Vintage Canine Culture: Dogs and Kennels of Indian Royals with BHUMENDRA PAL SINGH of AWAGARH
Royalty's relationship with dogs in India goes back to mythical times. Dogs in Hindu mythology and royal history are easy to trace for the most part. In the Mahabharata, for example, the Pandava Yudhishtira is blessed by Lord Dharma for his trying to enable the access of his loyal dog in the celestial abode of heaven. The tradition of dog-grooming as beloved pets only intensified from such mythical evidences onto historical times wherein the love various Royal families vis-a-vis their pooches can be found in orders passed on to servants, family portraits, personal notes, and even commissioned portraits of just their canine companions. Interestingly, no one breed has been exclusively favoured. Instead, different members of each Royal family have had their own preferences. Additionally, some preferences were made based on trends at the time. The royalty was known to pamper their dogs and went to strange limits doing that. Sometimes they established laws against harming dogs and even took to the art of dog breeding themselves.
The Bonds of Loyalty and Friendship: British Imperialists
In colonial times, Britishers brought shiploads of diverse pedigreed breeds to the Indian shores to accompany them oceans away from their native soil. Their fancy was jointly imitated by the rajas, maharajas and the nawabs. Soon enough, Kennel Clubs were established all over imperial India, including the respective kennel clubs of Hyderabad, Ootacamund, Mysore, Calcutta to name but a few. These clubs followed procedures and benchmarks similar to that of their counterparts in the United Kingdom. However, as India gained her independence, it was time for the Britishers and their beloved pooches to leave the country. At the time of leaving the country, many Englishmen retreated their dogs back to the United Kingdom as well. Those who could not get their dogs quarantined were compelled to give them away for local adoption. Some even decided to euthanise their dogs as they could not bear the idea of risking their pet’s abandonment once they departed.
The passion that the British rulers held for their four-legged family was by no means an alien concept amongst the Indian nobility. In her essay Passion Royale for Pampering Pets, Roshni Johar gives a fascinating account of the eccentricities involved in regal pet grooming: “The Maharaja of Junagadh owned 800 dogs, each with its own room, a telephone and a servant. A white-tiled hospital with a British vet attended to their ailments. When a dog died, Chopin’s funeral march was played and a state mourning was declared.”
Johar continues, ”To annoy the Raj whose airs and graces he resented," the Maharaja of Junagadh had his liveried staff dress his dogs in formal evening suits, mount them on rickshaws and drive them on British summer capital Shimla’s fashionable Mall. "The women were infuriated, often feeling a dog’s breath on their pale powdered faces as the rickshaws jostled for space on the way to Cecil Hotel for a dance. The Maharaja had a stormy meeting with the Viceroy and promised to keep his dogs locked away. He had to agree but waited until there was a ball at the Viceregal Lodge and ordered his servants to round up every crazed, lunatic pi dog in Simla. He set them loose in the grounds and was rewarded by the sound of horrified memsahibs shrieking like peacocks," writes Ann Morrow in her highly readable Highness.”
Taking this account into consideration, it is of no surprise that when the Maharaja migrated to Pakistan during the partition of 1947, he left behind many weeping wives so that his pampered canines could fly with him on his plane.
In close conjunction to him was His Royal Highness Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala (1900-1938), who followed suit. He too too had a series kennels wherein he would purchase any dog that he took liking to. While the Maharaja is famously known to have given Patiala a prominent name in the field of international sports, he is lesser known for his interest in dog-breeding, which led him to govern the All-India Gundog Leage as its president and the Indian Kennel Association as its vice-president. The Maharaja of Jind was a dog-enthusiast too and served the latter association as well.
The regal association towards dogs was not contained within north India alone. The illustrious Paigarh family of Andhra Pradesh carries on their family tradition of dog-loving till date. Amongst them, the late Nawab Moinuddowla Bahadur maintained a vast private zoo, filled with an entire plethora of dog breeds. It was particularly known for its hunting dogs. Furthermore, His Highness Prince of Berar- Azam Jha Bahadur, who was the crown prince of Nizam State too was a dog lover par excellence. He owned all the well-known breeds in his private kennel when the country’s first dog show was administered, back in 1945. It comes as no surprise that he was a keen patron of the Hyderabad Kennel Club.
In fact, during my very own grandfather- Rajkumar Dharampal Singh of Awagarh's time, our family kennels upheld the Awagarh Kennels, which had the finest set of field trial labradors in India. For those of you who aren't too familiar with the term field trials, it is a sport in which the sporting dog competes under hunting conditions. The dog can pick up the scent of a rabbit or small animal and follow the trail until he retrieves it. There are also bird trials where the animal retrieves birds that have fallen as a result of shooting. Other breeds in our kennel included pekinese, german short-haired pointers, springer spaniels, golden retriever, pekinese, dachund, and doberman amongst others.
The late Maharaja of Charkhari’s wife was known to have eighty dogs of all shapes and sizes. The erstwhile princess of Tripura, Maharani Jayati Devi lived with all her dogs in one compound and remembered the name of every dog she owned. Her pet entourage consisted of an assortment of high pedigree and stray dogs, all of which she loved dearly. Her family mournfully remembers the fascinating yet tragic incident of her sudden death that was caused by an accidental fire. They give an interestingly telepathic account of the sad demise of her favourite dog on the very same night that she passed away.
