Not until the British revamped army to recapture Calcutta in 1757, horses in India had the leading role in wars, and in everyday public and private life as well. Gradually the other two robust animals, camels and elephants, were being withdrawn from military and public services. The demands for suitable horses grew manifolds, and so was the prospect of horsetrading in India that attracted horse dealers from around the world to come and stay in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta engaging themselves in all kinds of horse-related enterprises, including horse auctions, livary stable services, saddlery, fodder supply, coach building, veterinary services, equestrian schools.
HORSE IN INDIA
India had an indigenous supply of excellent elephants, but not many good horses. Yet the horse of ‘Ashwamedha’ fame served as a symbol of power and glory in Indian tradition. There are evidences of horse riding in the era of Rikveda. [Coomaraswamy] The earliest known work on veterinary science India’s Shalihotra-sanghita, proves how seriously the fitness of horses was taken care of. Even so, India had to depend much on imported war horses since the indigenous horses were found inadequate for battlefront and their high war mortality rate. The good horses were imported to the Mughal state from Arabia, Iran, Turan, Turkey,Turkestan, Badakhshan, Shirwan, Qirghiz, Tibbet, Kashmir and other countries. Kabul and Qandhar were the major entrepots on the land-routes for the horse traders. While horses from Central Asia came to India by the overland route, Persian and Arabian horses were largely brought by the sea. [Khan] The ports of Surat, Cambay, Kutch, Thatta, Lahori Bandar and Sonargoan in Bengal were the major entrepots for the bahri horses brought for breeding. In order to establish control over the horse trade, the Mughal Emperors established friendly and diplomatic relations with the neighbouring countries. [Choudhary]
The Indian Country-bred, generally plain heads, long necks, narrow chests, strong hooves and low-set tails, archaically known as tattoo, vary from good-quality riding horses to small and poorly-conformed animals used for pack and draught work. They derive from many diverse horse breeds and types, including the small horses of the Himalayas of northern India, and the strong horses of the Punjab. Outside influences include Arab horses imported to Bombay and Veraval from the Persian Gulf, and the Australian Walers imported in very large numbers in the nineteenth century to Calcutta via Madras. The Indian Half-bred is a cross-breed between Thoroughbred stallions and local and imported mares of various types, raised mainly by the Indian Army as a cavalry mount. Apart from the regulars, the Militia Cavalry also required to be equipped with horses as well. It is also used by the Indian Police Service, as a polo pony, and for recreational and competitive riding. The most distinguished Indian high-breeds are:
- Bhutia – Like Mongolian and Tibbetian horses,
- Kathiawari – Western India breed intended to be a desert war horse,
- Manupuri – Famous for their unruffled demeanour and learning ability,
- Marwari – As an ambling gait and a superior level of hardiness ,
- Spiti – A mountain-based breed,
- Zaniskari – In many respect similar to Spiti, Chmmarti – A well-muscled, can easily survive cold temperatures, and
- Deccani – Arabian and Turkic crossbreeds with local ponies; “a perfect compendium of all the qualities required in a campaigner. ”He doubted if even the war-born Arabian Badoo can be deemed the superior of the ponies bred on the banks of the Bhima and Tapti”. [Burckhardt]
HORSES IN CALCUTTA
Bengal never had any better horses than the Bhutia and the Manipuri breeds of local origin. So long the Sonargaon river port was in operation, Bengal not only received regular supplies of imported horses, but also witnessed the transportation of some of these war machines to the Deccan and China. [Chakrabarti]. The other centre was the Sonepur Cattle Fair for one month long trading of animals – the largest in Asia.
The emergence of Bengal as a regional political entity during the early medieval times must have increased the demand for war horses, but it was never so desperately pressing as the English felt after they lost the 1756 Battle of Calcutta. “The question of our horse supply, though primarily a military one, is far from exclusively so.” [Burckhardt] Burckhardt was right. Life in Calcutta literally depended much on horse power, otherwise Calcutta would have remained stand still even though there had been elephants, camels and bullocks roaming on roads carrying passengers and goods. None of those animals were as agile and sportive as the horses in battlefields, roads and lanes, racing grounds, or ambling for a promenade.
