Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

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was an elk moving in a patch of scrub half a mile away. Between |

him and us was a comparatively open valley running down from the I

high fjeld. The only way to get across unseen was to ascend the ^

back of the ridge on which we were lying. I left Ivor,[and proceeded


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to undertake the stalk alone, the light breeze then blowing up the
valley. As I ascended the ridge — confident, if all went well, of
a fairly easy stalk — suddenly the wind changed, and blew down from
the fjeld. This altered the whole situation. I could not now
ascend and come on to the bull from above and behind. He would
inevitably get my wind. I crawled to the ridge and looked over.
Presently, through my glass, I saw the bull and a cow come out of
the patch of scrub and move slowly along the face of the hill towards
the thicker woods beyond. Then for the first time I saw him well.
What a fine brute he was, and what a grand head he carried ! My
cow of the morning was a mere calf in comparison to his lordly bulk.


and his wide-spread shovel horns formed a trophy I most ardently

There was nothing for it but a prolonged crawl over the sky-line
through a slight hollow in the ridge and then downhill, with a single
birch-tree between the elk and myself. At length, what a relief it
was to stand upright in the hollow below, in the semblance of a man
and not of a reptile ! The bull was restless and moving onwards all
the time. His companion, a young and apparently frivolous cow,
fed on continuously without thought of danger. But her lord and
master was evidently love-sick and uneasy, and kept hustling her
along. I proceeded across the hollow, sheltered by a friendly ridge,
bent and panting, over a wide marsh, round a friendly shoulder, and.

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tu my disappointment, saw the bull was still moving towards the
shelter of the thick forest, and was now a long shot away from a ridg'e
200 yards ahead, whence I hoped to take the shot. I could just see
the bull's horns in some birch-scrub 200 yards beyond the ridge in
question. It was a case of now or never: of a rapid forward move
to get along shot, or perchance to lose my opportunity. For the
evening was drawing on, and if once the bull reached the thick
woods a quiet shot was unlikely.

I bent double and covered the 200 yards to the ridge as quickly
as quiet progress would allow, and crawled up the slope to find that
the bull had gone on another 100 yards, had come out of the birch-
scrub, and was gazing back in my direction. Half-way up the slope
I drew a bead on his broad shoulder, now over 300 yards away. The
position was bad and I could not align my rifle as I wished. Another


crawl of five yards, my heart in my mouth. On the summit of the
ridge I got the position I wanted, drew a full bead right on the top of
his back — the shot was uphill as well as long in distance — and pressed
the trigger. As the smoke of my 500 black-powder Express cleared
away I saw the bull galloping madly down the hill. He vanished &

round the corner and disappeared in the birch-scrub as I gave him M

a snapshot from my second barrel. Then all was still. Ivor, on .>

the skyline half a mile away, had no doubt seen the shot, and possibly *

the sequel. P

So I followed on the tracks of the bull, nervously afraid of the k

result. The chances of the shot were great. I could easily have («

miscalculated the distance and fired under or over. Also the slightest
deviation to right or left might mean a miss or a slight wound and a |^|

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long, and possibly vain, stern chase. Before I had reached the bull's
tracks, the cow appeared on the skyline above, evidently looking for
her lord and master. This looked promising for a kill. Then, to
my surprise, came cheery yells from my rear. I faintly distinguished
something like ** good jagt '* (good hunting). Ivor was not a demon-
strative person, and he was sober when I left him. So I waited for
his arrival and his tale, for I guessed he had seen the bull fall.
Presently he arrived within earshot, told me what he had seen,
and we went on some 400 yards to find the great bull, carrying a
44-inch 13-point head of great strength and beauty, lying stone
dead on the hillside, shot just in front of the heart.

