[In Karnataka State in southern India, the authorities have banned the ritual sacrifice of sheep in which shepherds would throw one in their flock off a hill, in an attempt to protect the rest. Still, on Saturday, shepherds continued the practice, and at least four sheep were tossed off a hill in a village, Mailapur, during an annual celebration of the Mailaralingeshwar temple there, the newspaper The Hindu reported.]
By Nida Najar
Indians in Chennai protested a ban on a bull wrestling festival in Chennai on Thursday,
paralyzing the streets. Credit Reuters
NEW DELHI — Streets throughout the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India were brought to a standstill on Thursday as protests over a ban on a traditional bull wrestling festival entered their third day.
Protesters say the rite, Jallikattu, is part of their cultural identity, and they are urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to overturn a Supreme Court ban on the practice. PETA India has said that bulls were given alcohol and abused for the festival, in which men win prizes if they successfully hold onto the hump of a bull for a particular distance or length of time.. The prime minister said in a statement on Thursday that he appreciated the rite’s cultural significance, but noted that the high court is reviewing its ruling.
Jallikattu is just one of several centuries-old cultural traditions that have come to underline a new constant in India: the tension between the hold of established cultural practices and new efforts by activists to safeguard rights, whether minority, individual or animal.
Seventeen people died and about 1,100 people were injured in the festivals from 2010 to 2014, according to PETA India, which tallied injuries and deaths reported in local news media. Here are other rituals that have come under scrutiny recently:
The Human Pyramids of Dahi Handi
This Hindu festival culminates in young boys’ climbing to the top of huge, precarious human pyramids, then smashing jugs of buttermilk as a tribute to the god Krishna.
The practice is as unsafe as it sounds. About 225 people were injured during celebrations in Mumbai in 2012, and two people were killed in Maharashtra State, according to The Press Trust of India.
In 2014, the Mumbai High Court restricted the minimum age for participation to 18, limited the height of pyramids to 20 feet, and required the use of helmets. The community protested those rules, but in August of last year, the Supreme Court upheld them.
In Karnataka State in southern India, the authorities have banned the ritual sacrifice of sheep in which shepherds would throw one in their flock off a hill, in an attempt to protect the rest. Still, on Saturday, shepherds continued the practice, and at least four sheep were tossed off a hill in a village, Mailapur, during an annual celebration of the Mailaralingeshwar temple there, the newspaper The Hindu reported.
Santhara, a Fast to the Death
In August 2015, the Rajasthan High Court declared this ritual of the ancient Jain faith, in which some devotees voluntarily fast to the death, to be a form of suicide, which is illegal in India. The decision led to outrage from the roughly six million Jains, who also tend to be wealthy and influential urban Indians, determined to protect a custom meant to free its adherents from the cycle of rebirth and death. The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, and weeks later, the high court suspended the state-level ban while it waited to hear the appeal. Child welfare advocates called for a spiritual leader and the parents of a 13-year-old girl to be prosecuted after the girl, Aradhana Samdariya, died in October 2016 after a 68-day fast.
In a village in Karnataka, residents have a slight riff on the Hindu festival of Nag Panchami, marked by its worship of snakes. On the festival of Nag Panchami in Kandkur, devotees of Kondammai, said to be a scorpion goddess, pay tribute to her by allowing scorpions to run over their bodies. Though no court case has been filed, health officials have called the practice dangerous, particularly for children.
A health official said people were urged not to touch the scorpions, to no avail, The Hindu reported in August, so doctors were kept on standby to deal with any emergencies.
Correction: January 20, 2017
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the Jallikattu tradition. Men win prizes by successfully holding onto the hump of a bull for a particular distance or length of time, not by wrestling a bull to the ground.
Follow Nida Najar on Twitter @nidanajar.