Thursday, January 10, 2008


Tiger Distribution Map (Past and present)

Emperor Babur Hunting a Tiger

Game of Wolf Running During Humayun's Time

Emperor Akbar entrolled while hunting expedition

A Prince hunting in 1555

Emperor Jahangir and wounded lioness

Emperor Shahjahan hunting lions

Advertisment in British India highlighting Tiger Hunting

Tiger Hunting by a Maharaja in Karnataka

British Period

British Period

Tiger Hunting 1903


The Sher Khans of Indian jungles are in trouble for the only reason that they are being poached and killed, every year in hundreds for their fur. Today, the tiger population is dwindling to a mere 2000 numbers across this vast Subcontinent; they are found only in certain pockets (look at the map). Would you believe that once tiger roamed freely in almost all part of the Subcontinent, including the cities like Mumbai and Ahmedabad? Tigers roamed freely in the forests around Mumbai till 1780. Even Thane, the capital of Salsette, today a modern city, was home to tiger. In 1806, two tigers were seen at Kurla and a tiger was spotted on Malabar hill too in Mumbai! In the 1700s, tigers, lions and other large games were common in Ahmedabad. In 1783, tigers were found in desolate grounds outside the city walls.

In India, tiger was found as early as the era of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Terracotta figurines of tiger have been reported from Harappa. However there is not much evidence till the rule of the Mughals. In Mughal and British India tiger was hunted for prestige as well as for taking trophies. Tiger hunting was a sport for centuries, the consequences were larger during the British Raj due to the use of far superior firepower and an interest to hunt shared by a much larger number of colonial aristocrats.

In the Mughal Empire, leisure was a luxury confined to the pleasures of the aristocracy. High cuisine and wine, garden parties, game hunting ( shikar), animal fights, pigeon flying (Ishqbazi), archery and horse riding constituted imperial entertainment. According to Abul Fazl the court historian of Emperor Akbar, the Mughal ruler had three favorite amusements in which he excelled: the game of Chaugan (a kind of hockey with the player on horseback), Ishqbazi or love play (a game of pigeon flying) and the game of chandal mandal which was like chaupar and had been invented by the Emperor himself. Akbar was also passionately fond of hunting and pursued the noble sport in its different forms, especially the tiger hunt and the trapping of wild elephants, but he also hunted with trained falcons and leopards, owning no less than nine hundred hunting leopards. He was not fond of battue; he enjoyed the excitement and exertion of the actual hunt as a means for exercise and recreation, for training the eye and quickening the blood. But as Abul Fazl reminds us there was more to it than mere pleasure: "His Majesty always makes hunting a means of increasing his knowledge and uses hunting parties as occasions to inquire into the condition of the people and army." Akbar's hunting parties were elaborate and headed by the Mir Shikar (Master of hunting). The Emperor's favorites being tiger hunting, leopard hunting and elephant catching.

Akbar's successor Jahangir's Memoirs is replete with accounts of his hunting expeditions. In the narrative of the year 1606, he is recorded to have spent three months and six days in hunting at Lahore, during which time 581 animals were killed with the gun, hunting leopards, nets and qamargah. He called 158 animals by his own gun. In 1607, on the way from Kabul to Lahore, he was again engaged in hunting in which nearly 40 red antelopes were killed and a female panther was captured. A qamargah (ring hunting ground) was laid, a little father, and about 300 animals were captured which were carefully counted and recorded.

His Memoirs, which devotes free space to the accounts of his testing expeditions, shows that a full fledged hunting department (Diwan I – Shikari) was maintained, of course, at a great cost, for the pleasure of the King, and every detail was meticulously recorded. It is noted in the account of 1610 that he ordered the clerks of the Hunting Department to prepare a list of animals which had been killed from the time of his leaving until re-entering the city, and it was represented that 1362 animals and birds, including tigers, peacocks and surkhabs had been killed in 56 day's time.

In his Memoirs

Tuzuk-I-Jahagiri, IV New Year 21 March 1609

"On the 20th I killed with a gun a tigress and a nilgai. There were two cubs with the tigress, but they disappeared from view in consequence of the thickness of the jungle and the number of trees. An order was given that they should search for and bring them. When I reached the halting place, my son Khurram brought me one of the cubs, and the next day Mahabat Khan caught the other and brought it. On the 22 nd, when I had got within shot of a nilgai, suddenly a groom (jilauder) and two kahars (bearers) appeared, and the nilgai escaped. In a great rage I ordered them to kill the groom on the spot, and to hamstring the Kahars and mount them on asses and parade them through the camp, so that no one should again have the audacity to do such a thing. After this I mounted a horse and continued hunting with hawks and falcons, and came to the halting-place.

