A woman from Tamil Nadu in South of India has shunned being married so she can take care of her bull.
The woman identified as Selvarani Kanagarasu, 48, was a teenager when she decided to follow an age long family tradition of raising bulls for local fighting competitions known as Jallikattu.
The popular sport has been in existence for centuries in Tamil Nadu and is traditionally practised during the harvest festival of Pongal in January. Thousands of men chase bulls to grab prizes tied to their horns.
“My father and grandfather both raised bulls and also considered them their children,” Kanagarasu said.
According to Kanagarasu, the task of continuing in the family tradition would have ordinarily fallen to her brothers, but they did not have the time to look after the animals. So she decided to step in.
The 18-year-old bull named Ramu, is a champion in Jallikattu; the traditional bull fighting circles.
Ramu has won five of the seven Jallikattu events he has participated in, netting prizes like silk sarees and a gold coin for his devoted owner.
”Ramu is a son to me. He won prizes but more importantly, he won honour for my family in the village,” she says, adding that Ramu is very “loving” despite his size and his temper in the Jallikattu arena.
Over the years, scores of people have been gored or trampled to death in the contests. Hundreds, including spectators, have been mauled or injured. In some arenas, coir matting from coconut trees cushions the impact of a fall – but it provides no defense against a raging bull.
She bought the bull when he was 10 years old. The owner initially asked for a large sum of money but he agreed to give Ramu to her for a token amount after she told him she wanted to raise the bull but could not afford the price he demanded for.
Kanagarasu’s decision to look after the bull instead of getting married is highly unusual, particularly in rural India. She says her relatives and family members were initially upset, but eventually accepted her choice.
And her dedication has even won her respect from her family and other villagers, as she takes care of the bull despite barely earning enough to eke out a living for herself.
Her tiny house comprises only a kitchen and a single room, which also serves as a hall, eating space and bedroom. She earns only about 200 rupees ($3.15) a day and uses almost all of it to make sure that Ramu is well cared for.
Given that he has to participate in competition, Ramu requires a special diet. Apart from the hay and rice bran most cattle are fed in Tamil Nadu, he also eats coconut, dates, banana, sesame, groundnut oil cakes, millets and rice.
It is a diet that is often more nutritious than what Kanagarasu has for the day.
“There were days when I ate only one meal so I could save money to buy Ramu his food,” she says.
Apart from his special diet, Ramu needs regular exercise. So Kanagarasu takes him every day to the village pond so that he can swim and strengthen his knees.
“My nephew Rajkumar also takes him for walks and trains him to ward off challengers in the Jallikattu ring. And I get a fitness report from the veterinarian just before every Jallikattu event to ensure Ramu qualifies,” she says.
Given Ramu’s success in the arena, many people have offered to take the bull off her hands.
One of her relatives Indira Selvaraj says that she has turned away offers of more than 100,000 rupees for Ramu.
”She is interested in taking care of the bull. Preparing the bull for the sport is the only aim of her life. We failed trying to convince her to accept the offer. We are now convinced there is no price for pursuing one’s passion”, she said.
And although she has no children, Ms Kanagarasu has no intention of letting the tradition of raising Jallikattu bulls die with her.
She is currently training her 18-year-old niece, Devadharshini, to follow in her footsteps. But although Devadharshini says she knows how to take care of Ramu, she is not as convinced that it is what she wants to do for the rest of her life.
“I am not sure,” she says.
“So far I have not thought about it. I am still studying and I wish to be the first female graduate in my family.”