The Gujrat Kennel Club organised a dog show in fond memory of late Maharaja Jaideep Singhji, the former ruler of Devgadh Baria at the Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara on his 25th death anniversary. The late His Highness was a great pet lover and was an eminent judge for international dog shows. He was also the chairman of the Kennel Club of India and founder of the Gujarat Kennel Club. The present Maharanisab of Baria- Urvashi Devi owns dozens of dogs herself.
Present Pooches and Royalty
The particular characteristic of a dog’s unconditional love that exists irrespective of one’s status, money or position might be one of the common reasons behind their close association with royalty worldwide. A dog’s display of affection is one of the most genuine expressions of love and one of the most prized companionships that mankind has persevered in pursuit of.
Gundogs and Hunting Dogs in India
The dog is claimed to have the ability to run about 60 kilometers per hour. Dubbed as the greyhound of the orient, the Rampur greyhound is believed to run at a speed of around 60 kilometres per hour. The precise history of this favourite hunting dog amongst the Indian maharajas is unknown, although it bears origin in north India’s Rampur district.
His Royal Highness Ahmed Ali Khan Bahadur bred his dogs, the Rampur hounds by combining the bloodlines of very powerful but ferocious Tazi, brought in by the Afghans, and the English Greyhound that was more obedient but less resistant to the varying climatic conditions. The Rampur Hound far exceeded his expectations. From its Tazi and Afghan ancestors it got its looks and stalwart character, and from the English Greyhound, it got its speed. Here was a dog that would seldom back down in confrontations, and could more or less keep up with the fastest prey.
This breed that has been around for hundreds of years was highly valued for its ability to control jackal population. Hunting was a favourite sport amongst Indian royals and hounding breeds were developed as a result, to cater to the sporting needs of India’s aristocracies. The Rampur grey hound’s exceptional hunting prowess is combined with speed and endurance. Typically, this breed of dogs can cover great distances and withstand long hours of hunting even in the harshest terrain and in extreme climatic conditions. Being the favoured hunting companions of maharajas, the Rampur greyhounds proved their legendary hunting abilities through known history. Their ferocity prevented them from being intimidated by lions, tigers, leopards and panthers even! The Rampur greyhounds hunted wild boars, foxes, hares and a variety of fowls as well.
With the fall of the Maharajahs from power in 1947, so too, fell the popularity of the Rampur Hound. The effect of the arrival of the English was evident to the Rampur, as well as the native Indian people. With the decline in hunting in India the dog's popularity plummeted. It was no longer fashionable or practical for the rich to keep them, while the poorer population simply could not afford to keep them.
A Doggy Affair
Roshni Johar unveils yet another amusing account in her essay : -
“While some intensely loved them, others hated them with equal candour. The Maharaja of Junagadh, Nawab Sir Mahabet Khan Rasul Khan, invited Lord Irwin to grace the occasion of marriage of Roshanara with Bobby. But the Viceroy refused. Understandably so. After all, Roshanara was the Maharaja’s favourite pet dog, while Bobby, a royal golden retriever, belonged to the Nawab of Mangrol, and Lord Irwin was in no mood to indulge the eccentric Maharaja in this unprecedented and frivolous pastime. Films and photographs were taken of this widely world-reported unique three-day event, where no less than `A3 22,000 were spent.
A number of ruling royals and dignitaries attended the marriage. Shampooed, perfumed, bejewelled and decked in brocade, Roshanara was carried in a silver palanquin to the Durbar Hall. Earlier 250 dogs attired in brocade, a military band and a guard of honour had received the groom Bobby, bedecked in gold bracelets and necklace, at the railway station. This had been followed by a grand wedding feast.
After this, dog weddings were much in vogue among rulers in North India. Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Jind and Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala celebrated the weddings of their dogs in a pompous manner.”
These baffling eccentricities aside, dogs today have sustained an intimate relationship with mankind and continue to remain the exemplars of loyalty in the mammal world. Amongst the contemporary Rajput community, one would find very few houses without the presence of the family pooch. Be it the Jodhpur fox terriers, Axle- the Ajairajpura doberman, Zara- the Gamph alsatian Zara, Rajkot;s harlequin great dane- Fendi, or her Khimsar-based cousin Khaleesi, each one of them descended from a diverse culture of hound-domestication and dog-loving.
As the most widespread and probably the oldest domesticated animal, the dog lives up to its title, ‘a man’s best friend’. Newby believes that the domestication of the dog led directly to the domestication of other animals and thus was a major turning point in the history of humans. The relationship between dogs and humans may go back 100,000 years according to some of the most recent research. That means that for some 90,000 years humans depended greatly on the dog as a helper and companion during the hunter-gatherer phase. The name of the Egyptian God Wepwawet means "opener of the way" and indeed the dog has opened the way for humankind throughout history.
About the writer
Bhumendra Pal Singh hails from the erstwhile state of Awagarh and also happens to be the descendant of Raja Balwant Singhji of Awagarh, who was the first president of the Akhil Bhartiya Kshatriya Mahasabha. Bhumendra’s literary work can be found on his blog: www.bhumendra.wordpress.com. Alternatively, he can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.