The day after the New Year's day, I mounted and started for a tiger-hunt. Two males and a female were killed. On the 26 th of the same month I went and busied myself mostly with hunting nilgai. As the air was hot and the (propitious) hour for re-entering Agra had nearly arrived, I went to Rupbas, and turned antelope in that neighborhood for some days. I had ordered the clerks of the hunting department to write out (a list of) all the animals that had been killed from the time of my leaving until I re-entered the city. As this time they represented that in 66 days, 1,362 animals, quaderupeds, and birds had been killed; the tigers were 7 in number; nilgai, male and female, 70; black buck 51, does and mountain goats and antelopes (rojh), etc., 82; kulang (cranes), peacocks, surkhab and other birds, 129; fish, 1023.

On Sunday, the 4th Shawwal, when near the end of the day, I engaged in a cheetah hunt. I had determined that on this day the Thursday no animals should be killed and I would eat no meat, on Sunday especially because of the respect my revered father had for that day in not being inclined to eat flesh on it, and in forbidding the killing of many animals for the reason that on the night of Sunday his own honoured birth had taken place. He used to say it was better on that day that all animals should be free from the calamity of those of a butchery disposition. Thursday is the day of my accession. On that day also I ordered that animals should not be killed, so that whilst sporting I should not shoot an arrow or a gun at wild animals.

In hunting the cheetahs as Anup Ray, who is one of my close attendants, was heading the men who were with him in the hunt at a little distance from me and came to a tree on which some kites were sitting. When his sight fell on those kites he took a bow and some pointless arrow (tukka) and went towards them. By chance in the neighborhood of that tree he saw a half –eaten bullock. Near it a huge tiger got up out of a clump that was near and went off. Though not more than two gharis of day remained, as he knew my liking for tiger-hunting, he and some of those who were with him surrounded the tiger and sent someone to me to give me the news. When it reached me I rode there at once in a state of excitement and at full speed, and Baba Khurram, Ram Das, Itimad Ray, Hayat Khan and one or two others went with me. On arriving I saw the tiger standing in the shade of a tree, and wished to fire at him from horseback but found that my horse was unsteady, and dismounted and aimed and fired my gun. As I was standing on a height and the tiger was below, I did not know whether it had struck him or not. In a moment of excitement I fired the gun again, and I think that this time I hit him. The tiger rose and charged, and wounding the chief huntsman, who had a falcon on his wrist and happened to be in front of him, sat down again in his own place. In this state of affairs, placing another gun on a tripod, I took him. Anup Ray stood holding the rest, and had a sword in his belt and a baton (kutaka) in his hand. Baba Khurram was a short distance off to my left, and Ram Das and other servants behind him. Kamal the huntsman (qarawul) loaded the gun and placed it in my hand. When I was about to fire, the tiger came roaring towards us and charged. I immediately fired. The ball passed through the tiger's mouth and teeth. The noise of the gun made him very savage, and the servants who had crowded together could not stand his charge and fell over one another, so that I, through their pushing and shock, was moved a couple of paces from my place and fell down. In fact, I am sure that two or three of them placed their feet on my chest and passed over me. Itimad Ray and the huntsman Kamal assisting me, I stood up. At this moment the tiger made for those who were on the left-hand side. Anup Ray let the rest slip out of his hand and turned towards the tiger. The tiger, with the same activity with which he had charged, turned on him, and he manfully faced him, and struck him twice with both hands on the head with the stick he had in his hand. The tiger, opening his mouth, seized both of Anup Ray's arms with it, and bit them so that his teeth passed through both, but the stick and her bracelets on his arms were helpful, and did not allow his arms to be destroyed. From the attack and pushing of the tiger, Anup Ray fell down between the tiger's forefeet, so that his head and face were opposite the tiger's chest. At this moment Baba Khurram and Ram das came to the assistance of Anup Ray. The prince struck the tiger on the loins with his sword, and Ram Das also struck him with his sword, once on the shoulder blade. On the whole it was very quick work, and Hayat Khan dealt the tiger several blows over the head with a stick he had in his hand. Anup Ray with force dragged his arms out of the tiger's mouth and struck him two or three times on the cheek with his first, and rolling over on his side stood up by the force of his knees. At the time of withdrawing his arms were partly torn, and both his paws passed over his shoulders. When he stood up, the tiger also stood up and wounded him on the chest with his claws, so that those wounds troubled him for some days. As the ground was uneven, they rolled over each other, holding on like two wrestlers. In the place where I was standing, the ground was quite level. Anup Ray says that God Almighty gave him so much intelligence that he bore the tiger over deliberately to one side (in the original that side), and that he knew no more. At this time the tiger left him and was making off. He in that state of bewilderment raised his sword and followed him and struck him another blow on the face, so that severed by the sword, fell over his eyes. In this state of affairs, a lamp man of the name Salib, as it was time to light the lamps, came in a hurry and by a blind chance came across the tiger. The tiger struck him one blow with his paw and knocked him down. To fall and give up his life were the same thing. Other people came in and finished the tiger's business."

