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Sunday, June 27, 1999
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A forgotten sport
By Manohar Malgonkar

ARMY officers’ messes possess massive silver trophies which are looked upon with reverence, almost as though they were heirlooms. In some of our ex-Cavalry officers’ messes, this hoard of silver includes cups won at polo or pigsticking.

Polo or what?

Pigsticking. It was a blood-sport of the Raj — blood sport at its bloodiest; a one-to-one contest, if that is the word, between the hunter and his quarry. The hunter was an able-bodied man riding a trained horse and carrying a nine-foot-long spear: he hunted a pig, terrified, squealing, running for life, and, rarely, turning around to make a blind charge at its pursuer.

Oh, what fun!

In the middle ages, that was how the warrior clans of Rajasthan foraged for meat. They chased wild pigs on horseback and speared them to death. They then indulged in orgies of meat-eating since there was no way of preserving meat — hogged on hogs, as it were.

The sahibs who ruled India took to pigsticking like ducks to water, and in no time at all, transformed it into a ‘sport’; meaning that they framed rules for competition. There were pigsticking ‘meets’ at which teams competed. Sows with piglets were not to be chased. There were ‘umpires’ to ensure that the rules were observed. Why, there was even a ‘Lords’ and ‘Wimbledon’ of pigsticking! The annual Kadir Cup Meet at Meerut.

There was a time, coinciding with the high noon of the Empire — from the coronation of Queen Victoria to the declaration of the Second World War — when pigsticking, along with polo and horse-racing, became the sport of princes, if only for the starkly practical reason that, to be able to participate in it you either had to own a horse or belong to a cavalry regiment — and also, if you could, with impunity, ride across the country without hindrance which only a sahib could do anywhere on the subcontinent and a maharaja in his domain.

Of one of these maharajas, Sir Kenneth Fitze, who was an officer of the Raj’s Foreign and Political Service has, in his memoirs, The Twilight of the Maharajas written:

"The far-famed (sic) Indian sport of pigsticking also found favour in one or two states. The Rajput nobles of Jodhpur were notable exponents of it; but, undoubtedly, the most skilled and indefatigable of Princely pigstickers was the Maratha Maharaja of Dewas, Senior."

The Maharaja referred to was my friend Shahaji Chhatrapati of Kolhapur who had earlier been the Maharaja of Dewas. He and I were about the same age and had been friends since our college days — till his death in the mid-eighties. It was in Dewas, on the horses from his stable that I learned to ride, and it was by his invitation that I attended what must have been one of the last pig-sticking ‘meets’ of its type, put on by one rich Maharaja, that of Kolhapur, to entertain an even richer fellow Maharaja, Yeshwantrao Holkar, of Indore.

This was in the mid-thirties. In those days, like other princely domains, the entire territory of the Kolhapur state was the exclusive hunting preserve of its maharajas. What was more, its entire area was positively alive with wild life. You merely had to drive out to the outskirts of the town to get a glimpse of long lines of blackbucks grazing in the plains, and the folds of the low hills which were thickly covered with shrubbery, harboured an astonishing number of wild pigs.

That day a veritable army of beaters must have been given the task of driving the pigs out of their hiding places by making loud noises. Once they broke out they made a beeline for the next fold in the valley at a brisk trot. The sport consisted of chasing them on horseback while they were running through the open country and killing them with spears. Invited guests like myself and almost anyone who cared to come watched the proceedings from nearby hilltops.

One of the finer points of the game was that the pig you chase had to be the biggest one in a sounder, meaning herd, and had to be one with tushes, which are curling teeth protruding from its snout. The chase did not begin till the sounder had been given a few minutes start, and then hunters in ones and twos galloped after them. Here is a note of guidance for a ‘meet’ held in the year 1807, as given in a manual called Oriental Field Sports.

"The attack should be commenced by the horseman who may be nearest, pushing on to his (the pigs?) left side, into which the spear should be thrown so as to lodge between the shoulder blades."

But this practice of ‘throwing’ a spear at a pig was later thought to be unsporting, and ‘feminine’. By the time I, if only as a spectator, became introduced to the sport, it had gained considerably in ma-sculinity. Now the pigs were to be done to death by thrusting the points of spears into their sides while chasing them at full gallop, and the ultimate skill was to take on the charge of a pig which turned around in its tracks and came to attack the rider. To facilitate this process, the spears that were now in use were nine feet long.

As in tiger shooting, a pigsticking ‘kill’ was credited to the ‘spear’ meaning the rider, who had drawn first blood, meaning inflicted a wound. In the language of the sport, an association of pigsticking enthusiasts became a Tent Club, and the manual that assiduously published the records of all the Tent Clubs in the country was The Hog Hunters’ Annual. It had pride of place in the sahib clubs and cantonment libraries. The sport had its own artist, Snaffles, whose sketches regularly appeared in the Empire’s periodicals. The secret ambition of every serious hog hunter was to win the Kadir.

The Kadir. It was an event of imperial sumptuousness, resembling a circus, complete with as many as a score or so of elephants, which were used as ‘stands’ from which the umpires could monitor and judge performances.

That day of the Maharaja’s pigsticking ‘meet’ near Kolhapur, we were treated to some spectacular feats of horsemanship as the hunters galloped after their quarries and jumped over fences and nullahs, with the excitement mounting as the rider came within striking distance and plunged his spear and extracted it too while riding full tilt and held it high as he rode on, its point dripping with blood. Then he would make a tight turnaround and slowly canter over to the spot where the pig lay still or thrashing its legs, to pose for the photograph which would appear in London’s Tatler or Sphere in a month’s time.

In one of its issues Field the very voice of Britain’s hunting-fishing nobility had a full-page photographs of the Maharaja of Kolhapur and the caption described him as one of India’s champion pigstickers.

True, he had killed more wild pigs with the spear than anyone else. The real ‘champion’ of pigsticking was the winner of the Kadir Cup. And my friend with his other obligations of rulership, had not been able to enter his team for the Kadir and was going to make a determined bid to win it in 1939.

Alas, that particular Kadir was never held. By the time winter came, the Second World War had been declared. India’s Cavalry regiments which had formed the very blood-bank of the sport of pigsticking were mobilised almost overnight. And that killed the sport. It died unlamented, except by the handful of its devotees, almost a whole decade before the Empire itself folded up. Only some overweight and highly polished silver pots stand as memorial to a sport which, to its devotees made "everything else poor stuff after that," as Daniel Deronda wrote to a friend in 1876, or again, as my friend Shahaji Maharaj, wrote to me during his visit to Spain: "Bullfighting is tame stuff when compared to our pigsticking."Back

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