Why should I write about Horses? Have I lost my horse sense? Neither have I owned a horse, nor a pony, nor even a donkey! But knowingly or unknowingly, horses have touched my life since childhood. In India, since time immemorial, horses have had a great impact on our social and religious life.
The odd toed ungulate (hoofed mammal) horse is believed to have its evolutionary origin in the Indian Subcontinent. According to historians, the horse did not have a big role in Harappan civilization but it played an important role in the following Vedic age (1500-500 BCE). The Sanskrit word ‘Ashva’ finds mention in Vedas and Hindu scriptures. The Sun God is said to traverse on a chariot drawn by seven horses which number could represent the seven days of the week. In our great epics Ramayanam and Mahabharatham there are references to horse. In Ramayan, the horse sent out on Ashvamedha yagna by Lord Ram is challenged by His twin sons Lav-Kush; in Mahabharath, Lord Krishna is the charioteer (sarathy) for Partha (Arjuna), hence called Parthasarathy. The cavalry division was one of the four divisions of the army from the times of the epics. With the advent of canons and battle tanks, not only the cavalry but also the elephant and chariot divisions lost their relevance; these days the ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles) rule the war theatre.
If we want solid proof, our National Emblem, the Lion Capital of Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BCE), who had embraced Buddhism, has a horse at its base. The Khandagiri Caves near Bhubaneswar (1st century BCE), where Jain monks lived, has sculptures of horses, even flying horses! In the Greek epic, Trojan Horse played a major role in the victory of Greeks against the Trojans; it was a huge hollow wooden horse concealing Greek warriors to stealthily gain entry into Troy. So much so that ‘Trojan horse’ has come to mean subversion introduced from outside. Now, in the computer era, it refers to stealthy malware in computers! Equally dangerous is the Chess horse piece. It is a cheeky coin that gallops in ‘L’ fashion and could simultaneously pose danger to as many as eight pieces of the opponent. So I try to eliminate my opponent’s both the horses, even sacrificing my own horses.
The aam aadmi’s humble Tonga (horse carriage) vanished with the advent of cycle rickshaws and then the auto-rickshaws, but Kolkata still has the hand-pulled rickshaws despite the Communists ruling for seven consecutive terms (1977-2011)! Now, horses play only a ceremonial role in Rashtrapati Bhavan events, weddings, temple functions, etc. At this point I remember the three horses that are brought in at the time of the Pang Lhabsol ceremony in Sikkim. In most of the temple functions in Tamil Nadu, the deity rides on a horse mount besides other mounts. During my wedding eve, my father-in-law did not arrange a horse for the ‘baarath’ perhaps fearing that I would gallop away before the wedding. Instead, I was seated in a car that was stuffed with eager kids all around so that I would not escape.
In Tamil language, horse is commonly called ‘kuthirai’, though it has other literary names such as pari, puravi, etc. In Malayalam also it is called kuthira (In Thiruvananthapuram there is a palace called Kuthira Maalika because of the more than 100 wooden wall brackets carved like horses). In Karnataka there is Kudremukh hill (horse-faced hill). In Telugu, however, it is gurram.
Speaking of horses, one can’t miss the twin horse statue in Konark Sun Temple of Odisha. It is such a masterpiece that a stamp was issued on 15th Aug. 1949 itself. This is the State Emblem of Odisha Government. While one of these horses is in fairly good condition the other is much damaged. A beautiful small stone replica of this horse is in my collection besides horses in different materials and in different poses, but about them separately. While people were much attracted by the galloping horse paintings of MF Hussain, he himself felt otherwise. It was surprisingly shocking and shockingly surprising to see a pair of horses tilling the land in Majuli Island of Assam.
As a little boy I had valiantly rode the wooden rocking horse imagining myself to be a mighty king with a sword (stick). Much later it was a real horse on the sands of Marina Beach in Chennai and a pony ride along the lake in the hill station of Kodaikanal; my bums pained for the whole day after that and could not help empathising & sympathising with the horse soldiers. The job of jockeys must be a painful one, I realised. But my desire to watch a horse race that is held in Chennai & Ooty (Nilgiri mountains) still remains a dream. The Guindy horse race course in Chennai, a British legacy, is the oldest since 1777! Banning the horse race in 1974, the DMK government pompously erected a twin statue of a man reining the horse but the court ruled it otherwise and horse race resumed after four years. The statues remain a humbug showpiece, a dummy, like the dummy horse folk dance of Tamil Nadu.
Of all the horse-related proverbs, the one about ‘closing the stable after the horse has bolted’ is indeed famous. In Tamil also there are a few – Not only did the horse pull down the rider but also dug a pit to push him inside; Like riding on a mud horse into the river; As if a horse got horns! This could as well remind Unicorn.
The most important role of horses is yet to come. It is said that the tenth avatar of Lord Maha Vishnu, Lord Kalki, would appear riding a horse!
Now, let me reveal a secret – Some time back I read that Dec. 21 was International Horses Day. When I rechecked now, I could not confirm it. However, Dec. 13 is observed as National Horse Day in the USA. So let us salute the galloping horse for its contribution to humankind in various fields.[email protected]
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