Full Frame: Bull wrestling


Full Frame features photo essays and conversations with photographers in the field.

Held in villages across the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu every January, jallikattu is an ancient tradition in which young Tamil men wrestle bulls with their bare hands. Coinciding with rice-harvest festivities known as Pongal, it is a highlight in the Tamil calendar, and tens of thousands of spectators converge on idyllic rural villages like Palamedu and Alanganallur to witness the spectacle.

Though jallikattu has been compared to the running of the bulls that takes place in Pamplona in Spain, the Indian pageant is far more dangerous. Competitors and spectators are trampled and gored every year. In 2004, at least five people were killed and hundreds were injured at jallikattu events across the state.

Such fatalities, coupled with the concerns of animal-rights activists, have seen Indian courts attempt to ban jallikattu in recent years. Tamil farmers, however, insist that the tradition is too deeply rooted in the people’s hearts for authorities to interfere. Jallikattu is, according to local belief, “the sport of heroes” and will never be allowed to end.

About the photographer:

Gary Jones is a British journalist currently based in Shanghai, China. He was born in Slough and fled as soon as he’d paid off his student loan. Since that day two decades ago, he has lived in Asia, shrugging off the burden of an honors degree in electronic engineering and reinventing himself as a scribe. Jones was editor of the South China Morning Post newspaper’s color Sunday magazine in Hong Kong between 2001 and 2003, moving to mainland China at the end of that salaried stint to work on freelance assignments. Focusing on human-interest and behind-the-news features work, Jones has contributed words and pictures to numerous publications worldwide, including TIME, the Times and Sunday Times of London, the Telegraph, the Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian, Globe & Mail and Conde Nast Traveler.