This is what Ivor had seen : The bull had galloped madly for-
ward through the birch-scrub for two or three hundred yards ; had
then reared up on his hind legs and savagely attacked a solitary
birch tree, smashing it to pieces with his hoofs ; had continued to
rear up till he nearly fell over backward ; had recovered himself
and galloped another hundred yards or so, and then suddenly run
round in a circle and fallen stone dead. He was one of the largest
bulls, in body, I have ever killed. Ivor and I could not turn him
over, and it took three horses and four men to bring him home on a
sleigh next day.

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In casting round for an appropriate title for the subject-matter of

this article my first intention was to describe it as ** The Wild

Sports of India." Reflection, however, brought a change of mind,

for whilst being wild in the sense that they are barbarous survivals ,;

of an age of long ago, there are also other sports in India, which, i

though pursued from east to west and from Peshawar in the North

to Cape Comorin in the south, are not sports confined to the arena,

and organised at any moment for the edification and gratification

of native rulers. And following the same line of argument there

are one or two arena sports which it would be libellous to describe

as wild — as, for instance, the ancient art of wrestling. One who has • I

been enabled to watch good native wrestling will surely regard it as M

being less wild and more scientific than the wrestling of our western ^

civilisation which London is wont to afford. An ever-present *J

suggestion of wildness must necessarily be associated with all classes

of shikar after big game. The sportsman who has shot his first ^

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nine- or ten-foot bagh will not like to think that the tiger came to
fall under conditions opposed to a wild environment or circumstances
of danger. In like manner the man who has tilted a good stout
spear at a game pig has experienced some of those rare sensations
that only accompany a wild sport. The term "wild'* is not mis-
used when applied to such fine sports as big-game shooting and
pig-sticking. It is otherwise with the barbarous wildness and passion
for fierce sensations such as are induced by the arena sports con-
ducted in the capitals of certain native rulers in India. They
survive if only to show, as Kipling once remarked, that East is
East and West is West, and *' never the twain shall meet.*'

So little is known in England, and indeed outside of the great
Eastern dependency, of this striking phase of native life that per-
haps no better excuse is necessary for attempting a pen picture.
We are reading a great deal every day of the scenes of Oriental
splendour in the path of the progress made by the Prince and
Princess of Wales ; of the wonderful homage of Maharajahs and
chiefs to the British Raj ; and of the exceedingly Oriental ways of
showing this loyalty. Pomp, pageantry, and picturesqueness are
allied, though they never may be to a greater extent than in the
memorable Delhi Durbar of 1903. When, therefore, we think of
such things, all thoughts of a new order in India are banished. A
truly Indian institution such as sports in the arena will never
vanish so long as such scenes continue to be witnessed as are being
enacted in India at the present time. And yet the old order does
seem to be changing in many respects. Maharajahs are buying motor
cars ; they like them better than gaudily apparelled elephants and
resplendent howdahs. A few of them are visiting Europe, and when
they return they prefer a quieter garb than the blaze of gorgeous
robes and costly jewels. A picturesque characteristic such as the
sports in the arena may, if this new order continues to creep into
the life of the native, be doomed. They will at least die hard, and
while they still flourish on special occasions readers of this maga-
zine may not be altogether uninterested in some details concerning

Instances are many, but let us for the moment turn from what
can be offerel by the arenas at Hyderabad, where the Nizam's
tastes for sport are often as sensational as they are aggressive,
Jeypur, the wonderful ** pearl " city of the fine Rajput Maharajah,
Udaipur, and a host of other capitals of native states that occur to
the memory, and discuss the capital of the Gaekwar of Baroda.
Baroda has furnished its sensations ere to-day in other matters than
those of sport. The present Maharajah, for instance, succeeded a
ruler who was the central figure in a criminal trial on the score that

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he was allef]^ed to have attempted to poison the British Resident.
The mind now goes back to a day not long ago when the young
man who will in the ordinary course succeed to the f^adi was
married. He had been to Oxford University, and yet by reason


of his position as heir to the Gaekwar Maharajah he had to banish
for the time being memories of an Oxford life and go through the
long string of rites, solemn and rigorous ceremonial, and magnifi-
cent pomp of an orthodox Hindu marriage. In a week of festivities
for the entertainment of the Maharajah's European guests and the