Since the city was rebuilt on the ashes of 1756 Battle horses were being imported in huge quantities particularly from Arabia, Britain and Australia.
The oldest pure breed in the world, Arab horse is actually the horse of the the wandering Arab – the true Bedouin. The animal possesses incomparable virtue as reverend of hardship and master of abstinence. Its strength and stamina apart a particular form of elegance has made it an enviable sire to breed superior horses everywhere in the world. Either directly or indirectly, the Arabian contributed to the formation of virtually all the modern breeds of light horse. As found in some critical studies, the qualities of the Arabian horses in foreign lands considerably vary. The characteristics of the Arabian horses in India differ from those bred in Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia. [Curr]
The Arabian is a symmetrical saddle-horse, not a racer – with a bright, alert outlook and great pride of bearing. Men who look only at their stop-watches may be disappointed; but not they who love to look on horses racing. [Daumas] As the people of Persia and Arabia didn’t like mares to go out of their countries, the horses traded were invariably stallions. Over centuries of similar trading – the earlier influx was in the Mughal era – it’s thought the native horses and ponies of India thus gained a lot of Persian and Arabian horse genes. In Bombay during the British era, Arab horse dealers set up stables for selling – most held 1,000 to 1,500 horses. [Lane]
The East India Company in an endeavour to improve the native breeds of horses established a special department, called ‘Stud Department’ in 1794. Both for political and economic reasons, the Company desired India should produce the horses necessary to mount both British and native cavalry, and to horse the artillery. Colonel Hallen gave a list of thirteen country-breeds of Indian horses described as ” possessing good powers of endurance, and showing thereby blood, but generally wanting in size, and many too small for the work of the Indian Army, constituted as it now is ; though some of purely local breeds can be found fit for native cavalry.” [Gilbey}
After four decades the British raj abandoned the project, and set up the ‘Army Remount and Horse-Breeding Departments’ in 1876 to introduce the ‘Diffused System’ , which used the Thoroughbred sires and India mares treating the thirteen different Indian breeds of horse as one, all mares being classed as ‘country-bred mares’. The animal got by the English thoroughbred “is, as a rule, handsome in top and outlines of back, hind quarters, and carriage of head and tail, but is often shallow in girth and back rib, light in barrel, and from 70 to 8o per cent, are leggy and deficient in bone of limb. Diseases of legs are more common among thoroughbred stock. It provided no means nor machinery whereby the result of using any given stallion on any given mare can he ascertained. Sir John Watson’s gravest objection is that because of the ‘Diffused System’ there does not now exist in India even an experimental stud in which the results of different crosses can be observed. [Glibey]
Horses first arrived in Australia in 1788, with the First Fleet of prisoners. Like the Arab and the Deccan pony, Waler owes his qualities to the conditions of life amid which he is bred and not on their stud-farms managed on English principles, but chiefly on the grasses which he can pick up for himself on Nature’s own bountiful bosom. Australian horse traders chiefly sold horses to India – where the Waler got its name picked from “New South Waler” – a horse from Australia. In India many famous men and regiments rode Walers – from the Viceroys and Rajah’s down, but pricey for common civilians, like Rudyard Kipling’s father John Kipling who always adored a Waler but could never afford to buy one. [Lane]
In 1836, the first Governor of Perth city, Admiral Sir James Stirling, received an anonymous letter from Calcutta enquiring about a spot in Albany that can combine good climate and port facility for the purpose of breeding and exporting quality horses for catering the needs of the British India cavalry. A decade after The Hobart Town Courier of 30 January 1845 reported export of horses from Australia to India for the first time. The ‘Waler’ horses were exported from Sydney to the Indian Presidencies. Australia was chosen as an alternative source not only for being the closest supplier but also because of its breed of healthy horse. Horse buyers from India representing the Remount service would attend horse sales in Adelaide. Kidman’s annual horse sales held at Kapunda attracted local and Indian Army horse buyers. In turn, there were South Australians who bought horses from overseas to breed their own stock with and so improve their horses’ speed. Some horse dealers like the Pathan tribesmen from the Quetta, in Pishin district, took their horses down the Ganges Valley, most likely as far as Calcutta, where they sold some horses to Australians.’
