The cannons were taking the advancing cavalry’s portside, the rockets were whistling down on the starboard flank. But a column of horsemen were hotfooting down the middle, hunched to their saddles and shields up against the archers. That’s when a whistle rang out, signalling the release of another fearsome weapon in Tipu Sultan’s arsenal. The ferocious, fleet-footed Rajapalayam—sworn to the take-no-prisoners rule, they went after the enemy like heat-seeking guided missiles. The hounds of war won, their courage delaying awhile the inevitable until Seringapatam.
A century before the Tiger of Mysore unleashed terror on the battlefield with his battalion of Rajapalayams, another illustrious warrior-king harnessed the pawesome power of his Mudhols—the incorruptibly loyal Maratha hounds. The one pet that piqued historians and enlivened bedtime stories is Chhatrapati Shivaji’s rock-climbing monitor lizard, Yashwanti, but it was his canine soldiers who helped him push the frontiers of Maratha supremacy. Somehow, for inexplicable reasons, the exploits of the Mudhols never received the attention accorded to the fabled Sinhagad reptile.
Up north, the rajas and nawabs kept kennels of Rampur Greyhounds to further their debauched aristocratic indulgence of game hunting. The Rajapalayams, the Mudhols, the Rampurs, all designed anatomically to sniff out and run down prey, were the symbols of what a fine breed should be and looks like in medieval India. Well almost, until the new masters of India brought from their cold island home shiploads of pooches and poodles—the fluffiest of furs that even the cutest of pearly, short-coated, pink-nosed Rajapalayam couldn’t match in the cuddly dogma. The royals lost their legatee, and their hounds were spayed, neutered or simply shot, clobbered, poisoned, depending on the amount of sadism in the executioner’s veins.
Those were tumultuous times. The slaughter stopped but the neglect continued for three centuries, so much so that the Tazi of modern-day Maharashtra, a skilled hunter, is near-extinct in India now. As are the Bakharwal watchdogs or Kashmir Mastiff, a cross between a wolf and a Molosser sheepdog, and the Jonangi of the Deccan, perhaps the only fising dog in India and so, a much-reviled creature of the fishermen. Both breeds are racing towards the Rainbow Bridge.
Like they did to all things native, the new masters accorded the Indian dog the status of an outcast; the pariah, the pest. And thus the Indian Pariah was reborn, shedding its long-established names—lendi kutta in the Hindi heartland, the Tamil naatu naai, the Assamese bhotua—to assume the anglicised generic. This ubiquitous mongrel, genetically engineered over centuries by the tropics, hardy and disease-free, the common man’s best friend, serviced the lonely, lovesick British expatriate mutts and spawned generations of cross-bred litters. Their descendents rule our roads today.
Some of the finest hounds survived the dogicide, in pockets such as the Karnataka countryside where the Mudhol, also called Caravan, became a much-loved pet. The tall and elegant Mudhol is a sight-hound with incredible speed, a big heart, exceptional stamina and physical endurance. Most importantly, like any Indian breed, the Mudhol is at home in the harsh tropical climate. These lithe, sinewy hounds are one of the healthiest dogs. It is said that their eyesight is so sharp they can see what’s behind them without turning their head. Today, the Mudhol guards the lofty Himalayas with the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police, while the majestic Rajapalayam is enlisted with the army. “The Mudhol is the first Indian breed to join the force (ITBP introduced it in 2018), though there are only a few in the squad. They are being trained,” says an ITBP officer who doesn’t wish to be named.
The Indian breeds are capturing the affections of the military as well as seeing the resurgence in popularity as a family pet. Adopting and promoting the desi, or Indie in 21st-century parlance, is the latest fad among many people such as graphic designer Ishleen Singh of Delhi. The ‘maharani’ of Singh’s home is Shanti, a Pandikona, another Deccan darling known for its territorial instincts, guard dog qualities. Shanti is a drama queen, an incorrigible attention-seeker, and demands a different meal every time. “A spoilt brat, we call her maharani. Her vet calls her Katrina Kaif because of her diva-like moves,” says Singh, who rescued her from a hit-and-run when she was two months old. “There were no serious injuries, but she was cold and frail. I used to take Shanti to my college in my gym bag. She enjoyed the attention of my classmates and teachers.”
If there is one dog that has received more stick than all the Indian breeds combined, it has to be the short, stout and robust Pariah—the loopy one that the snooty, upwardly mobile dog lover kicks or throws a stone at when it appears within sniffing distance of her Shih Tzu pup in a public park. Well, not all of them. Baloo lives with animal welfare campaigner Chetna Joshi of Delhi, who rescued him in 2015 from unimaginable human cruelty. Baloo’s mother was thrown to her death from a ninth-floor terrace. Joshi had a Labrador Retriever before Baloo the Pariah, but she lost him to epilepsy when he was three because of breeding complications.
Disease and death of their beloved foreign breeds are the common denominators in the pet-owners’ shift to the Indies. Here’s why. Desis have a solid immune system because they don’t have any inbreeding-related disorders such as hip dysplasia. They are highly intelligent, unfalteringly faithful, doggedly vigilant, positively social, easily trained, fiercely territorial, and instinctively excellent guards. They are strong as they have naturally evolved in India. Most of all, according to veterinarian Satinder Puri, there is no specific dietary requirement for Indian breeds. They survive well on Indian food and possess a higher food conversion ratio—a small quantity is efficiently utilised. “They are modest eaters and rarely overeat. That means fewer obesity cases and lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cardiac diseases and arthritis in old age. Besides, a right diet ensures Indian dogs do not smell, unlike pedigrees.”
The smell is refreshing in the Indian dog-verse as more people are turning to the low-maintenance Indie. The Delhi-based Canis Welfare Pet Club hosts dog shows primarily to spread awareness about Indian varieties. “The main aim is to promote our rich Indian breeds and strays. Adoption gives them a chance to have a happy home and a shield against the brutality outside,” says veterinarian Vijay Kumar, an organiser of the event. For activist Joshi and her friends, it’s time to promote the Indian breeds for adoption by foreigners. “Imagine our breeds flying to their adoptive homes abroad. We believe breeding should be discouraged and adoption of Indies encouraged.”
There are only some commercial breeders of Indian dogs who hardly manage to find a paw in the market where the clientele still carries the colonial snob value of a non-native quadruped with a wagging tail. Purebred desis are hard to find these days, even the Pariah in the cities have mixed ancestry. But the crumb trail leads to patches untouched by the pug’s pugmarks—such as a Gond village in Bastar—where the Pariah thrives with untainted genes and his master understands his snuffs, grunts and barks, every twitch of the ears, every wag of the tail.
The Home Breed Price Tags
Prices vary depending on the look and fitness of the dogs
- 10k - 50k Rampur Hounds
- 35k - 1.5l Tazi Hound
- 10k - 20k Barnkasaari
- 20k - 50k Caravan
- 15k - 50k Himalayan Shepherd
- 80k - 5l Himalayan Mastiff
- 40k - 10l Bully Kutta
- 7000 Rajapalayam