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edification of visiting potentates, the Sirdars of State, and repre-
sentatives of the people, not the least important, and certainly not
the least interesting, were the sports in the arena. What preceded
them had probably possessed a more important significance — the
ceremonial processions; the Imperial Service troops in uniforms of
striking colours; the elephants of State, bedaubed and heavily
decorated ; the two famous Baroda guns, one of solid gold mounted
on a carriage of silver, the other of silver mounted on a gilded
carriage, and the serried masses of the people forming a never-
ending background of motion and colour. Each of these phases of
the festivities had its own special attraction and served to demon-
strate the resources of the State; but the sports in the arena were
to show that those old traditions which in their own parallel are
suggested by the sports of the old Romans still survived and were
indeed as cherished as ever. And not a few of the Maharajah's
guests went to the arena on the day of which I write in motor
cars !

The Maharajah may choose to be borne to the arena on one of
the state elephants or in a carriage drawn by a smart pair of
English-bred hackneys. The former is more in keeping with what
is to follow, and so you may see him whom the people salaam the
occupant of a roomy, swaying howdah, glittering with gold and
fashioned at either end with designs in rampant figures. All that
you may see of the elephant is the head and lower part of the legs.
The rest is covered with a huge jhool of scarlet and gold. The
head is painted blue, and on it is a coloured design showing, say,
a swan or a leopard, the swan or the leopard being drawn so that
the elephant's eye becomes the eye of the drawing. How different
is this stately beast, perfectly trained and decorous in its manners,
from the wild elephants that are so soon to fight in the arena ! Even
the very tail-straps o( the jhool are covered with golden bosses.

You pass from the main arteries of the city to more squalid and
meaner streets, and skirting the old palace of Nazar Bagh, where are
kept the wondrous Baroda State jewels worth crores of rupees, you
suddenly pass under the shadow of a great wall. It comes upon
one abruptly, and might almost be the guardian of some prison
inmates. No indication is afforded of what is beyond. A few more
strides and the big gates swing apart. Now, surely, you are in a
strange place, a sort of vast amphitheatre — a large open space
walled in on all sides, a few turret-like buildings of solid stone
dotted about the centre, and openings like doorways in the long
stretches of walls at intervals of about twenty yards separating
them. In one corner of the great arena is a pavilion built up high
Irom its base with a frontage evidently intended to fulfil all the

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purposes of a comfortable — and safe — grand-stand. Here already
are gathered many of the Maharajah's guests, European and native,
and soon the order will be given to let the sports begin. At the
opposite end to that at which you made an entrance is also a heavy
gateway, and beyond that, outside the walls, there is evidently
something of importance attached to the sports. For there is great
animation. The ringmen are moving with as much hurry and
bustle as it is possible for a native of India to show ; the sense of
expectancy is quickened and every nerve set on end by the appear-


ance of these preparations — for what ? Something revolting ? The

idea that something sensational is in store is started by the sight

of throngs of spearmen. They are for the most part in white cupra^

wearing many-coloured puggarees, and carrying long, sharp-pointed

spears. We know that elephants are to fight. Do they fight each ,

other or are they opposed by a whole host of humans ? Presently 'ij

we shall see; but meanwhile there are other arena attendants H

bearing what closely resemble large torches in metal holders. They .^

have evidently not yet received their cues, for they are subdued

and inactive. -

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While still the big gates — opening to we know not what — are
ajar and men are coming and going in swarms, a signal is given for
a start. Like the circus at home, the Maharajah's head showman
makes modest beginnings, and prefers to delay his "star turns." So
the stage carpenters rush forth, and in the course of a few minutes a
square ring has been railed off in front of the Maharajah's stand.
The precision and speed with which the rails are placed in position
and fixed suggest that arena sports are not of infrequent occurrence
at Baroda. A smart corps of British engineers or sappers would
have been proud of the job. There is some shrill shouting — the
native must always make a noise if he is to accomplish anything —
and whole bevies of men, old and young, take their places on either
side of the square. They wear the big puggaree with flowing ends
so characteristic of the Baroda man. Soon, in different parts of
the ring, acrobats, jugglers, and tricksters of all shades and grades
are at work. The forming of pyramids, excellent tumbling, and
exhausting somersaults constitute the repertoire of the acrobats,
and as each troupe ends its turn the members come to the front of
the grand stand and profoundly salaam the Maharajah and his

