Monday, January 16, 2012


Pongal is a four-days-long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India. For as long as people have been planting and gathering food, there has been some form of harvest festival. Pongal, one of the most important popular Hindu festivals of the year. This four-day festival of thanksgiving to nature takes its name from the Tamil word meaning "to boil" and is held in the month of Thai (January-February) during the season when rice and other cereals, sugar-cane, and turmeric (an essential ingredient in Tamil cooking) are harvested.

Mid-January is an important time in the Tamil calendar. The harvest festival, Pongal, falls typically on the 14th or the 15th of January and is the quintessential 'Tamil Festival'. Pongal is a harvest festival, a traditional occasion for giving thanks to nature, for celebrating the life cycles that give us grain. Tamilians say 'Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum', and believe that knotty family problems will be solved with the advent of the Tamil month Thai that begins on Pongal day. This is traditionally the month of weddings. This is not a surprise in a largely agricultural community - the riches gained from a good harvest form the economic basis for expensive family occasions like weddings.

The First Day

This first day is celebrated as Bhogi festival in honor of Lord Indra, the supreme ruler of clouds that give rains. Homage is paid to Lord Indra for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing plenty and prosperity to the land. Another ritual observed on this day is Bhogi Mantalu, when useless household articles are thrown into a fire made of wood and cow-dung cakes. Girls dance around the bonfire, singing songs in praise of the gods, the spring and the harvest. The significance of the bonfire, in which is burnt the agricultural wastes and firewood is to keep warm during the last lap of winter.

The Second Day

On the second day of Pongal, the puja or act of ceremonial worship is performed when rice is boiled in milk outdoors in a earthenware pot and is then symbolically offered to the sun-god along with other oblations. All people wear traditional dress and markings, and their is an interesting ritual where husband and wife dispose off elegant ritual utensils specially used for the puja. In the village, the Pongal ceremony is carried out more simply but with the same devotion. In accordance with the appointed ritual a turmeric plant is tied around the pot in which the rice will be boiled. The offerings include the two sticks of sugar-cane in background and coconut and bananas in the dish. A common feature of the puja, in addition to the offerings, is the kolam, the auspicious design which is traditionally traced in white lime powder before the house in the early morning after bathing. 

The Third Day

The third day is known as Mattu Pongal, the day of Pongal for cows. Multi-colored beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands are tied around the neck of the cattle and then are worshiped. They are fed with Pongal and taken to the village centers. The resounding of their bells attract the villagers as the young men race each other's cattle. The entire atmosphere becomes festive and full of fun and revelry. Arati is performed on them, so as to ward off the evil eye. According to a legend, once Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage and bath every day and to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Basava announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva who then cursed Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to plough the fields and help people produce more food. Thus the association of this day with cattle. 

The Fourth Day

The Fourth day is known as Knau or Kannum Pongal day. On this day, a turmeric leaf is washed and is then placed on the ground. On this leaf are placed, the left overs of sweet Pongal and Venn Pongal, ordinary rice as well as rice colored red and yellow, betel leaves, betel nuts, two pieces of sugarcane, turmeric leaves, and plantains. In Tamil Nadu women perform this ritual before bathing in the morning. All the women, young and old, of the house assemble in the courtyard. The rice is placed in the centre of the leaf, while the women ask that the house and family of their brothers should prosper. Arati is performed for the brothers with turmeric water, limestone and rice, and this water is sprinkled on the kolam in front of the house.


'Camel Kids'



The UAE has more than two million camels and camel races are among the most popular sports events in the country. The camel races take place every winter, from October to April on various tracks throughout the UAE. His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, along with other rulers of the emirates, attends most of the races.

Camel owners are continuously encouraged by Sheikh Zayed, which includes financial incentives, prizes that include luxury cars, four-wheel-drives, mansions, yachts, cash and gold sword. One of the major events, the Zayed Grand Prize camel races, is being held at Al Wathba race track, a large 10km track, about 45km from Abu Dhabi city. Major races are also held at the Nad Al Sheba Camel Race Course in Dubai.

