Lots have been told about why the sport of Jallikattu must be retained. If the issue is to do with cruelty, remove the scope of cruelty and not the sport itself. The issue of cruelty was sorted out some years ago and what remains now is absolutely harmless for the animal. Those arguing on cruelty issue are closing their eyes on slaughter of animals for food. When there are options for other other kinds of food, killing animals for food is a crime. Why no one cares to take this issue to its logical end?
Opponents of Jallikattu say that culture or tradition can not be a justification for the sport. For me, the historical connections behind Jallikattu look very important as not to lose it for ever. It seems that only the Tamils have retained this sport in its original form. Keeping alive a tradition is worth a kudos and helping it to continue is what is needed.
A dig into the sport shows that it was practiced by none other than Krishna and his cowherd clan. Krishna married Nappinnai , a girl from Tamil lands after taming a bull trained by her. Nammazhwar says in Periya Thiruvandhathi, "Men ThoLi KaaraNamaa venkOttEru EzhudanE" - Krishna tamed 7 bulls so that he could marry Nappinnai.
The most common tradition in cowherd families is to grow a bull as a pet. In the Sangam age poems we come across the adoration for the bulls by all and sundry and how they saw Gods in the image of bulls. The black bull was called as Krishna, the white ones as Balarama, the spotted ones as Indra and the blue necked ones as Shiva. The young girls used to grow a bull as a pet right from the time it is born. The one who tamed it could marry her. But in all those occasions of bull fights, no cruelty was shown. If the elders who were overseeing the fights get any shred of doubt about a misbehavior, they would throw out the perpetrators from the game.
The historicity of this tradition is such that a similar treatment to bulls by the young girls and young men trying to leap the bull for reward of some kind was there in the Mionoan society of the pre-Greek period. (Read here My article)
The Minoan girls resembling the tradition of Tamil girls their hair style and jewelry (wearing many plaits and bangles and armlets) seemed to own the bulls as pets. The men used to leap over the bull as a mark of valour and overcoming the bull.
The tradition of the girl tending the bull has given the name Europa to the land (Europe) from that tradition. The name was I-rupa which changed to Europa and then to Europe. The "I" in I-rupa is a Tamil word "Ai" which is identified with Durga or a high level woman. I-rupa or Europa was depicted as a young woman with a bull which looks like her pet.
As we sift through the details of this sport in olden texts, it comes to be known that this sport had existed only in Pandyan kingdoms and not in Chera and Chola lands. In my earlier articles on Minoans (bull leaping) I have highlighted the probability of a section of Pandyan people - the Tirayans (sea people) - to have gone to pre-Greek lands and taken this tradition which ultimately ended up in stories around Europa who lent her name to a geographic expanse.
Back home, the tradition also had existed among the cowherds of Mathura! (look at the semblance in the name Mathura and Madurai of Pandyans who followed same customs). The popular breed of bull that is engaged in this sport in Tamil lands is Kangeyam bull. This looks exactly the same as the Bull we find in Indus seals. Shown below is the Kangeyam bull.
Compare this with the image of the bull in the Indus seal.
There even exists an adage in Tamil for these bulls given as charity to the temple. The temple bulls (Kovil Kalai) are rough and difficult to tame. They are never harmed. The sanctity attached to bulls can be traced to verses in Atharvana Veda on bulls (Book 9- Hymn 4). Each part of the bull is equated with some of idea of postivity, prosperity and valour. Particularly the hump. It is possessed by Maruts / Marut ganas. One of the features related to Maruts is that they are warriors.
Those who excel in physical prowess, in valour and courage must be capable of holding the hump of the powerful bull and climbing on it by holding the hump. This is the basic idea behind the sport of Jallikattu, that is originally known as "Yeru Thazhuvudal". Yeru Thazhuvudal means hugging the bull. It is not killing or harming or showing cruelty to the bull. The one who is able to tame the bull by its hump and without any shred of cruelty to it was rated as the best man known for valour.
Most of the Kshatriyas, when they could not engage in war, kept themselves in war preparedness by engaging in bull fights. Mahabharata tells about the kings who were forced to reside incognito due to the threat faced from Parashurama. These kings were engaged in caring for the cows and bulls and keeping themselves fit by taming bulls often. This bulls were seen as good challenges to man to test his valour. Nowhere and at no time, these bulls were ill treated or harmed during the fights.
Today the demands of a Kshatriya are not there, nor are there practices to marry a girl by taming her bull. But the very sport had lived on - from Mathura to Madurai.
This link is also a topic of research as to how the migration had happened from Krishna's land to Pandyan land. That is another fact of history which one can only know from Sangam age texts on migration of Velirs and Krishna's clan from Dwaraka after a deluge that took place 3500 years ago. With them came all the traces of Indus life - from stone workers and Brahmi lipi (which was the language the stone workers knew) and the bulls too.
The bull taming had existed in Pandyan lands in submerged lands off South India. The survivors of that land brought the memories and valour while the survivors of Dwaraka brought the bull. The converging region was outskirts of Madurai. Another separate group of survivors of the deluge in Indian Ocean settled in what is now Madura in Java and came to be known as Madurese. A main reason for this claim of mine is their sports involving bulls. Madurese people have a tradition of having bull races.
As far as Jallikattu is concerned, there is so much history to be probed and brought to the outside world from that. It must live on as a reminder of such history and as the oldest tradition of the world.
My Tamil article on Bull Hugging of Tamil lands:-