal Regions of Andhra Prades
    Cock Fights is a traditional sport predominant in coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh. The Hon’ble Supreme Court had imposed a ban on cockfights due to the inhumane and preposterous ways of the localities of tying blades to the legs and wings of the cocks before the fights. Upon various protests by the localities and an SLP preferred by senior BJP leader Kanumuri Ramakrishnam Raju, the Supreme Court lifted the ban on cock fights and directed the localities to conduct the cock fights in traditional ways without tying blades to the legs and wings of the cock and without wallowing in bets and gambling.
  • Bulbul Fights – Assam
    Every Makarsankranti which also occurs simultaneously with Assami festival Bhogali Bihu, Bulbul fights used to be organized in Hayagriva – Madhava Temple in Hajo. Before the festivities bamboo traps are placed in order to catch the Bulbuls and later are fed by adding small quantity of cannabis in banana and thereafter starved for a day before the fight. Once a bird is found to be overpowering he is declared as the winner and the losing bird’s crest is trimmed so that he does not participate in the contest again. This cruel practice was banned by the Hon’ble High Court, following which a priest of the said temple went on a hunger strike. Bulbuls are also protected under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
  • Naagpanchami at Battis Shirala – Maharashtra
    Since time, immemorial localities at Battis Shirala a small village in Maharashtra on the eve of Naagpanchami have been catching cobra snakes in order to worship them. In 2014, the Hon’ble Supreme Court banned several traditional practices which led to animal cruelty which also included naagpanchami celebrated at Battis Shiarala. Aggrieved by the same, the people of Battis Shirala protested and threatened the government of boycotting all the elections. In 2022, the Hon’ble Bombay High Court directed to perform the rituals but on their processions.

Festivals across the globe and its current position:

  • Kots Kal Pato Festival in Mexico:
    Kots Kal Pato is a traditional festival celebrated by Mayans since more than 100 years ago, in which small animals were stringed to a piñata and beaten to death with an injudicious belief of accelerated rainy season. This entire fiasco finally came to an end when the festival was banned with the help of Humane Society International (HSI) IN 2016.
  • Nem Thuang Pig Slaughter Festival in Vietnam:
    People come together in the village of Nem Thuang to slaughter pigs and splash the pigs blood on their bank notes in a ridiculous belief of getting good luck for the upcoming new year. This brutal festival and ruthless slaughter of pigs came to an end when Mr. Hoang Tuan Anh, the then Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism banned it in the year 2015.
  • Gadhimai Festival in Nepal:
    In order to display power to the Goddess Gadhimai, animals are sacrificed in thousands every five years by the devotees. This festival was celebrated in Bara district since more than 250 years. Various animal like Water Buffaloes, pigs, goats, chickens and pigeons used to be sacrificed in the name of Goddess Gadhimai mercilessly. The Temple Authorities put an end to this unjust and inhumane practice in the year 2015 and asked for cooperation to the devotees.
  • Pampalona Bull running in Spain:
    Pampalona is one of the most famous bull running sport in Spain in which people run in a dress code in front of a small group (five – six) of bulls. The sport is still practiced with a lot of enthusiasm. The sport is also broadcasted live on the T.V. Despite the enthusiasm among localities, large group of animal welfare groups including PETA stand in opposition of the sport as it leads to harassment of bulls. In protest of the said sport, these welfare groups and animal rights activists organise an event called “the naked running” two days prior to the Bull running festival.

Legal History of Jallikattu:

  • On 29.03.2006, on hearing a petition filed by one Mr. Thevar, Single Judge bench of Madras High Court banned the sport of Jallikattu for the first time.
  • On 10.01.2007, the fanatics/supporters of the festival preferred an appeal before the Division Bench of Madras High Court, and the order passed by the Single Bench was stayed.
  • On 09.03.2007, the Division Bench sets aside Single Bench Order and gave suggestions to the State to bring in a regulatory mechanism.
  • On 27.07.2007, the Supreme Court stayed the Order passed by the Madras High Court after hearing appeal by Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).
  • On 11.01.2008, the Supreme Court banned the sport.
  • On 15.01.2008, the Supreme Court allowed the Revision Petition by the State, thereby allowing the festival again.
  • On 21.07.2009, the ruling DMK Government passed the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009.
  • On 08.04.2011, the aforementioned Act was challenged by the PETA before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
  • On 11.07.2011, Ministry of Environment and Forest issued a notification banning the use of bulls in Jallikattu Festival.
  • On 07.05.2014, the Hon’ble Supreme Court banned the festival and struck down the State Law in entirety.
  • On 16.11.2016, the State Government preferred a Review Petition to conduct the sport in 2017.
  • From 08.01.2017 to 23.11.2017, massive protests took place across the country by leaderless apolitical young fanatics of the sport which led the State Government to prefer an ordinance for state amendment to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
  • On 21.01.2017 to 23.01.2017, the Centre cleared the ordinance and the State (AIADMK) Government passed the Jallikattu Bill to bring into effect the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017, thereby allowing Jallikattu.
  • On 24.01.2017, Animal Welfare organisations like PETA and AWBI challenged the amended act before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
  • On 31.01.2017, the Hon’ble Supreme Court refused to impose stay on the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017.
  • On 30.11.2022, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has admitted the Petition filed by the Animal Welfare Organisations and has placed the matter for Final Hearing on 01.12.2022.
  • On 06.12.2022 and 08.12.2022, the Hon’ble Supreme Court heard the matter finally and have reserved the captioned Writ for Orders.


Taking into consideration both domestic and international scenario around the festivities or sports arising out of culture or tradition leading to arbitrary abuse and inhumane killings are implausible, preposterous and hence in majority of cases have been subsequently banned. Though the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 ensures proper regulatory norms and scrutiny to ensure safety of animals, though at ground level the same is derisive and not humanely possible. Even so public opinion favours and rules in the side of lifting permanent ban on Jallikattu. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has reserved the matter for Judgments while the parties were given liberty to submit their collective compendium of arguments in the captioned matter within a period of one week. Now it is for the Hon’ble Supreme Court to decide whether or not the Legislature is entitled to exempt incidental pain from Animal Cruelty?

This article has been written by Mr. Indrajeet Deshmukh – Dispute Resolution Team, AAK Legal, Advocates & Solicitors.
Disclaimer – This article is meant for informational purposes only. The contents of this article are not to be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm. The copyright to the article rests solely with the authors and the firm.

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