Bull fighting is practised till this day in two different parts of the world- Tamil Nadu in India and Spain in Europe. Both are poles apart culturally and geographically. Bull fighting in Europe is at least two thousand years old. It has its origin in Mithraism cult. They have 2000 year old Roman sculptures showing killing bulls. Mitra is a Vedic God of friendship. We have archaeological evidence about Vedic Mitra from the Bogakoy (Turkey) inscription dated to 1400 BC. All the important Vedic gods Indra, Mitra, Varuna and Ashwins find their place in the inscription of Hittite Friendship treaty with the Mittannis. But the Mithraic cult has nothing to do with the Vedic Mitra. It has come to Europe from Persian Mithra. We did not know how it got corrupted to killing bulls. In the Vedas, Indra was identified with the bull. Probably the Zoroastrians who opposed the Vedic hierarchy of gods and changed them upside down (Asura as Sura and Sura as Asura) might have done it to avenge Indra (bull).
In India the earliest archaeological evidence comes from the Indus Valley seals according to some scholars. But it is doubtful. It looks like a ritual killing of a buffalo to satisfy a god or a goddess. Those who argued that it was the most ancient bull fighting figure did not put together all the available seals. Other available seals clearly show it was a ritual killing of a buffalo to a god or goddess(Please see the pictures) . Bengalis sacrifice buffaloes to goddess Durga during Durga Puja.
If we consider our Hindu mythology pre dates the Indus seals we have the earliest reference of a killing of buffalo in the story of Mahisasuramardhani. Probably this is the only reference to a woman killing a buffalo in the world. In Indus seals men kill buffaloes for the gods. In the story of Mahisasura, it was a demon that comes in the form of a buffalo and got killed by the goddess. There are beautiful sculptures portraying this episode from Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu to Ellora in the North.
Bull fighting in Spain started around 18th century. There are different versions of bull fighting. In Spain the bull is killed ,that too with a weapon like we see in the Indus seals. This type of bull fighting has spread to Latin America and Mexico when the Spanish culture was introduced.
Whether it is Tamil Nadu or Spain special kind of bulls are raised exclusively for this purpose with a special type of diet and special training. Tamils have practised this ancient sport for at least two thousand years. They call it Jalli kattu or Manju Virattu or Eru Thazuvuthal. It means chasing the bull or tackling the bull. In ancient Tamil Nadu the horns of the bulls were tied with coins, may be gold coins. Whoever tackled the bull took it and in some places the owner of the bull gave his daughter to the person who tackled the bull. They were considered heroes. Like the Kshatriyas practised Swayamvaram ( a princess choosing her own husband from among the kings and princes), the Yadava Chief’s girls (cowherd community) choose their husbands from among the heroic bull fighters.
Now the bull fighting is conducted every year in Alanganallur, Palamedu, Avaniapuram and several other places around Madurai. Huge crowds gather to watch such events. After protest from animal welfare groups the government has introduced new laws for the safety of the animas and the bull fighters.
Lord Krishna started Bull Fighting
We have lot of proof to believe that the Bull fighting was started by Lord Krishna who was the most popular cowherd (Yadava Kula Tilaka) in the world. Kaliyuga started in 3102 BC after the death of Krishna. But Mahabharata war took place between 1000 and 1500 BC according to majority of the scholars. Even if we go by this date, Krishna was the first one to have a fight with almost all the animals. He fought with an elephant, a bull, a python, a horse, a cran , a donkey and many more . All were set up by his uncle Kamsa according to Hindu mythology. These anecdotes have produced huge literature in Tamil and Sanskrit which has got no parallel in any part of the world. Krishna’s episodes are mentioned in film songs even today in almost all the Indian languages. The bull Krishna fought was Aristasura.
The proof for Krishna starting this comes from 2000 year old Sangam Tamil literature. Kalitokai is one of the eight anthologies of Sangam (Cankam) period. Nalluruthtiranar who sang Mullai Kali gave a graphic description of bull fighting. Justifying his name Shiva (Rudra), the poet mentioned Lord Siva in all his poems. Justifying that it was started during Mahabaharata days the poet gave lot of references to Mahabharata episodes. He said that it was practised by the Ayar community (cowherds)in the pastoral areas.
The poet mentioned how the bulls tear the bull fighters apart like the buffalo riding Yama, God of Death. The colourful bulls are described and compared to various personalities -white bull to Balarama and black bull to Krishna and so on. The Mullaik Kali has got 16 poems beautifully describing the pastoral culture of ancient Tamilnadu. Anyone who reads this Mullaik Kali will get a better picture of how it was practised in ancient Tamil Nadu. All the suspense, gossip, flirting, amorous desires of Ayar girls are dealt with in hundreds of lines- a feast to Tamil lovers.