(Eds: Adds quotes, changing headline) Madurai, Jan 14 (PTI) Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday witnessed the popular bull taming sport jallikattu at Avaniapuram here, saying his visit was aimed at sending out a message to 'those who think they can run roughshod on Tamil people.' He described the sport as 'Tamil culture and history in action.' The former party president was joined by DMK Youth Wing Secretary Udhayanidhi Stalin on the dais.
Jallikattu is held in the state, especially with much vigour in this district, coinciding with the Tamil harvest festival Pongal which heralds the auspicious Tamil month Thai.
Gandhi said he flew down from Delhi to witness the hugely popular event 'because I think Tamil culture, Tamil language (and) Tamil history are essential for the future of India and need to be respected by everybody' in the country.
'I have come here to give a message to those people who think they can run roughshod on Tamil people, who think they can push aside Tamil language and Tamil culture,' he said without naming anyone.
Gandhi was accompanied by senior party leaders KC Venugopal, TNCC President KS Alagiri and Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayansamy at the jallikattu venue.
Gandhi said he has 'received tremendous love and affection from people of Tamil Nadu and it is my duty to stand with people of Tamil Nadu and protect their history, their culture and their language.' 'I have come here also to learn about your culture, your feelings, about your history,' he added.
The Congress leader also lauded the systematic and safely organised jallikattu, saying both the bulls and youngsters attempting to tame them were safe and that everybody was taken care of.
'..quite a lovely experience to see Tamil culture and history in action,' he said about the sport.
Though Udhayanidhi Stalin was present at the venue since morning and was not on the same dais that Gandhi occupied along with senior Congress leaders on his arrival, he later joined the Lok Sabha MP and the two were seen having discussions, apparently about jallikattu.
DMK and Congress are in alliance and are slated to face this year's Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu together.
Alagiri had earlier said Gandhi would lend his moral support to farmers protesting against the new central farm laws across the country by witnessing jallikattu here.
Gandhi will not engage in electioneering today, the TNCC chief had said.
Commenting on Gandhi's presence at the event today, he said it was Rahul's 'Tamil vanakkam,' (Tamil greetings).
Earlier, Gandhi had in a Tamil tweet, wished the people of the state on the occasion of Pongal. PTI SA ROH ROH