A wave of relief swept across the expectant crowds in this small town in Tamil Nadu's Madurai district on Tuesday as news filtered in that the Supreme Court had allowed
, the traditional sport of bull-runs held during the Pongal
The villagers, including several hundred women, have been on fast to protest the apex court's 'no' to the bull-run, which the villagers believe brings good luck.
After news came in of the apex court's temporary go-ahead, broad grins lit the faces of the villagers as they removed the black flags from housetops in the afternoon and fed one another pongal (sweet rice).
A bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan temporarily allowed the state government to permit the sport, saying the court will take a final decision on continuing with the age-old tradition while adjudicating the petitions seeking to ban it.
The bench, which also included Justice RV Raveendran and Justice JM Panchal, asked the state government to take a host of security and precautionary measures during the event.
Village panchayat president N Alagu Umadevi of Allaganallur, who led the fast, was in tears at the happy news. She rushed to the temple in thanksgiving that the higher court had "seen sense". Her "village would now be safe", she said.
Drums were beaten to relay the message, women burst into songs and young men danced as farmers rushed to feed their favourite bulls, all kept ready and raring to go, with garlands and newly-grown sugarcane around their horns.
"All's well that ends well, how can we have a bitter and sad pongal?" remarked Banumathi, a villager. If the bull-run was stopped, her village, Avanyapuram, would be "under the evil eye", she added.
Shops lifted their shutters after remaining closed since Jan 12 when the apex court announced the ban. The three-day Pongal festival took off really on Tuesday evening, with cattle being decorated for their "day", when they are worshipped and taken for jallikattu.
"We love our animals. How can we be cruel to them? These bulls are specially trained. We will ensure that not a single animal is hurt," said D. Raghupathy, a former village head.
Authorities said as many as 500 bulls are expected to take part in the runs, likely to start on Thursday, in the southern districts.
The administration has promised all precautions on the occasion, all the runs are to be filmed according to court order.
Jallikattu is taming the bull. Young men try to catch a bull as it races across a distance of half a kilometre by hanging onto its neck, horns or hump. This form of bullfight has been going on for 400 years in the state, mainly in the districts of Madurai, Theni, Sivaganga and Salem.
Alanganallur, which has a population of 19,000 people, has 600 bulls participating in the bull-run.
On Jan 12, the Supreme Court in a decision favouring the Blue Cross of India and the Animal Welfare Board, upheld a lower court ban on the traditional sport in Tamil Nadu.
The Tamil Nadu government on Sunday filed a special leave petition, asking for a review of the court decision in view of public sentiment.