Friday, 23 August 2013

Courted by Kings and Emperors

There is a controversy raging on about gomal or cattle land in Chitradurga which is being away to certain institutions. Environmentalists, Nature lovers and scholars have called the act of giving away the lands as suicidal to the Amrit Mahal cattle.
What is Amrit Mahal and how did it get its name.
The post here aims to bring out certain lesser known facts about Amrit Mahal.
India has no less than 26 distinct breeds of cattle and they are generally classified into three categories. This classification is based on their utility. The first category is milch, the second is draught and the third is dual purpose.
The Amrit Mahal belongs to the draught category and it has been uniformly acknowledged by Kings and Emperors and even the British and others as the best cattle to be used in times of war and hostilities.
The British classified Amrit Mahal as the finest cattle during the reign in India. The Amrit Mahal is also known as Sultan’s breed and this is in honour of Tipu Sultan who reared them in large numbers.
According to legend, the Amrit Mahal was obtained by Hyder Ali from a Paelgar near Mysore and it was later patronised by his son Tipu Sultan. The breed received special attention from both Hyder and Tipu and they used the cattle extensively in their campaigns.
Historically, Srirangaraya, the Viceroy of Vijayanagar in Srirangapatna, is credited with development of cattle on modern lines when he imported large herds of  Hallikar cattle from Vijayanagar to  breed in Srirangapatna. He called the cattle department Karu Hatti. This was sometime in 1600.  
The British had the first whiff of the breed’s superiority when Srirangapatna fell to them on May 4, 1799 and Tipu was killed in the fourth and final battle of Srirangapatna.
The marauding British soldiers came across large stocks of the breed and the size, shape and bone structure of the massive Amrit Mahal amazed a person no less than Arthur Wellesley. These cattle were looked after by an exclusive department first called Amrit Mahal and then Karen Berek. The British found more than 10,100 Amrit Mahal cattle of the finest breed in Srirangapatna.
When the British returned the Mysore Kingdom to the Wodeyars, the capital was shifted from Srirangapatna to Mysore. The British placed the herd under the care of the Mysore Government and in 1813, the Madras Government took the large herd under its direct control. The Wodeyars renamed the cattle department as Benne Chavadi.
The Commissariat of Madras assumed full powers over the breed though they kept it in Mysore. Initially, Captain Harvey of Madras was kept in charge of the breeding establishment. By 1816, the herd increased in numbers to 14,399  and by 1823 there were more than 28,000 cattle.
For more than five decades, the herd was maintained by the Wodeyars for the British. However, in 1860, the then Governor of Madras, Charles Trevelyan, ordered the sale of cattle. Charles is regarded as the founder of the modern British civil services.
He was the Governor of Madras from 1859 to 1860 and he was the brother-in-law of Thomas Macaulay.  He was recalled to England when he opposed financial reforms proposed by the Calcutta Government.
Charles felt that the British could save money by closing down the establishment. The herds were sold to Indians and the company made a neat profit but this was one of the most short sighted decisions of the Madras Government.
The British soon realised their folly and they once again sought the assistance of the Wodeyars in reestablishing the cattle breeding centre. The gracious Maharaja obliged and in December 1867,  the breeding centre was reestablished with 5935 cattle. Their numbers increased to 9800 by 1871.
The British allowed the Maharaja to station some Amrit Mahal at various places in the Mysore Kingdom so that it could improve the breed. The Mysore Government allotted 208 kavals or pasture grounds for Amrit Mahal and the one at Chitradurga is part of this.   
The Amrit Mahal comprise three varieties: Hallikar,
Hagalvadi and Chitaldroog and the names indicate the places from where the breed originated.
B. L. Rice and other British chroniclers have heaped praise on the peculiar shape and beauty of the head of Amrit Mahal and the symmetry of their form. “They seldom attain an extraordinary height, but in proportion to their size are remarkably deep and wide in the chest, long and broad in the back, round in the barrel, well ribbed up and strong in the shoulder and limb,” says Rice.
The British found the Amrit Mahal to be active, fiery and walk faster than the troops. When Wellesley engaged Napolean in the Eurpoean theatre of war, he was often heard and he has also written letters regretting the lack of Amrit Mahal cattle in the battle field.
The British admired the endurance and strength of the Amrit Mahal. They found that Hyder had often travelled upto 100 miles with these beasts of burden. The British used the breed during the Afghan war where they tirelessly served the Army for upwards of 16 hours.
Coming back to the Amrit Mahal and the British, the Madras Government sent a large number of them to Egypt for service on the Khedive (1867-1914), an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire.
By then, the Mysore Government had set up another breeding centre for Amrit Mahal at Hunsur. The best grazing ground was however in Sillikere in Shimoga and at Hanagad near Hunsur.
Today, the State possesses 63,000 acres of Amrit Kaval land and they are mainly located in the districts of  Chikmagalur, Chitradurga, Davangere, Tumkur, Hassan and Mandya.

By the way, the Wodeyars had set aside a fairly large tract of land in Lalbagh for growing grass which they fed to Amrit Mahal. Today, the grassland is gone and it has been replaced by flowering trees. Is this a sign that the other grasslands will be swallowed up by man and Amrit Mahal would become history.

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