" Has the burra sahib seen native wrestlers at work?" queries
one of the State dignitaries ; and at that moment a number of
burly natives take their places on either side of the ring, each
squatting tailor-fashion until his time arrives. Then at a word, or
at the signal of the clapping of hands, two big men strip to the waist
and prepare to wrestle. Simultaneously another couple engage
themselves at another end of the big square. One man, I remember,
was very big and seemed to possess a great deal more fat than
muscle, and yet he showed great powers of endurance and secured
a fall after twenty minutes' hard going. His joy was a wonder
to behold, for had he not won beneath the very eyes of the
Maharajah? He ran nimbly to the front of the stand, never
pausing for breath ; and, slapping himself and patting his forehead,
he salaamed and fell prostrate. 1 am not able to say whether
native wrestling is actually governed by a code of rules. Probably
it is, for these wrestlers in the arena at Baroda took the business
seriously and seemed as cautious in defence as they were aggressive
in the attack. So far as I could judge their rules are identical
with what is known in England as the catch-as-catch-can style.
What I wish to emphasise is that their wrestling was in no way
incoherent, but seemed to be governed by intelligent tactics and
sound laws.

While big men were still giving each other a gruelling a string
of fighting rams were led into the arena, each between two keepers.

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All that had preceded their entry revealed little that the average
Anglo-Indian was not already familiar with. The appearance of the
rams was the first sign that animals were to fight on an eJaborate
scale. They were big and heavy enough for the serious business
on hand, but they showed no alarming animation and gave no
anxiety to their attendants. They were of the ordinary Indian
species, possessing full broad foreheads and heavy receding^ horns.
These latter were so placed that they could not possibly do mischief
in the ordinary process of butting. We were soon to discover how
prehistoric man came to call a ram a ram. Two were led into the


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ring, one at either end, so that they approached each other diag-
onally across the square. The clamour of many tongues suddenly-
ceased, and two men, bearing a white sheet of cloth, advanced into
the centre of the ring and held it up so that the rams could not see
each other. Then at a signal the sheet was swifily torn aside — the *\

rams were given their liberty, and seeing each other they raced for ;

the centre with grimly lowered heads. fSif '

One felt a catch of the breath, a tightening at the throat, at that Ij^

moment. There was no time for thought, for when within a few ,**.

yards of each other the rams took a spring into the air so as to gain \

impetus for the first awful butt. With murderous precision their .J

NO. cxxvi. VOL. WW.— January 1906 ^ '


skulls met with a force which sent up a crack heard all over the
arena. I am told this first grand charge is usually the deciding
factor — the knock-out which comes at the cutset instead of the end
— so you may imagine the grim swiftness of this first ram charge.
Both staggered perceptibly, but the heavier suffered the less
amount of recoil, and he returned to the battle. His opponent
was game too, but if he had not actually come by a cracked skull
he must at least have developed a terrible head-ache. In a few
brief moments the butting on both sides grew weaker, and the ring
attendants for the first time betrayed any sentiment when they
separated the fighters and led them away. And so on through a
small flock of burly rams until the unedifying business was ended.
One or two of the beasts were certainly not keen for fight after
engaging in that opening desperate ram at full speed, but not a
single one showed the white feather.

