next jallikattu

note: i am editing the format of the blog, so it should be easier to read. send comments if it’s still a problem.

tuesday: the date was 17 january, and we headed out to a second jallikattu in the village of siravayal. on the way, we stopped for breakfast in thirupattur (or tiruppattur), which is a relatively large village in the area, and the posters hung all around town trumpeted that it was m.g.r.’s birthday. m.g. ramachandran (17 jan. 1917 – 24 dec. 1987) was a hugely popular tamil film actor who became a major political figure in tamil nadu. he joined the tamil-oriented dmk party, becoming its spokesman, before creating his own competing party, the admk (later aiadmk) in 1972. he became tamil nadu’s chief minister in 1977 and served until his death 10 years later. when he died, there was rioting in the streets for days and one mourner even set himself on fire in mourning.

the leaders of both the dmk and the aiadmk, the two largest tamil parties, came out of the tamil film industry, and they go for big splashy posters; moreover, it is common for jayalalithaa, the actress who took over the aiadmk after m.g.r. died, to put pictures of m.g.r. and of periyar, the founder of the dk  tamil rights movement (from which the dmk sprung), on her posters to advertise her legacy. anyway, given m.g.r.’s enduring popularity, the aiadmk, which currently is in power, wasn’t going to let the day pass by unnoticed.

i am consistently fascinated by tamil political advertising.

anyway, back to the jallikattu. yesterday’s jallikattu was a relatively controlled affair, but during today’s jallikattu, in the village of sarivayal, the bull owners simply let their bulls loose in a field packed full of cars and spectators. the contestants would form a circle around the bull while it was tied up, with the audience surrounding them or watching from panel trucks; the owner would untie the bull; and the bull would run for it while the guys tried to grab it. in fact, as we pulled up to the field, we saw a bull come crashing through the brush and dash across the road.

given that the bull had to dodge the contestants, the spectators who were too reckless to stand back, and the parked vehicles, the opportunities for mayhem were enormous. since we were keeping a safe distance, the challenge for us was to figure out, from among all the trucks, where the next bull would be released; predict from the arrangement of people and vehicles where the bull would run; and then run to get there in time. not surprisingly, this wasn’t very easy, so most of my shots ended up looking, at best, like this:

the bull is released and, after menacing the crowd, dashes off between two trucks parked on the opposite side of the circle from where we were standing.

this isn’t to say that i didn’t get some interesting shots; i just didn’t get very many, since as soon as the bull got into any kind of tussle with a contestant, the crowd would immediately swarm in and block my next shot. the last bull of the day did break in my direction, so with the distance i had given myself, i was able to fire off some good shots before i had to get out of the way myself. i was using my long lens, of course, but if i could have shot with a short lens, i’d have captured some award-winning shots. not that i’d have lived to see them, of course.

next: the second half of the day.