The Fight Over One of the World’s Deadliest Sports

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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. His horns might be painted blue or ochre. He might be haloed in a burst of blossoms, like a swarm of butterflies, as the garland of flowers ringing his horns is ripped by fingers seeking purchase.


https://pocket-image-cache.com/direct?resize=w2000&url=https%3A%2F%2Fnarratively.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2018%2F07%2Fbullriders-HEADER_2580.jpgNow the ancient Tamil bull-wrangling sport is in the heat of an unpredictable renaissance. Photos by Maya Prabhu



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