In the end, Australia became the principal supplier to the 39 regiments of Indian Cavalry and about 7 more of the British Cavalry, each consisting of 1000 horses. The over all demand was pretty high, indeed, even without taking into account the fact that ‘people did play polo, apart from just hacks’, and horse racing became popular recreation around 1810. [Westrip]
HORSE MARKETING IN CALCUTTA
In Calcutta horse business initially started in Loll Bazaar- Cossaitollah locality then moved toward Dhurrumtollah where several horse liveries and stables grew to provide all round professional services. In Burraha Bazaar there is still having a locus called Pageya Patty, which might have been earlier a market sector for horse trading, as because the rare and homonymous Bengali word ‘pageya’ (পগেয়া) is used for a ‘breed of horse’ from a particular province’. [চৌধুরী]
The earliest livery stables, as recorded, were established adjacent to the celebrated 18th century tavern, Harmonica, by certain Mr. Meredith. The erstwhile Meredith’s Lane, which connected Bentinck Street with Chandney Choke Lane, derived its name from this Mr. Meredith’s Livery Stables. In Cossaitollah also was the shop of Mr. Oliphant ‘Coach-maker’, the rival of Messrs Steuart and Co., at Old Court House Corner. On Chitpore Road there existed a horse mart, few stables and coach-factories. With the southward expansion of the Calcutta township across Govindapore a number of new horse establishments clustered on Dhurrumtollah Street, to cater all kinds of horse related services and facilities to private and corporate clientele. The most known horse sellers and livary stable keepers among them were: TF Brown & Co. (Partner: Thomas Flitcher Brown), Cook & Co. (Partner: T. Greenhill), Hunter & Co (Partner: John Sherriff). Martin & Co. (Partner: J.P. Martin), and T. Smith & Co. The Grand Hotel in Calcutta had a “Waler Corner” where Australian horse traders met; often after the horses were sold at the Army Remount Depot at Alipore. Some traders such as Jim Robb also stayed in Calcutta.
HORSE CULTURE IN CALCUTTA
Horse induces a sense of freedom from monotony – a sportive spirit to win the best at work and leisure. In Colonial Calcutta leisure and recreation became indispensable parts of the social and cultural life of Europeans and native aristocrats. [Mukherjee] Horses have had the primary role to play in the new form of recreation culture, such as hunting, playing polo, horse racing, fencing and pleasure riding.All these were being played in India since long. Yet it was the British who brought some characteristic changes into the games by introducing new sets of rules acceptable worldwide as standards. These reinvented games, however, were meant to be played exclusively by the ‘whites’. For long, natives were not allowed to approach playgrounds, the Respondentia Walk or the King’s Bench Walk on the riverside, the Eden Gardens, and select parts of the Maidan. Mountain Police patrolled the areas to protect the white people’s privilege, besides their regular duty of escorting shipments from river-ports to the safe location. In a changed environment of collaborative Anglo-Indian enterprise, native aristocrats started taking part in all masculine brands of outdoor games.