Following the lesser fry of four-footed fighting beasts came
the buffaloes. They were of the species that one might see on
any city maidan in India, yielding milk or used for ploughing or
industrial purposes. Surely this fat and lazy water buffalo was not
capable of strenuous fight ? But these Baroda buffaloes soon banished
any doubt on the point. I have no knowledge of what preparation
they are given immediately preceding arena sports. Perhaps they
are doped ! At any rate, these beasts seemed angry from the first
moment of their entrance. The same formalities as in the case of the
rams were observed. They were hidden from view by means of the
white sheet, which may be seen drawn aside in the illustration,
and then, encouraged by yells and a few sharp spear-prods, they
made for each other and angrily engaged in the first butt. Their
horns are long but laid well back along the slope of the shoulders,
and each strove hard to make the best possible use of them. The
hollow, dull sound of the butts was revolting enough, but it was
positively sickening to listen to the crunching of the horns as they
were torn and twisted. Their demeanour, too, was far wilder than
that of the rams, and had it not been for the rails they would have
carried the fight to the limits of the big arena and away from the
Maharajah's stand. As it was, one young bull seemed to recognise
an old opponent that had thrashed him badly before, and felt that at
all costs he must escape another such punishment. So to the gaping
astonishment of the attendants the bull threw his weight at the
rails rather than face the foe, and, breaking down a passage, he
galloped to the further end of the arena and refused to return.

Would the elephants, too, engage in wholesale murder for the
special delight of the guests ? It was a dread prospect after
witnessing what damage the rams and the buffaloes could do.

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^ arena


Except for hosts of spearmen and torch-besLirers th
emptied. And after a great deal of shouting the form of "^*'** .^^^
elephant suddenly loomed into view through one of th ^^^^t
gateways. His fore legs were free, but the hind legs were sh ^^^^^
together, and attached to the shackles were h uge, cruel w ^^^^
resembling pincers in shape, with long spiked teeth of ^^^^^
So long as these clasped the limbs the great fiathi could ^^^'*
dangerous. A long chain borne by attendants was fast a
the shackles, and, before giving him partial freedom, thy?, a h ^^


pincers were removed. As the chain shackles coupling the hind
legs remained, it will be seen that the movements of the elephant
were still considerably restricted ; but even so he managed to
get over the ground at a surprisingly fast pace. In like manner
a second fighting elephant was introduced to the ring, and so the
two were brought to blows. Hut what followed was certainly less
revolting than the fighting of the rams and buffaloes. They *' pushed
and shoved,*' charged with uplifted trunks to the accompaniment of
sharp cracking trumpetings, and twisted each other savagely by the

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trunk; but, so far as I could see, there was no serious damage
done. Undoubtedly this was due to the restrictions of the chain-
fetters beliind, and under the circumstances it is reasonable to sup-
pose that the big beasts did not relish the fighting. In the case of
one couple the attendants had hard work to goad them even to notice
each other. The means adopted were to prick with the long spears,
or fire off immense firework squibs in the metal torch -bearers.
Then it was that we saw and appreciated the uses of the openings
in the walls and in the turret buildings about the centre ; for
occasionally the irritated elephant would turn on his persecutor and
chase him. A man's only chance of life in such circumstances was
to vanish into an opening and advance so far that the elephant could
not reach him when using the trunk as a lasso. At Hyderabad
they allow elephants to fight with a good stout wall between them,
but perhaps the Baroda plan is the more realistic. As a change
from fighting between two elephants, a man on horseback would
enter the arena and attack the elephant single-handed. His business
was to go so near as to engage the elephant's attention and then
gallop out of its reach. The business of again securing them and
conducting them from the arena is somewhat protracted. A man
more daring than the rest has to watch his chance to run behind
the elephant and place on its legs the crippling pincers. When
once they are on its movements seem paralysed, and safe removal
then becomes a fairly easy matter.

The story of arena sports in India, so far as it applies to one
particular native capital, has been told, and with slight variations
in methods, and perhaps also in daring, it is the same everywhere.
Whether they will be out-distanced and forgotten by the march of
events and lime remains to be seen. For our administration in
India to-day is educating native rulers to a sense of their duties

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 8 of 52)