Jallikattu? Book a seat at Keelakarai’s new arena.

On Thursday afternoon, the Supreme Court
upheld amendments made by Tamil Nadu to the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, to allow jallikattu, as it is part
of the state’s cultural heritage. As champions of the
traditional sport celebrated across the state, down south in
the sleepy little village of Keelakarai in Madurai, 100 workers
continued to quietly chip away at what willsoon be unveiled
as the first of its kind sports arena for jallikattu.
“The arena will house 3,700 people,” says a public works
department official as he directs the backhoes. Public works
department minister E V Velu has visited this construction
site four times giving instructions to his department to
ensure work is progressing as planned.
Being built almost like a colosseum, the semi-circular arena
will have three floors. The arena will also provide all sorts of
services to bull owners, tamers and audience starting from
spacious parking to medical facilities and temporary shops
which would come up when jallikattu events are held.
Work on the arena started in March and it should be
complete by December, says the official, in time for next
year’s jallikattu series. Spread over 77,683sqft, the arena,
being built at a cost of ₹ 44 crore, will host a vadivasal,
administrative office, emergency treatment room for bulls
and tamers, museum, as well as changing rooms, stalls,
lockers, VIP suites, party lounges and dormitories. “We are
also setting up a bull shed, barn, veterinary hospital,
dispensary, entrance arch and inner roads,” says the official.
The sudden spotlight on their villagehas thrilled residents,
more so in the light of the SC verdict. “Almost no one has heard of our village. If you post a parcel with our village address even from nearby Alanganallur, chances are high it will end up in Keelakarai village of Ramanathapuram district and not here,” says T Solamalai, a farmer. There are 200 houses in Keelakarai, nestled between Kuttimeikkipatti and Kovilur villages, and part of Kuttimeikkipatti panchayat. Most of the residents are farmers cultivating mangoes. “Hardly anyone knows about this village. The arena has put us on the map,” says M Kannisamy, a farmer. No one in the village remembers a jallikattu being hosted there. Their village bull, dedicated to the village deity, is lying in the stable chewing hay. “Some of us do raise jallikattu bulls and release them in neighbouring towns on behalf of our village,” says S Kannan, 60. “We hope our village will get the rights over the event held in the arena and we will be given the honour to release ourbull first like other villages which conduct jallikattu,” says T Solamalai, another resident. Traditionally, the village hosting jallikattu gets the honour of releasing its temple bulls first, and they are allowed to run free without anyone taming them. They are also hopeful that the new arena will give the area a boom in property prices. give them a growth prospect. “I think that the real estate will go up once the arena is ready,” says R Deivam. “It won’t serve any purpose if it’s only going to be a venue opened for jallikattu during Pongal. The arena should be designed to host other tournaments like cricket, kabaddi and football, so it can come up as a sporting hub,” says N Vellaisamy, another resident. The arena has created an uneasy calm among the neighbouring villages especially Alanganallur, currently the jallikattu hub. “Our villagers are scared that the traditional event will be shifted to Keelakarai,” says J Sundarrajan, chairman of the Alanganallur jallikattu organising committee. The Supreme Court verdict in 2014 that banned jallikattu and the subsequent protest and the state government resolution which revived the sport have given new dimensions to the traditional event. Safety has become paramount and the villages wanting to host it should spend big on galleries, double barricaded running track, a collection point and vadivasal. “We need at least ₹25 lakh to conduct the event and a good portion of it comes from sponsors. If the government is going to conduct it in a wellbuilt arena not far away from Alanganallur, it is likely that the sponsors would move there,” says R Sivakumar, a resident of Alanganallur. When a village wants to conduct jallikattu, funds are pooled in for the expenses. Sponsors are brought in and households are levied a village tax to fund the event,he says. This uneasy calm is already brewing into a political storm.
Former revenue minister R B Udhayakumar, who presided
over the membership drive for AIADMK here recently,
warned of protests against the DMK government’s move to
shift Alanganallur jallikattu to the new arena.
But Velu made it clear that they have no intention of hurting
any local sentiment. “The government just wants a structure
for jallikattu in the district. ”

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