The Fight Over One of the World’s Deadliest Sports
In this thousand-year-old pastime, 50 men battle to mount a charging bull. The riders say it’s an essential part of their heritage. Animal rights activists want it outlawed.
Photos by Maya Prabhu
It’s mid-January, harvest time in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The village of Alanganallur is buzzing, festive, rowdy with excitement. Today is devoted to jallikattu: a form of bull riding that is one of the most dangerous and controversial sports on earth.
In an arena in the heart of the village, wearing a neon green number 11 jersey, Vinothraj Navaneethan half-crouches behind a painted coconut stump at the bull’s gateway. His knee is strapped for support, and he’s sharp with adrenaline. He is not alone in the arena. Unlike American bull-riding, in jallikattu, each animal is released into a tangle of men who jostle for a chance at a ride.
The bull charges like a detonation of brawn and color. Behind lowered horns, his body is a hill of muscle roiling beneath a slippery hide. His hump, the fleshy pinnacle at the wither — marking him as a bos indicus, an Indian native — billows a steam cloud of decorative pink chalk or pale ash. He might glitter all over.…