What goes on inside your mind, when an angry bull looks at you from a short distance, ready to gore you to death, with its pointed horns?
Ten thousand people gasped as the matador fell to the ground hit by its fierce bovine opponent. The matador had come too close to the horns of the angry wounded bull. Now the bull stood motionless, ready to make its next move. The stadium had gone very quiet. The bull weighed 1200 pounds and it was ready to charge at break-neck speed - any moment.
Was this going to be another tragic case of Manolete - the famous matador who was gored to death at age 30…
It was a beautiful Sunday in the summer of 1997 in Madrid. I was out for a stroll and had by sheer chance turned into the Calle de Alcala street, where the famous Bull Fighting Museum of Las Ventas stands. I could not resist going inside for a peek. The exhibits ranged from colorful paintings of past historic events, to embroidered costumes of famous matadors, to the long horns of dead bulls that had been killed in bull fighting events.
While viewing the various artifacts and memorabilia I had felt a sense of awe and wonder. Encouraged by the history of the ancient sport of bullfighting, I wanted to see the real event. Notwithstanding language barriers I had navigated my way to the ticket office of the nearby stadium and quite spontaneously bought myself a ticket for the day’s show.
The stadium looked empty at 9:30am. But within the next half an hour I noticed the seats getting filled up to almost full capacity. Vendors were weaving their way through the audience, selling snacks and drinks. I was surprised to notice the popularity of San Miguel, a Filipino brand of beer. This must be the Spanish connection.
Some vendors were selling cushions to be used as seats and seat rests. The whole atmosphere was one of celebration and camaraderie. Finally the president of the show arrived with his entourage, and there was a ceremonious start to the day’s sport with the sound of trumpets and the playing of a band of instruments.
Matadors wearing spectacularly fashioned costumes were introduced as they entered, followed by men on horseback and assistants carrying flags. They paraded the stadium in a circle and left after saluting the president of the show and the guests of honor.
An assistant entered holding a black board with writings in chalk. When he came closer I read the writing and interpreted it to signify the age and weight of the bull and the territory it was from.
A gate on the side opened and a giant bull entered the ring.
It was a huge animal jet black in color, with thick wide horns that extended horizontally from the side of its head and then turned pointedly upwards. It ran from one end to the other chasing the assistants who would wave red flags and then disappeared behind the enclosures.
Bulls are color blind. So it must be the rapid fluttering of the flags that attracted the bull. Little did it know that it was being observed keenly from the side of the ring by the matador and picadors (lancers) on horseback. They were observing its head movements, its bias for any particular side of the arena, and the energy level of the animal.
Two picadors rode into the arena on sturdy horses that were blindfolded and wore protective padding. One of the picadors came near the bull and stabbed it on its neck leading to immediate loss of blood and weakening of its muscles. The bull retaliated by attacking the horse, but the padding saved the horse from being gored. The two picadors encouraged the bull from attacking several times, and it did so repeatedly, predictably tiring itself out.
Three banderilleros entered with colorful little pointed flags and planted them on the bull’s shoulders, weakening it further, causing significant loss of blood.
Next, a young matador entered the scene. He encouraged the bull to charge towards him. And
when the bull came charging, he moved his body away at the very last minute, to the rhythm of music, like an artist performing on stage. A close shave indeed. Each such “close shave” would receive standing ovations from the crowd!
Until the point where the young matador was accidentally hit by the bull’s horns and fell unceremoniously to the ground…
The matador was now back on his feet looking carefully at the bull, waving his cape, inviting the wounded bull for the next charge.
I thought to myself - was the young matador wounded? Was he bleeding inside his finely embroidered jacket? Did he really need to go on with this blood sport…
It was a long moment before the bull charged again. This was “the” moment for the young matador to prove his courage, his machismo, and his worth in the eyes of his audience. Meanwhile the bull had lost significant amounts of blood, but it came wildly charging, and this time the matador moved away gracefully in a classical dance move that earned him thunderous applause!
I was standing there with thousands of people cheering the matador, clapping my hands, and shouting myself hoarse…
Suddenly the scene changed. It was as if someone had decided to pull the plug on this bloody game. The bull was worn out. Its suffering had to be ended. A fatal sword-thrust by another expert matador, through the aorta of the bull - killed it instantly!
A mule driven chariot arrived quickly, the bull’s corpse was hitched to it, and the chariot made one circle and speedily dragged the bull away from the ring in a matter of seconds.
Game over! I was stunned by the speed of the last action.
The same sequence was followed for the next bull. But I was not enjoying this game anymore. I had stopped cheering. And I waited for an opportune time to get out of that place.
I was thinking aloud when I asked an elderly gentleman on my way out – why do they have to fight the bulls? He answered matter-of-factly: “Because they are there!”
I tried to reason with myself but struggled with the whole idea of killing the bulls for sport. Obviously there was big revenue involved. We fight bulls because we have this innate need to overcome challenges?
I like the part about surmounting danger and overcoming fear. But why kill animals for sport?
All said and done, this was a brutal blood sport! Not worthy of being applauded in a civilized world.
Later, I learnt that bull fighting had probably risen from the ancient ritual of sacrificing bulls.
“Mithraism”, a rival of early Christianity, was a mystery religion practiced in the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD that featured slaughtering a bull, as being part of a ritual.
Many archaeological sites have uncovered hundreds of instances of tauroctony, the scene of killing a bull. Does ritual justify killing bulls at the present age, for fun?
Long after the trip to Madrid, when I reflected on the experience, in my mind, the “bull” stood for arrogance and stupidity. The invisible mental block that keeps entire civilizations from seeing the light of day - for ages. Like justifying the bull fight itself, for whatever reason.
Stupid arrogance is indeed the Bull of Life - insanity hurtling uncontrollably in a certain fixed direction – power and speed without any control.
Now this kind of dangerous “bull”, definitely needs to be eliminated. And when you do manage to bring it down – it is a bull’s eye!