Hunting wild beasts on horseback is an ancient frantic game that the Europeans much loved to play while in India. The practice of chasing and killing wild animals, what the food-gathering humans commonly did for their survival and defence, turned into a trigger-happy recreation for power loving civilized people. The oriental princes, British and European civilians and dignitaries were the ones most interested in the game locally known as shikar. There were wild habitats all over the country in every province. One of the most tiger-infested jungles, Sundarban was stretched up to Govindapore before the Fort William II constructed. They say, Warren Hastings had a luck to shoot a Royal Bengal tiger on the spot where the St. Paul Cathedral stands today. [Cotton] Chitah hunting at Barrackpore Park was a favourite sport for the Governors-Genral and Viceroys since Wellesley ’s time. King George V had shot no less than 39 tigers and 4 bears when he visited Nepal in 1911. After half a century, his granddaughter Queen Elizabeth when visited India, wished she had a live calf as bait in her tiger hunting expedition. The wish remained unfulfilled due to Mr. Nehru’s interference. An estimated 80,000 of tigers were killed from 1875–1925 and probably more till 1971 when hunting tigers was totally banned. In modern world the hunting has been redefined in terms of fishing, wildlife photography, birdwatching and the like sport items that do not threaten worldlife. [Dasgupta]
Polo, often referred to as ‘the game of kings’, was invented and played by the commoners of Manipore, where the world’s oldest polo-ground, Mapal Kangjeibung, still exists. From obscure beginnings in Manipore, the modern version of polo was developed and soon being played in the Maidan by two British soldiers, Captain Robert Stewart and Major General Joe Sherer.
They established the Calcutta Polo Club in 1861, and later spread the game to their peers in England. The club runs the oldest and first ever Polo Trophy, the Ezra Cup (1880). The modern Polo has been necessarily a sport meant exclusively for wealthy people capable of meeting its fabulous expenses and extensive leisure time that the heads of the princely states, high ranked British military and administrative personnel. Prominent teams of the period included the chiefs of the princely states of Alwar, Bhopal, Bikaner, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Patiala, Jodhpur, Kishengarh and Kashmir. The majority of the Cavalry regiments of the British Army and the British Indian Army also fielded teams. The civil service bureaucrats to whom the sports and pastimes peculiar to the country are accessible ‘upon a scale of magnificence and affluence unknown to the English sportsman, who ranges the fields with his gun and a brace of pointers, and seeks no nobler game than the partridge or the hare’. [Cotton] The gorgeous game of polo attracted the fanciful young minds, irrespective of financial constraints, if any. Winston Churchill loved polo and played the game vigorously. Aga Khan the celebrated racehorse owner and equestrian found in young Churchill, then an officers of the Fourth Hussars stationed at Bangalore, an irrepressible, and promising polo player. In November 1896 Churchill’s team won a silver cup worth £60. [Langworth ] “Polo became a game that in many ways, did more than ambassadors to promote goodwill in the days a man was judged by his horse…” . [Lane]
Horse racing, one of the oldest of all sports, developed from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses. In the modern era, horse racing developed from a diversion of the leisure class into a huge public-entertainment business.
Calcutta being the first centre of British power in India commanding large cavalry regiments, all mounted sports such as hunting, polo and racing were encouraged to be played. Organized horse races were first held in India on 16 January 1769 at Akra, near Calcutta, where they were held on a rough, narrow, temporary course for the next three decades. Lord Wellesley, as soon he arrived India in 1798, stopped horse racing and all sorts of gambling. After a lull the Calcutta Races again commenced under the patronage of Lord Moira. In 1812 the Bengal Jockey Club laid out a new course in the southwest part of the Maidan. A viewing stand was built in 1820 to watch racing horses in the cool of mornings just after sunrise. The Calcutta Derby Stakes began in 1842, where maiden Arabs ran over 2.5 miles. Five years after the Calcutta Turf Club was founded on 20 February 1847. In 1856 the Calcutta Derby was replaced by the Viceroy’s Cup. In 1880 public interest in racing grew when races started to be held in the afternoons, and new stands were built.
