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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 12:17 GMT
Ban on Indian bull sport lifted
Bullfighter in Tamil Nadu
Bullfighting has upset animal rights campaigners (Copyright Oochappan)
The Indian Supreme Court has reversed an earlier order banning a version of bull fighting popular in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Jallikattu, a festival celebrated in two villages near the town of Madurai, was banned by the court last week. It is said to be thousands of years old.

In jallikattu contestants do not try to kill the bull. But animal rights campaigners still say it is cruel.

The sport has also become increasingly dangerous.

Every year dozens of people are injured and many are killed too.

Organisers say bullfighting is a sacrosanct Indian tradition, mentioned in the ancient scriptures.

They say the sport has existed for more than 2,000 years and is an integral part of Tamil culture.

'Ensure no cruelty'

Reversing its earlier order, the Supreme Court said the sport can be allowed if certain guidelines are followed.

"Extreme care and precaution should be taken to ensure that any man or animal is not put to any harm," a three-judge bench, headed by the Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan said.

The court said representatives from the animal welfare board must be present to oversee the annual festival and ensure there is no cruelty to animals.

Bullfighting in Tamil Nadu
Contestants and spectators are often in danger (Copyright Oochappan)

The government of Tamil Nadu assured the Supreme Court that all the new guidelines will be implemented to make the sport safe.

The state had appealed against last week's order saying the ban hurt the sentiments of the people.

In its order last week, the Supreme Court had said that "any event which involved cruelty to animals would not be permitted".

Hundreds of bulls are released one at a time into a large open space for the fights, which are held during the annual harvest festival known as Pongal.

Contestants have to try to get close enough to the bulls to grab prizes and valuables tied to their horns. That often involves grappling with the animals.

Defenders of the sport say the bulls are only "tamed", rather than killed, so that participants can help themselves to the prizes.

As the bull-taming does not take place in a stadium, those taking part and spectators are often injured as the animals hurtle into the crowd.

Last year one person was killed during the festival. In 2005, five people died and more than 200 were injured during the fights.

Authorities say that although new safety measures are taken every year, the number of wounded continues to rise.

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