The jockeys are usually young boys, two to seven year olds chosen for their light weight. The beginning of the races marks a festive season for the UAE's people who are usually accompanied by traditional music and singing to the Arabian drum beats. The green, red, black and white national flag of the Emirates flutters atop high poles that line the road leading out from town.

Human rights organizations (Not permissible in the UAE) continued to express concerns that in the UAE, the lives of young boys are being put at risk for the entertainment of spectators at camel races. Information provided by them stated that very young boys would continue to be used in camel racing despite the fact that this was illegal.

The new rules published by 
Emirates Camel Racing Federation (ECRF) in June 2003, stipulated that any camel jockey must be aged 15 years or more and weigh at least 35kg. Although, the rules are being ignored and the allegations remain that the Emirate government has acknowledged that many racers are too young and weigh too little but avoid stopping the traffic of slaves because they themselves are camel and slave owners.


Children, usually abducted or sold voluntarily from, where else, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to camel racing syndicate in the UAE. The weight of the jockey is crucial to the success of the venture, so young boys; even two year olds are imported! South Asian boys in particular are recruited because they tend to be the cheapest, weigh less and tend to scream louder at a higher pitch than most adults, causing camels to run faster.

The tiny riders are bound to a camel's back, often using Velcro fastenings. But sometimes the kids slip off and either get trapped underneath the camel or are trampled. It is not uncommon for children to fall off or get dragged along, sometimes to their deaths, according to a report from the London-based human rights group Antislavery International.

A Pakistani boy who worked five years as a camel jockey, starting at age 4, remembers the race as noisy and dangerous, where more than 50 camels with screaming children strapped onto their backs would run. He personally saw about 20 children die, and more than a dozen injured every week. He recalls: "There was this one kid whose strap broke at the beginning of the race. His head was crushed between the legs of the running camel. Once the race has started it cannot stop.

Many of these under-aged riders have been left to die from the appalling injuries suffered on the desert race courses without any medical treatment. The camels are valuable assets worth millions of dollars, instead the children are viewed as cheap and expendable. With camel racing heavily patronized by the UAE's oil-rich rulers, who have least respect in the legislature, thousands of small children from Indian sub continent face a bleak and dangerous future. 


10 Smart Reasons to STOP Port Deal!

Ban fails to stop cockfights during Sankranti in south

Practice thrives due to political patronage
  • IANS
  • Published: 00:00 January 16, 2012
  • Gulf News
A man attempts to catch a bull during the bull-taming festival of Jallikattu at Devanapuri village
  • Image Credit: EPA
  • A man attempts to catch a bull during the bull-taming festival of Jallikattu at Devanapuri village, 500km south of Chennai, yesterday. This sport is a part of the harvest festival Pongal.
Hyderabad: For people in parts of Andhra Pradesh, Sankranti is incomplete without cockfights and, like in the past, a ban could not prevent them from betting millions of rupees on it this time either.
Leading the violation of the ban were powerful politicians of all hues, who consider cockfights a part of the culture of the coastal Andhra region. The participants included film personalities and businessmen.
State legislators were not only invitees at several cockfights, but at least six of them even inaugurated the "gambling sport". Officially banned cockfights continue to thrive, with people's representatives at district and village levels themselves organising it in many villages.
Killing fields
An estimated Rs5 billion (Dh346.95 million) changed hands as thousands of people watched the cockfights in the villages of East Godavari, West Godavari and Krishna districts. The fights continue during three-day celebrations, which began on Saturday.
The fights between the specially bred and trained cocks are organised in fields as thousands watch them. Three- to four-inch knives are attached to the cocks' legs, and the fight continues till the death of one of the two birds in each round.
Though police deny permission for the fights, organisers always have the last laugh, thanks to the support from ministers and legislators. A state minister intervened when police refused permission for a fight in East Godavari district.
Vanga Geetha, a member of the assembly from the same district, openly criticised police action against cockfights in a village in her Pitapuram constituency.
Cultural event
Ruling Congress party legislator Jogi Ramesh inaugurated the cockfight in Gudur village Krishna district. Opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) legislator J. Venkataramana launched the fight at Chintapadu village in the same district.
Such fights are common in almost every village in the Konaseema region of coastal Andhra. Every year, police seize cocks and money in different places, but it continues to thrive.
The legislators say since the cockfights are part of the culture, they have to respect people's sentiments to get votes.
Politicians, businessmen and landlords in luxury cars with heavily-tinted windscreens secretly visit the villages to watch the fights and bet money.
While the Konaseema region is the hub of cockfights, it is also spreading to other parts of the state as indicated by the seizure of cocks by police.
Police on the outskirts of Hyderabad raided two places where the fight was organised. They arrested 25 people, seized 16 birds and Rs50,000.

