While poring over dusty tomes of ancient Indian history, Nandini Sengupta discovered marvellous stories about the special relationships certain kings and queens had with animals: this includes everything from gigantic elephants to little birds. The more they loved them, the more they pampered them. And no, they weren’t just given little snacky treats or toys as tokens of love, but were treated like royalty too.
Take Samand Manik, Mughal king Akbar the Great’s favourite cheetah. As head of the cheetah platoon, Samand Manik wore jewelled collars, was carried on palanquins, had personal liveried servants, and was frequently invited to court to impress foreign dignitaries and diplomats.
Then there was King Jayakesi whose favourite pet was a talking parrot who could recite the Vedas and discuss Chanakya Niti. Every evening, the king would let the parrot out of its golden cage and have animated conversations with it while he had his
While some animals were merely household pets, others like dogs, horses, and elephants accompanied their masters to the battlefield. A few of them merely as lucky mascots (Shivaji insisted that his dog Waghya was always at his side), others as fighting partners who wore armour as protection, and carried weapons as well. Elephants, for example, had lethal daggers attached to their tusks in order to cause maximum damage to enemy troops. Elephants and horses were also at their terrifying best on the battlefield because they were made to drink vast quantities of intoxicating
Some of these beloved animals eventually died on the battlefield like Alexander the Great’s favourite horse Bucephalus and his fierce bear-like dog Peritas. Both were deeply mourned, given memorials fit for kings, and two cities along the banks of the Jhelum and Ravi rivers were named after them.
Chetak was another heroic horse who succumbed to his battle wounds—but only after he carried his master, Maharana Pratap of Mewar, to safety. He was honoured by poets and artists and there’s even a memorial to him (Chetak Chabutra) in Rajasthan.
In some cases, the bonds between pets and masters were so strong that even death could not separate them. In this book you will discover a pet who leapt into his master’s funeral pyre, and a master who climbed into his pet’s funeral pyre.
There’s nothing ordinary about this book. The stories make you feel warm, fuzzy (and occasionally weepy), Sengupta’s lively sense of humour adds a sprinkling of sparkle, and the cherry on the cake is this:
She gets into each animal’s head, speaks in their voices, gives them interesting personalities and human emotions like love, anger and jealousy. History purists won’t be disappointed either, because each story has a historical source and context mentioned at the end, which makes it easy to separate fact from fiction.
Rupa Gulab is a freelance writer and the author of Girl Alone, Chip of the Old Blockhead and The Great Depression of the 40s
The Blue Horse and Other Amazing Animals from Indian History
By Nandini Sengupta
Hachette India, Rs 299