Cockfights are a regular feature of temple ceremonies – a combination of sacrifices, sport and gambling. Men keep fighting cock as prized pets, carefully grooming and preparing them for their brief moment of glory or defeat. At the festival, the cock are matched, a lethally sharp metal spur is tied to one leg, there’s a crescendo of shouting and betting, the birds are pushed against each other to stir them up, then they’re released and the feathers fly.
It’s usually over in seconds- a slash of the spur and one rooster is down and dying. After the bout, the successful gamblers collect their pay-offs and the winning owner gets to take the dead rooster home for his cooking pot.
The fight is called tajen, a word derived from the steel blade tied to the cock’s leg, taji. So complex and mysterious is the sport, that there are around 75 words used that are not used anywhere else in the Balinese vocabulary. There are also beliefs that certain coloured cocks should not fight certain other colours on particular days depending on the phase of the moon.
The owners or handlers need to find an opponent and then fix the bet. This is a very time consuming activity. After 3 or 4 pairings have been made which is considered one set of matches, the preparations for the fight begin.
The blade or taji is fixed to the cock’s leg. This is done by a third person, a specialist, not the owner or handler. It will be fixed in different positions, depending on the size and weight of the cock. Before the fight can commence, the side bets need to be made. The cocks are brought into the ring and the referee announces the central bet that was previously established between the owners. This is where the chaos begins. Yelling, arm waving and hand signals go on around the ring while the wagers are set.
The fight itself also has some complex rules. All side bets are paid with money being tossed and handed around the ring. The owner of the winning cock takes the entire central bet, and also the body of the losing cock.
Cock fighting has been a popular obsession with the Balinese for generations.