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Hunters and Hunting in the Decorations of Temples of West Bengal

Dr. A K Chatterjee is a seasoned writer with more than 330 blogs in English and Bengali and 10 books mostly on travel, trekking and temples.

Tiger hunting; terracotta bas-relief; Charbangla temple, Baronagar, Murshidabad

Tiger hunting; terracotta bas-relief; Charbangla temple, Baronagar, Murshidabad

Introduction

Hunting is the practice of killing any living thing, usually wildlife, for various reasons like :-

i) Obtaining food for self or family;

ii) Trading of fur, horns, bone & meat;

iii) Saving fellow human beings (one example is the hunting of man-eater tigers).

iv) Conservation of the ecosystem;

v) Recreation or sports.

Accordingly, hunting has been categorized into 3 basic types :

  1. Subsistence hunting;
  2. Therapeutic hunting.
  3. Sport hunting.

(Ref : “Types of hunting - Tourism teacher”; https://tourismteacher.com)

Hunting has a long history and may well pre-date the appearance of man on earth .There is evidence that ancestors of modern man practiced hunting, chiefly for food - many prehistoric rock paintings show men in hunting.

Weapons used for hunting includes a variety of articles, starting from the stone-made weapons of the Paleolithic man to guns & other firearms of the present day, with bows & arrows, spears, swords & daggers in between.

While pursuing the game animals, man has utilized many vehicles like chariots, carts etc. & many animals as mount, like horses & elephants.

Man has taken the help of many animals too for hunting; the most common & important among them is the dog. Different breeds of dogs, especially hounds, were & still are, used as an aid to the hunter to find, chase, and retrieve game, and sometimes to kill it.

Pre-historic rock paintings showing men with spears on horseback; Bhimbethka, Madhya Pradesh, KIndia

Pre-historic rock paintings showing men with spears on horseback; Bhimbethka, Madhya Pradesh, KIndia

Hunter on horseback; terracotta; Ramchandra temple, Guptipara, Hooghly

Hunter on horseback; terracotta; Ramchandra temple, Guptipara, Hooghly

Hunting in India

Hunting was an honorable activity in India from the very early period, as evident by the fact that gods & mythological figures are described to be engaged in hunting. Lord Shiva, one of the Trinities of Hinduism, has a name Mrigavyadha meaning “the deer hunter”, thus glorifying the act of hunting. The Kings & princes of the two great Hindu epic Ramayana & Mahabharata were also described as expert hunters.

Later, during the feudal and colonial times hunting was regarded as a regal sport in India, & the kings & princes were involved in hunting in a big way. Mughal emperors were avid hunters. It is said that firearms were introduced in hunting scenario in India during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (1556 - 1605 CE).

There were professional hunters in their pay roll called Shikaris. The tradition was continued in the British period as the British loved & encouraged hunting.

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All hunting in India is prohibited now under the Wild Life Protection Act 1972.

Pre-historic cave painting showing a huge bison with few men, possibly hunters; Bhimbethka; Madhya Pradesh, India

Pre-historic cave painting showing a huge bison with few men, possibly hunters; Bhimbethka; Madhya Pradesh, India

Rama killing Maricha the demon in the guise of deer; Ramayana story; terracotta; Vishnu temple; Joypur, Bankura

Rama killing Maricha the demon in the guise of deer; Ramayana story; terracotta; Vishnu temple; Joypur, Bankura

Indian hunter (Shikari) on horse; terracotta; Lakshmi Janardan temple; Debipur, Purva Bardhaman

Indian hunter (Shikari) on horse; terracotta; Lakshmi Janardan temple; Debipur, Purva Bardhaman

European hunter on horseback; terracotta; Gopinath temple; Dashghara, Hooghly

European hunter on horseback; terracotta; Gopinath temple; Dashghara, Hooghly

Ritualistic hunting in West Bengal

A great ritualistic hunting festival takes place in the western districts of southern West Bengal (mainly Purulia, Jhargram, West Medinipur and Bankura) annually on 13th April. Tribal communities armed with bows and arrows, spears, axes, swords, knives, nets and traps ritually hunt animals like fishing cats, jackals, foxes, wolves, wild boars and several bird species.

Though hunting in any form is completely banned in India, this ritualistic hunting is still going on despite all efforts to stop it by the Government.

