Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mughals, pigeons and Darwin

by Salman Hameed

We didn't have pigeons when I was growing up in Pakistan. But I remember (granted that it is a somewhat foggy memory) that some of my relatives did have "pet" pigeons on the roof of their house. The use of carrier pigeons is also mentioned in numerous stories in Urdu literature. And totally unrelated to Pakistan, I also enjoyed Jim Jarmusch's brilliant film, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, where a mafia hit man (played by Forrest Whitaker) communicated with the mafia mostly via carrier pigeons (oh - and he lived his life following his interpretation of the code of the Samurai. But I digress). Well, here is a fascinating Asian and African Studies blog post about the Moghul obsession with pigeon keeping:
In the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.”
And not just that, you also have a book of poems dedicated to pigeons (kabutar in Persian and also in Urdu):
One of the most visually attractive items in the exhibition ‘Mughal India’ is ‘The book of
pigeons’ (kabūtarnāmah) by Sayyid Muḥammad Mūsavī whose poetical name was Vālih. This work consists of a poem of 163 couplets, followed by a short prose treatise explaining the different types of pigeons, their colours and characteristics, and the art of pigeon-flying. It was written, as a gesture of friendship, for one Miyān Khūban who asked for an elegantly written account of pigeon flying.
Darwin knew about these pigeons and sought information about them:
Charles Darwin (1809-82) was himself a keen pigeon fancier and set up a breeding loft at his home in the village of Downe, Kent. In the course of his research he corresponded with Sir Walter Elliot (1803-1887) a naturalist and ethnologist working in the Madras Civil Service. Darwin knew about Abu’l-Fazl’s chapter on pigeons (see Darwin and Elliot’s correspondence 1856-59): "I should mention that I have heard that such exist in the Ayin Akbaree in Persian (I know not whether I have spelt this right) but as this work is translated I can consult it in the India House [i.e. India Office Library, now part of the British Library collections!]". Elliot supplied Darwin with skins of various birds from India and Burma in 1856 and also sent him an English translation of Sayyid Muḥammad Mūsavī’s treatise which Darwin referred to twice in The variation of animals and plants under domestication. London: John Murray, 1868 (vol. 1 pp.141 and 155).
Read the full post here.
In the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.” - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dpufIn the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.” - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dpufIn the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.” - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dpuf
One of the most visually attractive items in the exhibition ‘Mughal India’ is ‘The book of pigeons’ (kabūtarnāmah) by Sayyid Muḥammad Mūsavī whose poetical name was Vālih. This work consists of a poem of 163 couplets, followed by a short prose treatise explaining the different types of pigeons, their colours and characteristics, and the art of pigeon-flying. It was written, as a gesture of friendship, for one Miyān Khūban who asked for an elegantly written account of pigeon flying. - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dp
One of the most visually attractive items in the exhibition ‘Mughal India’ is ‘The book of pigeons’ (kabūtarnāmah) by Sayyid Muḥammad Mūsavī whose poetical name was Vālih. This work consists of a poem of 163 couplets, followed by a short prose treatise explaining the different types of pigeons, their colours and characteristics, and the art of pigeon-flying. It was written, as a gesture of friendship, for one Miyān Khūban who asked for an elegantly written account of pigeon flying. - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dpuf
In the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.” (Blochmann’s translation, see below).  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dpuf
In the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.” (Blochmann’s translation, see below).  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dpuf
In the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.” (Blochmann’s translation, see below).  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dpuf
In the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.” (Blochmann’s translation, see below).  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dp
In the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.” (Blochmann’s translation, see below).  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dpuf
In the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.” (Blochmann’s translation, see below).  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dpuf
In the Āʼīn-i Akbarī (‘Akbar’s regulations’), Abu’l-Fazl devotes a whole section (Book 2, Āʼīn 29) to amusements which include pigeon-flying (ʻishqbāzī), breeding and the different colours of the royal pigeons. Altogether there were estimated to be more than 20,000 pigeons at Akbar’s court, but only 500 were select (khāṣṣah). When the emperor moved camp, the pigeons were taken as well, with bearers carring their portable dovecotes. Pigeons were trained to do quite complicated manoevres: the wheel (charkh) “a lusty movement ending with the pigeon throwing itself over in a full circle” and turning somersaults (bāzī). A select pigeon could perform 15 charkhs and 70 bazis in one session. Although ordinary people were amused by pigeon flying, His Majesty, Abu’l-Fazl writes, “uses the occupation as a way of reducing unsettled, worldly-minded men to obedience, and avails himself of it as a means productive of harmony and friendship.” (Blochmann’s translation, see below).  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/02/pigeon-keeping-a-popular-mughal-pastime.html#sthash.uMiacjxk.dpuf

4 comments:

Shahidul Hoque said...

Interesting article, indeed.

Adding something FYI.

In Bangladesh, there is one subspecies of Pigeon, called Jalali Kobutaar, in English Rock Dove or Rock Pigeon (Columba livia).

In 1301, one sufi saint named, Shah Jalal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shah_Jalal), travelled from Yemen to Indian subcontinent for preaching Islam and meet with another famous sufi saint, Nizamuddin Auliya (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nizamuddin_Auliya) in Delhi. Nizamuddin Auliya was pleased to the new sufi and gave him a pair of pigeons. Later on, this sufi saint, Shah Jalal, came to Sylhet, one of the major cities in present Bangladesh and resided there along with his own shrine.

After coming to his shrine, he freed the pigeons to open sky. But after a while the pigeons came back to there and lived in the shrine. This pair of pigeons had made a lot of generations and now in present day thousands of pigeons are now living there and other parts of the country. A lot pigeons are still living in the shrine.

As thousands of people were came to the light of Islam in Bengal i.e., early Bangladesh by the preaching of sufi Shah Jalal and his disciples, his name has special spiritual significance to the people of Bangladesh. The main airport of the country is named by his name. Besides, in every election, the Prime Minister candidates start their pre-election campaign by visiting his shrine.

However, for this historical reason, along with the spiritual significance of Shah Jalal, the pigeon species that he bought with him and later on named by his name, became another sacred meaning.

People of Sylhet believes this pigeon is the deposit of Shah Jalal to them and they should save this species so that it doesnt become extinct. They feed this pigeons for free. If any free pigeon travels anywhere in the country and make nest to an unknown house, people dont let them to go away. They try to feed them. It's a sign of bringing peace and tranquility to the house.

There are a lot of sufi and folk songs in Bengali language on this pigeons. A modern adaption was made by a prominent singer in Bangladesh named Salma, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_s7KNGFU4kg

Salman Hameed said...

Thanks for adding this info. One of the sufi saints in Karachi has crocodile as his animal - and so now there are very well-fed and lazy crocodiles near his shrine. As you can imagine, this is also a great attraction for kids.

Bruce Katlin said...

Salman,

Great blog!

Do you know where/how I can read an English translation of Sayyid Muḥammad Mūsavī's pigeon poems?

Thank you!

Salman Hameed said...

Thanks Bruce. I haven't seen an english translation Musavi's pigeon poems. But I am sure they exist...