Taste of Life: When pig-sticking hogged the attention of the Raj

Updated on Nov 17, 2022 04:05 PM IST

When pig-sticking hogged the attention of the Raj Over the valley, over the level, Through the dark jungle ride like the devil

In the days of the Raj, pig-sticking was considered by far the best sport to be obtained in India. (SOURCED)
In the days of the Raj, pig-sticking was considered by far the best sport to be obtained in India. (SOURCED)
ByChinmay Damle

When pig-sticking hogged the attention of the Raj

Over the valley, over the level,

Through the dark jungle ride like the devil.

Hark forward! A boar! Away we go!

Sit down and ride straight. Tally ho!

This and such songs were composed and sung during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and celebrated the “sport” of pig-sticking. Pig-sticking was also called “Hog-hunting” in the Bombay Presidency.

In the days of the Raj, pig-sticking was considered by far the best sport to be obtained in India. For anyone fond of a fast gallop over a rough country, and a really good fight with a brave animal at the end of it, the British found it hard to imagine any more exhilarating or fascinating pursuit.

Like fox-hunting in England, which only gained its regular standing as such on the decease of stags in the seventeenth century, pig-sticking, as practiced in India, became recognised only at the beginning of the nineteenth century as a substitute for bear-sticking, which had until then been the most popular sport of Bengal.

The bear was hunted by mounted sportsmen armed with a short, heavy, broad-bladed spear, which was thrown like a javelin; but bears became scarce, and the bear-hunters took to spearing pigs in the same way, and soon found that in the latter beast they had a foe more worthy of their steel.

The wild pig was not to be found all over India. In some parts, the animal did not exist at all, while in others not in sufficient numbers to make it a worthwhile hunt. The best parts of the country for pig-sticking were the low, flat country bordering the Ganges, and the districts near Agra, Allahabad, Calcutta, Kanpur, and Delhi, while in no part of India, probably, were there so many pigs to be found as in the jungle around Mathura. The sport was carried on by tent clubs in all these districts. A tent club was an association of sportsmen of the place for carrying out the preservation of pig and successful hunting.

The Poona Tent Club was most likely the oldest in India and was first instituted at the time of the British occupation in the Peshwa’s days before the Battle of Kirkee. A 36-inch pig was killed by Captain Mowat of the 26th Cavalry in 1910, and that was the largest one mentioned in the records.

The Poona Tent Club, like similar clubs throughout India, had hunted the wild boar on horseback and with spears. In that time the jargon of pig-sticking had remained virtually unchanged: a heat of four riders or spears, mounted on pig-stickers and flanked by a line of beaters, were only allowed to stick boars of a certain height, and never sows or squeakers.

The hunt usually took place in the plains to the east of Poona. The boundary of this hunt on the east was the Bheema River, as far up as its junction with the Ghod River near Shirur (the old Native Cavalry station), above which point the Ghod River was the boundary. The other side of the boundary was hunted by the Ahmadnagar Tent Club.

The pigs were usually found along the Bheema and Mula–Mutha rivers. The most usual centres were Uruli and Yewat stations on the GIP Railway and the Ahmednagar main road. The pigs usually lived in thick patches of prickly pear along the banks of the rivers and were few and far between, and the sounders were very small.

Tent clubs all over India had instituted Cups to make the sport more interesting. The Bheema Cup was run by the Poona Tent Club between 1881 and 1885 and again in 1903, but was discontinued because there were not enough pigs due to frequent famines to run a decent competition. There was also some opposition from landowners, and want of countenance generally. When it was first introduced, it used to be run at a place called Jhiti on the Bheema near Diksal Station on the GIP Railway.

The hogs found near Poona were reputed to have delicious flesh. Pickles, curries, and roasts were devoured for days after the “sport” was over.

Pig-sticking was esteemed the most dangerous sport of all, and time had in no way reduced the risks to life and limb. It could take three bone-shattering miles to ride a single boar into open country where it could be caught and killed. In the hands of a beginner galloping at full stretch, a five-foot hog spear presented as much of a danger to horse and horseman as it did to the hog.

The usual procedure was as follows. A Master and Committee were usually appointed to conduct the affairs of the tent club, the Master being also secretary and treasurer.

The club possessed a mess tent, utensils, and some servants, also a head “Shikari” with perhaps some assistants. Once a week, a meet was held at a place appointed by the Master after consultation with the shikaris. He informed the members of the date and place of the meet, and also of how many days it was intended to last, those who meant to go out were sent on their tents, kits, horses, etc., to the appointed rendezvous, and ride out there themselves the evening before. On arrival, they would see the camp pitched under some trees, or in the shadiest spot available, with the horses picketed in the rear, and the elephants, camels, etc., some little distance to leeward.

A conspicuous object of the camp was the mess tent, where the club “khansamah” would have an excellent dinner ready for the hunting party, as soon as the members had had their baths and were dressed. Some members sent their own tents and horses and made their own way out to the rendezvous on the evening previous to the hunt.

These shikaris and their myrmidons were usually members of the so-called “criminal tribes”, and were good trackers and extraordinarily good in the prickly pear. The usual system was to have men out overnight at the various covers round, who came in to fixed points in the mornings with their reports.

Breakfast would be ordered early, after which the hunters would hack out to the first beat, and try to score as many wild boars as possible.

The team killing the greatest number of their pigs won. Only pigs actually killed were allowed to count. Of course, sows were never hunted except when a pig-sticking “Cup” was being run for. The eventual death of the pig was not, in the initial days, an important consideration. Later, it became the whole aim of the run.

The British thought that pig-sticking was helpful to a considerable degree. Indian nationalists believed that there could be no sympathy between the Indians and the Britons. Any attempt at an alliance was unnatural, many believed. But several government and army officials believed that pig-sticking had shown that, in spite of racial differences, the “white man” and the “Indian” could be mutually good friends and comrades where they had a sport in common.

From the early twentieth century, pig-sticking lost its popularity as a sport and was practiced only as a means to devour meat. That story is for some other time.

Chinmay Damle is a research scientist and food enthusiast. He writes here on Pune’s food culture. He can be contacted at chinmay.damle@gmail.com

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