Hunting in Mughal time was not only confined to the royal men. Nurjahan, Jahangir's Empress was also a markswoman and enjoyed hunting as much as her husband. On the occasion, she killed four tigers that came out of the bushes near the elephant carrying the royal couple. The emperor gestured silently to Nur Jahan, telling her to dispatch two with arrows and two with her guns. Nur Jahan quietly prepared two muzzle-loading guns and placed them within easy reach on the howdah. Then she chooses two arrows, seized her bow, took careful aim and loosened two arrows in quick succession. Two tigers fell to the ground. Without passing for a moment, the empress picked up a gun and fired, dropping the third tiger. The fourth fell with her final shot from the second gun. Jahangir was delighted. 'Such shooting has never been seen until now,' he exulted.

In the succeeding British Period, the English were keenly aware that as royal beasts and masters of the jungle, tigers had been closely associated historically with Indian rulers. They emulated various Mughal emperors for whom tiger hunting was an element of kingship. But more than emulation, tiger hunting was the symbol in the construction of British imperial and masculine identities during the 19 th century – The British had great pretensions to becoming successors to the Mughals during the19th century. Before they could attain such power, however they had to outdo regional powers, such as Mysore's Tipu Sultan, who also employed the tiger in his symbolic arsenal. Among other uses, the tiger or the tiger stripe (babri) was used as decoration on his throne; on the uniforms of his soldiers; and on his coins, flags, and arms. Here, then, the tiger has a different meaning than in the British Mughal tiger hunts the British sought to emulate. The symbolic meaning of Tipu's Tiger was the emblematical triumph over the British. Therefore by killing tigers the British were also symbolically staging the defeat of Tipu Sultan and other Indian rulers who dared to get in the way of Britain's imperial conquest of India.

Tigers also represented for the British all that was wild and untamed in the Indian natural world. Thus, the curious late Victorian and Edwardian spectacle of British royals and other dignitaries being photographed standing aside dead tiger carcasses depicted the staging successful conquests of Indian nature by "virile imperialists".

British tiger hunting represented also its natural environment. British exerted control over India's timber supply, among other natural resources, over the course of the 19 th century. These efforts culminated in the promulgation of Forest Act of 1878, fenced the forest by placing over one-fifth of the landmass of South Asia directly under British control, making the Raj's forestry department not only the largest land manager in the Sub Continent but also one of the largest forestry enterprises in the world. The law had major implications for colonial hunting. Hunters were now required to hold permits to hunt in government forests. Permits were rarely, if ever, granted to Indians and not even automatically to all British, this system not only deepened racial divisions between British and Indians but also placed considerable power over hunting in India after 1878 in the hands of forest department officials. British hunted tigers largely with the aim of dominating India's natural environment.

After the fall of the Mughals, India was divided into various smaller principalities and ruled by weak rulers, who were unable to provide safety to the natives. Tigers were danger to the Indian society as their presence often caused "the passage of the Ghauts [Public Baths] or Public Roads [to] become…imminently dangerous to Travellers" (East India Company Revenue letter June 1826). Tigers also inflicted "serious injury on industrious husbandmen" and often destroyed their cattle and crops. British blamed Rajas, Zamindars, and other landed elites, generally perceiving them as lazy and indolent, and took tiger hunting into their hand for the protection of natives. They encouraged Indian hunters for killing tigers. To destroy tigers, the Raj also offered financial rewards to hunters – Indians as well Europeans – who killed them.

While British hunted tigers to emulate the Mughals as well as to dominate India's natural environment, the greatest attraction of the sport for many of these hunters was in association with masculinity. Hunting for the Raj was central to the development of all-important victorious trait of "character". For instance, Bengal Army Captain Henry Shakespear pleaded with parents in the preface to his 1860-hunting memoir that they encourage their sons to partake in big game hunting so as to keep them "out of a thousand temptations and injurious pursuits". He argued that hunting was an "innocent, manly, and useful" activity that would not only keep their sons "fit for their duty as soldiers" but would also prevent from "taking to the game table, or to an excess of test firing, rioting…debauchery" and other "frivolous pursuits or effeminate pleasures".

The hunting strategy

During the British rule, tigers were killed by the native for their safety, although the strategy was primitive. A Madras judge reported a case in 1815 when over 700 villagers from his district "formed a circle round a Tyger" and killed it by spreading it (East India Company Report). Indian villagers also used traps involving nets, which were inefficient with chances of tigers to escape. The most effective method by the natives was however the use of poisoned arrows to kill tigers.

