While the row over the bull-taming ritual of Jallikattu rages on in Tamil Nadu, protests are erupting elsewhere over a court order stopping another form of animal fighting.

A High Court order staying the 400-year old tradition of fights between bulbuls (video above) in Assam has made a temple priest go on an indefinite hunger strike, claiming that these fights are part of a traditional religious practice.

The Indian Express reported that, on the occasion of Assam's harvest festival of Magh or Bhogali Bihu – which coincides with Makar Sankranti – bulbul fights are organised in the Shri Hayagriba Madhava temple in Hajo, about 50 km from Guwahati.


Local people use bamboo traps to catch the birds and they are prepared for the fight with a meal containing "bananas, a small quantity of cannabis, locally available intoxicating herbs, black pepper, cloves and cinnamon", the description on the video reads. A report in North East Today also says that the birds are prepared for the fight by spiking their food with marijuana, after which they are starved the night before the fight.

The hungry birds are then goaded to fight each other, with food being dangled before them. Once one of the birds emerges stronger, the fight is considered over and the birds are released, the losing bird's crest is trimmed so it does not enter a contest again. There is no betting on the fights and the prizes include a trophy and money for the winning bird's owner.

Following the latest court order, priest Shiva Prasad Sarma, who is the chief administrator (Doloi) of the body that looks after the management of the temple, has launched an indefinite hunger strike.


"We are not against the court order, but we are hurt because the bulbul fight is part of the religious traditions of our temple. Moreover, we take utmost care of the birds and release them after the fights are over," Sarma was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.

The priest is also unhappy at the timing of the order, with preparations on in full swing for the festival.

In January last year, the Assam government had issued an order prohibiting bulbul fights, which was challenged by the temple committee in December 2015. The court then ruled in favour of the temple committee, allowing these fights to continue. On Tuesday, the court stayed that order following a petition by the Animal Welfare Board of India.

Bulbuls or songbirds, as they are known, are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.