Jallikattu is a bull-taming festival celebrated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, on the third day of Pongal or harvest festival, which is marked as a day to worship bulls and cows for their contribution to agriculture. At the event, a bull is let loose in a fenced enclosure. Participants (usually young men) wait inside the enclosure, and when the bull is let loose, try to control it holding onto its hump or horns for as long as they can. The name of the sport is derived from the Tamil words ‘salli’ (meaning coins) and ‘kattu’ (meaning package) – a reference to a bag of coins that was tied to the bull’s horns, which the winner would take after taming the bull.
The sport is said to have begun between in 400 BC and100 BC. Humped bulls or (known as Bos indicus) are specifically bred for Jallikatu. The strongest bulls, which hold out he longest at the event, are used latter for breeding.
According to a famous legend, Lord Shiva is said to have asked his bull, Basava, to send a message to people on Earth that they should take an oil bath daily and eat their meals once a month. Basava mixed up the messages and asked people to eat every day and take an oil bath once a month. Lord Shiva punished Basava for his mistake and by making him aid humans in ploughing their fields. Hence, the participants first pray to the bulls before trying to tame them during Jallikattu.