Friday, February 12, 2010
Of Maharajas and Man-eaters
Reading about the hunts of medieval Europe for class reminded me of the stories that my grandpa used to tell me about the various hunts and 'shikars' of the Indian maharajas and their British benefactors during the golden old days of the British Raj in India. India had seen various forms of hunting since old times; the Mughals particularly liked to hunt blackbuck and other gazelles using cheetahs (the Indian Cheetah, now extinct due to over-hunting in British times). Falconry was also an established practice, and hunting falcons were accorded special treatment, including their own attendants and a special diet. The British obviously liked to hunt; in India, they found a formidable adversary that the open plains of East Africa did not have- theRoyal bengal Tiger. Notorious for its strength, ferocity and cunning as well as its penchant for thick forest, the tiger soon became the center of almost all British hunting expeditions. The Indian Princes, or the Maharajas as they were known (and there were plenty of them to be sure) loved to hunt too. Hunting also allowed them a chance to socialize with the British elite, allowing them to cultivate fruitful contacts and curry favor. The tiger hunts in those days were big affairs, complete with elephants to drive the tiger out of the bushes to stone monuments about the nitty-gritties of the hunt and the measurements of the animal killed. These measurements are somewhat of a joke; every British Viceroy to have served in India has claimed to have killed a huge tiger and broken a record, and the means of achieving a record were many a time inaccurate, to say the least. The attendants of the British saheb, in order to keep him happy, would come up with ingenious ways to increase the length of the tiger; E.P. Gee, one of India's first and finest wildlifers and a British ex-pat who preferred to live on in India after the end of the Raj, reports that the measuring tape would even be made to take a tour of the inside of the tiger's nostril to add a few more inches to the 'nose' to 'tail' length. This led to physically impossible records, including one by a particular Viceroy, who is reported to have killed a tiger over 12 feet in length !!