What does a bull in Tamil Nadu, India, and a longhorn in Austin have in common? Pride.
For the past year, Plan II pre-med senior Jana Dsouza has researched the famous bullfight called Jallikattu in India’s Tamil culture, which unfolds at the annual harvest festival. Through her research, she has drawn connections between Tamil Nadu’s bull and UT’s mascot, Bevo, and discovered more about her own familial link to the culture.
Dzousa said her mother’s upbringing around Jallikattu in Madurai, a city in Tamil Nadu, and her cousin’s involvement in Jallikattu protests inspired her to take classes involving Jallikattu and Tamil culture.
“(The class) made me appreciate my culture to an extent that I didn’t before,” Dsouza said. “I became interested in Jallikattu and what it stood for, why it happens and what the controversy was.”
Although the controversy arose within the past few years, Jallikattu began millenia ago as a sporting event in which bulls were released onto the arena floor while bull tamers attempted to subdue them. The goal is to grab the coin purse attached to the bull’s horn, and the winner receives prize money and the prestige of defeating a bull.
“It’s supposed to be a way of celebrating the cow and the bounty it gives to people in India,” Dsouza said. “The only problem is it used to not be cruel because it wasn’t as much of a competition.”
Now, people place bets, making the stakes much higher. Animal cruelty became such an issue that India’s Supreme Court intermittently banned Jallikattu, and the Tamilians responded by ceasing all work in protest.
“Tamil people want to protect their culture, and because they felt attacked, it initiated this giant, mass-scale response,” Dsouza said. “It’s interesting because of that unity — that’s why it intrigued me to study this particular protest.”
Dsouza didn’t just research Jallikattu — she also physically observed it during her recent five-day trip to Madurai. She said the amount of people and their fervor surprised her.
“Just reading about (Jallikattu) doesn’t capture what it’s like to be there,” Dsouza said. “It feels like an adrenaline rush. I had a better understanding of how an environment can push you to do things out of your league.”
Asian studies professor Martha Selby said this Tamilian pride results from what the bull represents: virility, fertility and power.
“Often, people connect through objects of worship through a kind of homologous relationship,” Selby said. “If you want to be powerful and successful, you’re going to worship something exemplifying those things.”
Students have found this sense of power in the famous mascot, Bevo. Biochemistry sophomore Matthew Spretz said Bevo brings unity to the UT community.
“(Bevo) gives us something to rally behind and join around,” Spretz said. “It gives us something we can focus on and say, ‘We’re proud of this. This is what we stand for. This is what we’re all about.’”
This stands true for both Tamil and UT culture, as Dsouza said the famous bull and longhorn represent what people work toward and the strength necessary for achievement.
“With Tamil, that’s obviously direct,” Dsouza said. “But as far as Bevo goes, it’s more embodied in the spirit of what UT stands for and the work ethic of the people here.”