Who said bullfight is cruel? Go to hell, it’s our tradition

G Pramod Kumar Jan 12, 2012
With the Madras High Court lifting the ban on Jallikattu, the Indian equivalent of the Spanish bullfight, the Pongal festival in southern districts of Tamil Nadu will yet again see the adrenalin-high rage between bulls and men.
Without the scary spectacle of roaring bulls, which tear through a sizeable band of youth, Pongal is incomplete in the southern districts. It also brings hundreds of local people and foreign tourists to places such as Madurai, Pudukkottai and Ramanathapuram.
The most famous of them all is the Aranganallur Jallikattu, which is legendary in terms of its following and stature. The winners, both the bulls and the men, win fabulous prices and become part of the local folklore, at least for a year. Hundreds get hurt and some even killed.
For the same reasons, the Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday had informed the Madras High Court, at its bench in Madurai, that if it is not permitted there will be violence in the state.
Yet again, animal activists including Bollywood actor John Abraham are let down and the local organisers have won, deepening the debate between tradition and law on unacceptable social practices.
For the supporters of Jallikattu, it is an essential part of their centuries old culture and rural social life. It is also their way of paying obeisance to the bulls, which are integral to their life as farmers. They say all the allegations by the activists are baseless and that the bulls are reared at great cost and care, and revered through the sport.
Although the advocates of the practice say the bulls are not harmed, the way they are intoxicated and driven into a desperate rage by applying chilli powder or sniff powder in their eyes inflict tremendous pain on them. In addition, the men who try to tame them mount on them, sometimes several of them at a time, which also hurt them.
The tamers also get seriously hurt. Every year, several casualties, sometimes even deaths, are reported. The horns of the bulls are so sharpened that even a mild brush with them can cause grievous hurt. In the last two decades, about 200 people have been reportedly killed.
With animal activists crying hoarse, the organisers and local people taking it as an issue of cultural pride, and the helpless state governments taking a populist stand year after year, this brutal sport, which is inconsistent with the times we live in, is likely to continue. The ban by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the feeble attempts by the state government, the relentless campaign by animal activists or the interventions of the courts do not seem to address the tricky cultural argument. If one agrees for the sport because it had been practised for hundreds of years, many barbaric traditional practices, such as child marriage, that have been outlawed in the country can be justified as well.
The only welcome relief is that of late, there are stringent conditions imposed on the oraganisers of the event and the district collectors are held responsible. Unlike in the past, only those cleared by the authorities can jump into the “ring” of loose soil to tame the bulls. Medical examinations, close scrutiny of the preparations of the event and the on-site behaviour are also closely monitored. Similarly, the bulls cannot be intoxicated or tortured to run amuck. The collectors also have to file an affidavit after the events. But animal rights activists say there is still a lot that goes unnoticed and only an outright ban can stop the barbarism.

Bogota mayor takes stance against bull fighting

Colombia Reports

Friday 13 January 2012 15:23

Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro has taken a stance against bull fighting in the Colombian capital by stating City Hall will not provide any financial support for bull fighting events, Colombian media reported Friday.
"There will not be a single peso spent on this type of event," said the mayor. The top city official also said that neither he nor anyone from his office will make use of the City Hall seating box at the Plaza de Toros de Santamaria.
"In the electoral campaign we said that it does not seem right that Bogota puts on show about death and consequently we have decided not to make use of the box in the Plaza de Toros," said Petro.
The Governor of Antioquia, Sergio Fajardo has taken a similar position as Petro. He announced that he will not support the bullfighting season in Medellinaccording to weekly Semana.