Racing becomes Calcutta’s biggest wintertime attraction, except during a Royal visit —”and then the Turf Club contrives to work the two things very much together. For months women have studied pictured lists from Piccadilly, searching for something to wear at the Races. New milliners’ signs adorn the city’s streets, as short lived as the flies, just for the Racing season. The Indian has unpacked his shawls of many colours only to sport it on the crowded course where the patterned shoulders work a mosaic that is hardly ever seen in a human picture.” Minney who visited Calcutta in early 1920s left a spectacular description of the city in sunny winter. “Gay and busy, it is a season that attracts a multitude from the world’s four comers. They come for the racing,, they come for frivolity, but they come primarily for the climate. … Calcutta would become the most coveted place in this sad globe, more cursed than blessed with climate.” [Minney]
The horse is a partner and friend of humans for more than 5,000 years, and the art of horseback riding, or equestrianism, took most of it to be evolved, of necessity, with maximum understanding and a minimum of interference with the horse. In Colonial Calcutta, as the contemporary narratives reveal, riding was not a monopoly of the cavalry and the rich who rode for sport, as it was the case elsewhere till the 20th century. After Plassey, in the revived Calcutta society, horse riding was regarded as a valued social asset and symbol of prestige.
The opening of many new riding clubs and stables has made riding and horsemanship accessible to a much larger segment. Calcutta then was different in too many counts, but “nothing in which we differ more remarkably from them than in the distribution of our time”. In the early days of Calcutta, the midday dinner and the afternoon siesta were recognized institutions. “The dinner hour here is two,” wrote Mrs Fay. In the days of Warren Hastings “reposing, if not of sleeping, after dinner is so general that the streets of Calcutta are, from four to five in the afternoon, almost as empty for Europeans as if it were midnight. Next come to the evening airings on the course, where everyone goes, though sure of being half-suffocated with dust.” [Cotton] The scene here in the evening was very lively ; soldiers exercising in the square; officers riding on horseback, or driving in gigs ; the band playing on the esplanade; groups promenading. [Bellow] About this garden, as well as the Maidan and Strand Road and to the south of the Eden Garden are the places to see and to be seen, because all the grand folks of Calcutta of an evening go on foot, or riding, or in beautiful barouches, broughams, phaetons, buggies, etc., drawn by beautiful horses. [Cesry]
Good riding and driving horses may be had from 400 to 600 rupees each, Arabs for a bit more. On setting up housekeeping in Calcutta, or in the provinces, a new recruit in civil service earning Rupees 400 a month, must provide himself with bed, tables, chairs, cooking utensils, china, plate, table linen, a buggy, and buggy horse, and a riding-horse. The buggy being kept then principally for business, visits, and day trips, the riding-horse is requisite for morning and evening exercise. [Roberts] During the days of Cornwallis, they used to get on horseback just as the dawn of day begins to appear, ride on the same road and the same distance, pass the whole forenoon. [Bagchi] The Eden sisters, particularly Emily, was extremely fond of riding horse wherever they go. She found riding a foot’s pace cooler than the carriage. The air she felt coming more round one on horseback than in the carriage. She had a little pony-carriage with no head to it, and wicker sides, and extremely light, and that was much the coolest conveyance they had; besides that, she says “it will go in roads which will not admit of our carriage” [Eden] After nearly four decades, in a more liberal colonial climate we find Jyotindranath Tagore along with his young wife Kadambari Devi riding on their horses down Chitpore Road to the Eden Garden for an evening prom. [Sen]
The pleasure of horse riding has been an added attraction for the European settlers in Calcutta. Except the army horsemanship, ambling or easy walking on horseback was the most popular mode of riding – a slow, four-beat, rhythmic pace of distinct successive hoof beats in an order. Alternately it may be extended walk of long, unhurried strides. One needed to undergo a systematic training to execute precisely any of a wide range of maneuvers, from the simplest riding gaits to the most intricate and difficult airs. This was true for the British and Indian soldiers as well as the civilian men and women. The first Riding school was established in Calcutta as early as in 1790s followed by more in the next century to teach whoever interested irrespective of sex and age. The untold stories behind those early Riding Schools will be posted next.
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চৌধুরী, প্রমথ. (1914). চুটকি। প্রবন্ধ সংগ্রহ