After Alanganallur, Palamedu and Avaniapuram, it will be Coimbatore’s turn to host jallikattu in February. Known for rekla and cock-fights, this town is soon going to be in the reckoning for the bull-taming sport too. And the 50 bulls at the event will not be from the sport’s hotbed Madurai, but those nurtured and trained at the foothills of the Western Ghats.
The man who is behind all this is P Sivaganesh, Managing Director of Shree Devi Textiles, Coimbatore. He has been getting his bulls, all 209 of them, ready for the past two years. These bulls were once the pride of the jallikattu scene in Madurai, but had to be sold in distress by the owners when the ban was imposed.
Till 2013, Sivaganesh used to donate to gaushalas to encourage them to give succour to more cows and buffaloes that were rescued from the abattoir. In 2014, he decided to start one himself when he found an increased need to save the bovine. He bought 25 acres of land at Pachavayal near Narsipuram, a village 30 km from Coimbatore bordering the Velliangiri mountains in the Western Ghats, and the Velliangiri Gaushala was born.
It had just two inmates in the form of cows, when the apex court imposed the ban on conduct of jallikattu in May 2014. It was January 2015, when he heard that people from Madurai and nearby places such as Alanganallur, Vaadipatti, Palamedu, Avaniyapuram, who had given up hope on the ban being repealed, were starting to sell their bulls for slaughter.
With the hope to save at least 50 jallikattu bulls, he rushed to Madurai, and with the help of agents he was able to identify farmers who were selling. When he returned to Coimbatore in February, he had 209 bulls with him. He is not clear now as to what made him take that decision, how it all happened and how much he paid, but he remembers that he was confident that he would be able to manage the upkeep of the studs.
He was also certain that someday, the ban would be lifted and the sport would be played. Hence, along with the food, he ensured the studs received the requisite training that any rural household in Madurai would provide their jallikattu bull.
For this, seven trainers and handlers were brought in from these villages and employed at the gaushala. G Jayamani from Arattapatti village, who sold 10 of his own, is the supervisor of these 209 bulls and oversees their rearing and training.
As the Managing Trustee of the gaushala, Sivaganesh single-handedly manages the financial upkeep of the now 1,560 bovines, without any sponsorships or donations. There are 40 staffers to manage the place. While all the animals are fed the same diet, the jallikattu bulls get a supplement of wheat bran and broken black gram (urad dal). Their training sessions are held in a separate area. This includes a daily morning walk, and evening fitness and stamina building.
Jayamani, who spends his days and nights with the native breeds, is happy and proud that he got this opportunity. With the ban revoked, he is unable to mask his eagerness as he waits for the day when his studs would take part in jallikattu. Recounting several instances, he tries to drive home the point the place of pride the sport continues to have in the lives of those in the Madurai region, notwithstanding the injuries and deaths.
A former jallikattu hero, Jayamani remembers with sorrow the days following the imposition of the ban, how families waited for it to be revoked, and later the desperation with which some of them were forced to sell the bulls for slaughter.
Pointing out that the bulls were ferocious by nature, he adds that there was no need to use stimulants to boost their aggressiveness. And, to prove that two trainers lead a bull from the stall to the training area. The bull snorts, ploughs his horns deep into the mud, and paws the mud with his hind feet for a couple of minutes as if to assuage his aggression before starting the fitness regime.
As the bulls are being geared up, the tamers are also being identified. Sivaganesh hopes to get participants both from Madurai and Coimbatore. As a prelude to the whole process, he plans to send at least 10 of his bulls to the sport being held at three locations on February 1, 2 and 5.
Following this, he wants to organise the event in Coimbatore under the banner of his textile shop. He also has a Plan B if at all it fails to take off in February, which is to hold jallikattu in April to coincide with the “Chithirai thiruvizha”.
Though his two showrooms consume almost all of his time, he is a driven man who will not rest till he has made all his 209 bulls the real “jallikattu kaalai”.