Jallikattu: tradition first, safety next


January 15, 2012

Pride, belief, fear keep ancient ritual alive
From rustic fears that failure to hold the annual bull-taming sport will incur divine wrath and cause an epidemic in the village to the obvious pride in participating in it, ‘jallikattu' has come to stay as part of the tradition and culture of rural Tamil Nadu.

Seen as mere baiting of bulls and display of cruelty by animal rights activists, but venerated by villagers as a symbol of antiquity and the martial tradition of Tamils, ‘jallikattu' evokes varying reactions from different sections of society. It is part of the three-day celebrations of Pongal, the harvest festival of the Tamil people.

Download the high resolution graphic (pdf) here

In most villages in the southern districts, bull taming is conducted on the second and third days of Pongal. Palamedu and Alanganallur villages near Madurai become the centres of attraction as tens of thousands of people gather to watch the spectacle of bulls from all over Tamil Nadu, numbering close to 1000, being unleashed in the arena to test the taming skills of the fighters.

Historical references show that ‘jallikattu,' known in ancient times as ‘Yeru thazhuvuthal,' was popular among warriors during the Tamil classical period. The term ‘jallikattu,' comes from Tamil terms ‘salli kaasu' (coins) and ‘kattu' (a package) tied to the horns of bulls as prize money. Later, in the colonial period, this term changed to ‘jallikattu.'

A well-preserved seal found at Mohenjodaro in the 1930s is available at the Delhi Museum, which depicts the bull fighting practice prevalent during the Indus Valley Civilization (The Hindu, January 3, 2008).

In ‘jallikattu,' all that the fighters have to do is to pounce on the running bull, try to hold on to its hump and move along with the animal without falling or getting hurt. It requires quick reflexes and a fleet foot to tame the recalcitrant bull, which will try to get away, shake off the fighter and, at times, stamp or gore the fallen participants.

In Palamedu village, ‘jallikattu' will be held on January 16 by a committee called the Mahalingasamy Grama Podhu Madam, established in 1972. It consists of 11 members belonging to different caste groups. To avoid a confrontation, the first bull to run down the long lane is the Mahalingasamy Madathu Podhu Kaalai. The first respect in terms of caste goes to the Palamedu East Street Manja Malai Kaalai (bull) belonging to Dalits (Devendra Kula Vellalars); then North Street Ayyanar Kaalai; South Street Pattallamman Koil Kaalai and 24 Manai Telugu Chetty Pattu Satha Koil Kaalai in that order.

There are some myths associated with ‘jallikattu.' Most bull owners name their animal after the gods associated with their lineage. Some believe that if they fail to take the bull to the Vaadi Vaasal (entry point to the fighting area) it will harm the family.

Palamedu panchayat president C. Narayanasamy says ‘jallikattu' is organised for divine purposes. “If we do not conduct ‘jallikattu' the village is in danger of being affected by an epidemic.” Palamedu, on the day of ‘jallikattu,' wears a festive look and the villagers in and around get an opportunity to have their own small stalls, which sells food items ranging from beef, chicken and pig fry to sugarcane juice and ‘jigarthanda'. It provides a chance for visitors and tourists to get a feel of rural life.

At Alanganallur, one can see posters put up in remembrance of “fallen heroes” who died fighting the bulls. Villagers still remember Hundial alias Senthil who was gored to death by a bull while fighting it at the Alanganallur event in 2005. 

He was just 20. His brother Ravi, 18, when asked about the loss of his brother, says it was not a loss as he died a brave man. However, Ravi avoids participating in ‘jallikattu.'
Ayyur Ayothee (43), a bull fighter, who has participated in events across the State and won prizes said: “Injuries are what you get at the end of the day and nothing else. But still ‘jallikattu' should be conducted and it lies with the individual whether to participate in it or not.”