Stunned by the Supreme Court’s refusal to allow Jallikattu, many in Tamil Nadu hope and pray that the ancient bull taming sport doesn’t fade away.
The Supreme Court ruling came on Wednesday, a day before Tamil Nadu began celebrating the four-day Pongal festival when Jallikattu is held in many rural parts.
"We are hoping Jallikattu does not become one more old item to be discarded," I.T. Seeman, an advocate in Madurai and an owner of Jallikattu bulls, told IANS.
"The sport is part of Tamil rural life and also provides livelihood to several families that trade in the animal," he added.
Jallikattu enthusiasts say everyone is ready to abide by any safety prescription so that the event continues to be held rather than allow an age old tradition to vanish.
But they can only hope for a miracle if Jallikattu is to be held this Pongal.
At least one village in Madurai district is in mourning since there will be no Jallikattu now.
"I have seen Jallikattu for the past 24 years," K. Mahesh, a mechanical engineer and a vegetable exporter in Alanganallur, told IANS. "The entire village is in mourning."
In Jallikattu, a bull vaulter is expected to hang on to the bull’s hump for a stipulated distance or hold on to the hump for a minimum of three jumps made by the bull. Many young men die or get wounded in the process.
The sport’s popularity has gone up in recent times, with local businesses introducing prize money.
Jallikattu lovers said the ban on the event by the Supreme Court, in response to petitions from animal lovers, amounted to throwing out the baby with the bath water.
Many demanded to know if Diwali, the pan-Hindu festival of lights, would ever get banned because the firecrackers exploded on the occasion cause air pollution.
"We need to tackle the problem, not kill the event," argued M. Murugesan, a former civil servant who views Jallikattu as a part of Tamil tradition.
"It is perfectly possible that things may be happening in Jallikattu that may not be correct," he said. "Correct the mistakes, correct the deviations. Why ban Jallikattu?"
In 2014, the Supreme Court banned the sport, upholding a central government notification.
On January 8 last year, the central government issued a notification permitting Jallikattu subject to certain conditions, which was later stayed by the apex court.
Finally, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court made it clear that the bull taming event can’t be held.
Old timers say the Jallikattu bull is bought when it is two months old. It is ready for the sport when it is three years old.
"We can judge the animal by its attitude, alertness and naughtiness," explained a Jallikattu bull owner.
P. Rajasekaran, president of the Jallikattu Paddukappu Peravai, told IANS that the bull owners gave away prizes but insisted that no big money was involved.
Some owners presented cycles and steel cupboards to winners, who are invariably young men from humble rural families.
The cost of the event that includes erecting barricades and spectator galleries is met from donations from the locals and small businesses. The sport is held mainly to perpetuate village tradition, Rajasekaran said.
In 2008, the DMK government declared that the Tamil New Year must be celebrated on January 14, the first day of the Tamil month. Traditionally, this celebration took place on April 14.
In 2011, the AIADMK government reversed the decision and the Tamil New Year was again officially celebrated on April 14.
Jallikattu lovers say that when politicians start tinkering with tradition, then it gives others like animal welfare groups the chance to oppose Tamil traditional rural sports in the courts.