Sport of kings | punjab | Hindustan Times
Today in New Delhi, India
Mar 26, 2017-Sunday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

Sport of kings

punjab Updated: Dec 01, 2013 00:17 IST
Vikram Jit Singh

Falconry or hawking was relished by four Sikh gurus: Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Tegh Bahadur and most intensely by Guru Gobind Singh. In his preliminary enquiry into the ‘Tradition of Falconry among the Sikh Gurus’, Jaipur-based HS Sangha delves into the reasons for indulging in this form of hunting. "Falconry in the East was a symbol of royal power and for 1,200 years it was known as the ‘sport of kings’, before its decline in the 18th century.

Not only was it an essential part of chivalry, the Gurus also wanted to inspire the minds of their disciples with the grandeur and glory of the new religion. Starting with Guru Arjan (1563-1606), they began to live in aristocratic style. Guru Arjan taught that mundane pleasures could be enjoyed within proper limits, and they should not be allowed to interfere with good living. He wore rich clothes, kept fine horses and some elephants and maintained retainers as bodyguards in attendance,” writes Sangha. While much has been written about the hawking passions of Guru Gobind Singh, Sangha delves extensively on Guru Hargobind, “who rejoiced in the chase and hawking and accompanied by an army of forest-beaters, hounds, tame leopards (sic cheetahs) and hawks (and falcons) of every variety, he used to sally forth and traverse long distances”. By Kulwant Bahra Collection

Quoting chronicles of Sikh history, Sangha says Guru Hargobind sanctioned and encouraged meat diet and hunting and loved stalking wild boar. Guru Tegh Bahadur is shown with a hawk or a falcon in miniature paintings. In a Pahari miniature of the Guler school (c.1800) preserved in the Lahore Museum, Guru Tegh Bahadur, known for his achievements in swordsmanship, is shown with a (Northern) goshawk on his gauntlet.


A fountainhead of goodwill for wildlife conservation is to be found among some of our youth, sensitised by racy nature documentaries beamed on TV channels. One such youngster, Tehlu Toor, has taken a step further from mere awareness. An engineering student of Punjabi University, Patiala, Tehlu regularly volunteers for work at Chhatbir zoo during his vacations. He has researched animal behaviour at the zoo and endeavoured to find ways to enrich their dull lives under the guidance of Sitendu, a researcher from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. Hailing from Moga and born to government employee parents, Tehlu also worked on the neglected Abohar wildlife sanctuary which harbours Punjab’s state animal, the blackbuck. By Jaspreet Lall

Tehlu’s key finding at the sanctuary spanning 13 Bishnoi villages is of fragmentation of land holdings and economic pressures weakening the fabled conservation ethic among Bishnois. The vast lands which were left untilled in the past have now been put under the plough, leaving few spaces for wild animals. Fencing of lands against stray cattle ends up harming blackbucks and neelgais, says Tehlu, who has also photo-documented the Harike wildlife sanctuary. He spreads the conservation gospel among school students by delivering lectures in Moga and finds them enthused by the subject of wildlife. His future plans include setting up reptile rescue NGOs and undertaking post-graduate studies in animal behaviour. Wildlife conservation as a career can be a frustrating, thankless task in Punjab. But Tehlu’s parents are supportive of his passions and Tehlu himself is determined to stay the daunting course ahead.


When it comes to coining names of Indian butterflies, inspirations are diverse: from the nobility, birds, flowers, slavery, armed services etc You name it: gaudy baron, common nawab, redspot duke, sailor, sergeant, paris peacock, Nigger, Bhutan glory, monkey puzzle, joker. The common names of 1,500 butterflies are traced to Brig WH Evans’ book, ‘The Identification of Indian Butterflies’, published in 1927. Peter Smetacek of the Butterfly Research Centre, Bhimtal, Uttarakhand, explains: "Several butterflies bore English names because they occur in England; in other cases, one of the group of butterflies occurred in England, had an English name, so Brig Evans gave the rest in the group similar names, for example the tortoiseshell butterflies; in some cases, habits were responsible for the name; in some, the shape of the butterfly or something like that." However, names have come under contemporary question. The Kaiser-e-Hind. By Wikipedia

A section of naturalists felt these names resulted from self-indulgent flights of fancy by British rulers. Names such as coon and nigger (these two are dark, unmarked butterflies) are perceived as derogatory words harking back to slavery. Communists may dislike names stemming from feudal titles. Feminists and prudes may denounce names such as painted lady and peacock pansy. But Smetacek argues: “In the interests of maintaining stability, these names need to be retained as re-naming exercises will never end just like changing names of Indian cities. The only thing that saved Delhi was that there were too many names to choose from!’’ The name, Kaiser-e-Hind, was bestowed on a rare, gorgeous butterfly and was inspired by a title thought up for Queen Victoria when she turned Empress of India. “So, it was the Brits at their empire building again,” quips Smetacek. Interestingly, the Kaiser-e-Hind got maximum votes in a contest staged recently by butterfly enthusiasts for nominating to the government a suitable candidate for the vacant title of' ‘National Butterfly of India’.