The British during the initial period before the advent of High-velocity hunting rifles adopted the strategies either by waiting for it overnight in sometimes very uncomfortably manchans constructed in tall trees, usually fifteen to twenty feet above the ground, or else to beat for the animal during the middle of the day (when it wiould typically be asleep) while riding elephants. During this latter type of hunt, several Indian beaters on foot would bang drums, crush cymbals, and play other noisy or "discordant" instruments, as well as shoot blanks from matchlocks, all to rouse a frustrated tiger at British hunters, who shat at it from atop their elephants.

A British account of Tiger Hunting

Louis Rousselet – India and its Native Princes – Travels in Central India and the Presidencies of Bombay and Bengal 1875

"About the beginning of October, the fine weather having pretty well set in for good, I availed myself of an opportunity that offered itself to explore the ruins of an ancient city of Champaneer, about 50 miles east of Baroda. Captain Lynch, of the Guicowar's army, had organised a tiger-hunt, and had invited Schamburg and myself to join it. Tatia Sahib, who accompanied us, had obtained permission to employ the beaters of huntsmen of the royal hunting establishment. The plains which extend between Champaneer and the capital are remarkably dry, which is the more strange in that the surrounding country is singularly fertile. The surface is so flat that, at first sight, one would judge them to be admirably suited for cavalry manoeuvres; but, after proceeding a short distance, the traveller finds himself every moment checked by deep ravines of great width. It would be very expensive to lay down a permanent way across this tract, on account of the great number of bridges that would have to be constructed.

At Champaneer we found our tents pitched, and a great number of attendants and several elephants sent by the king. We were encamped at a short distance from the lofty walls of the ancient city, whose circumference is about 12 miles. Within, there is merely a thick forest, with ruins scattered here and there; a few beautiful Mohomedan minarets rearing their high towers above the jungle, and broken walls in various places marking the site of the ancient places. Immediately in rear of the city rises the superb mountain of Pawangarh, crowned by a famous fortress. It now belongs to the English, and is only used by them as an occasional refuge from the heat of the plains.

From the first day of our arrival Shikarees (beaters) had been sent into the forest to try and discover the tracks of some tigers. As the nature of the ground did not admit of the employment of elephants, and I was not anxious, by way of a beginning, to find myself face to face with one of these terrible animals, a look out was established. For this purpose, a tree was selected, and sundry planks, placed across the branches, formed the hunter's post of observation. To attract the tiger to this spot, an ox was tied up to a neighbouring bush. On the morrow the Shikarees found its body half devoured, and it was decided that the hunt should take place that same evening. At four o'clock, Lynch, Schaumbay, Tatia and I were perched on our tree, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the tiger, our eyes fixed on the carcase of the ill-fated ox that had served as bait. Night came on apace, and perfect darkness enveloped the whole jungle. The slightest sound made us start, and we expected every moment to see the gleaming eyes of the ferocious monster. But I think, if it had come, we should have had considerable difficulty in shooting it. Only a few jackles came to sniff at the prey, but we drove them off. I shall long remember that night in the forest, uncomfortably perched as I was on a plank, and shivering with cold. The first streaks of dawn were appearing, and disappointed with our long watch, we were going to regain our tents, when a Shikaree on a neighbourhood tree attracted our attention by his movements. A few moments afterwards there was crackling so amongst the brushwood, and I perceived the long wished for tiger, who was coming slowly and cautiously, as though scenting an ambuscade. He had scarcely entered the glade that surrounded our tree when all four of us fired, almost simultaneously. Each of us, wrought into a high state of excitement by our sleepless night, was unwilling to lose the chance of a shot, and so was eager to fire. The tiger stopped short, bewildered; one ball had shattered his hind foot, and another, which had entered his side, must have wounded him severely. After an instant's hesitation, he plunged at a bound into the forest. The Shikarees came down from their post and went in pursuit; and we followed their examples: but my legs were so benumbed that I could scarcely walk. Abundant traces of blood showed the way the animal had gone, and the beaters soon stopped us and pointed out at a thick copse, in which they had seen him take refuge. A shot was fired in that direction, and the tiger, infuriated by this last provocation, quitted his lair. He made straight for us, his ears laid back, and his mouths open. We acted in concert as regarded our fire, and the captain advised me, above all things, not to be in hurry. When he was within twenty paces of us, Tatia fired, and lodged a ball in his chest, without checking his advance. I took a careful and deliberate aim, and pulled the trigger. The effect was instantaneous, the tiger sprang into the air, and fell timeless on the ground a few paces from where we stood. The captain and Schaumburg discharged their bullets into him to make sure that he was dead, and we approached him amid the repeated cries of the Indians: "Bag mahrgaya!" (the tiger is dead). He was a superb animal, seven or eight years old, and no less than nine feet in length from the muzzle to the tip of the tail. The wound in the side, which he had received at the outset, had deprived him of a good deal of his strength, otherwise it is probable that he would have given us more trouble".