Hunting in temple decoration in Bengal

As the temples were constructed by the local landlords & rich merchants, & as it was fashionable to be involved in hunting, it was inevitable that the artists would be encouraged to put hunting scenes in the temple art, either directly by the patrons paying for it, or by the fact that it was an attractive subject for their work. For this reason, the medieval temples in Bengal have a rich collection of hunting scenes, mostly in terracotta, but also in other medium like stucco, stone and painting.

We’ll now discuss about this interesting subject viz. “Hunting in temple decoration of West Bengal”.

Objective of the study

The objective is to analyze the different hunting scenes present in different temples of West Bengal.

Materials and method

Pictures of hunting were collected from 28 temples of different districts of West Bengal by the author who travelled personally to and photographed extensively the temples mentioned.

(A list of the temples in the present series is given in the Appendix).

These photographs were then searched and the hunting scenes were segregated and analyzed.

Scheme of study

The discussion will be under following headings :

  1. Medium of art.
  2. Hunters
  3. Mounts used by the hunters
  4. Weapons used
  5. Dogs and other animals used as hounds.
  6. Games or the animals hunted.
  7. Miscellaneous, which includes the method of carrying dead animals and dangers faced by the hunters during hunting.
  8. Any negative findings (what is not there).

Medium of art in temple decoration

The vast majority of the pictures used for temple decoration in Bengal is Bas-relief of terracotta plaques, but other media like stucco, stone-work and wood-carving are also seen.

Hunter in terracotta bas-relief; Jorbangla temple; Vishnupur, Bankura

Hunter in terracotta bas-relief; Jorbangla temple; Vishnupur, Bankura

Hunting scene; stone carving; Shiva temple; Ganpur, Birbhum

Hunting scene; stone carving; Shiva temple; Ganpur, Birbhum

Tiger hunters; carving on wooden door; Shiva temple; Bankati-Ajodhya; Paschim Bardhaman

Tiger hunters; carving on wooden door; Shiva temple; Bankati-Ajodhya; Paschim Bardhaman

Hunters

Though the vast majority of hunters depicted in hunting scenes in the temples of the present series are native Indians, there are some European hunters too.

Some examples of the latter can be seen in Gopinath temple of Dashghara, district Hooghly (AD), Radhakrishna temple of Ula-Birnagar, district Nadia (AD) and Krishnachandraji temple of Kalna, district Purva Bardhaman (AD).

Indian Hunter; terracotta; Raghunath Shiva temple; Ghurisha, Birbhum

Indian Hunter; terracotta; Raghunath Shiva temple; Ghurisha, Birbhum

European hunters; terracotta; Radha Krishna temple, Ula-Birnagar, Nadia

European hunters; terracotta; Radha Krishna temple, Ula-Birnagar, Nadia

Mounts used by the hunters

Hunters are depicted either on foot, or on some mounts. However, vehicles like chariot or cart are not found in hunting scenes in this series.

A. Hunters on foot can be seen in Nabaratna Shiva temple of Panchthupi, district Murshidabad; Radhakrishna temple of Ula-Birnagar, district Nadia; Ramchandra temple of Guptipara, district Hooghly; Charbangla temple of Baronagar, district Murshidabad, Krishnachandraji temple of Kalna, district Purva Bardhaman etc.

In the last mentined temple, there is a scene where European soldiers on foot are hunting a tiger with lance or spear.

B. Hunters on mounts :

Two animals as mounts of hunters are depicted in different temples - horse (mainly) and elephant.

i) Horse : Horses are depicted in majority of hunting scenes as the mount of the hunters, signifying that horses were the preferred mount for hunting at those time. Examples can be found in a large number of temples including Rajrajeshwar temple of Dwarhatta, district Hooghly, Radhakrishna temple of Ula-Birnagar, district Nadia; Charbangla temple of Baronagar, district Murshidabad ; Gopinath temple of Dashghara, district Hooghly, Lakshmi Janardan temple of Debipur, district Purva Bardhaman; Dolmancha of Talchinan, district Hooghly; Ramchandra temple of Guptipara, district Hooghly; Raghabeshwar temple of Dignagar, district Nadia; Jorbangla temple of Vishnupur, district Bankura etc.

ii) Elephant : Elephants as mounts of hunters can be seen in some temples. Examples are Rajrajeshwar temple of Dwarhatta, district Hooghly, Ananta basudeva temple of Bansberia, district Hooghly; Gangeshwar temple of Baronagar, district Murshidabad; Ramchandra temple of Guptipara, district Hooghly; Raghunath Shiva temple of Ghurisha, district Birbhum etc.

European hunters on foot; Krishnachandraji temple; Kalna, Purva Bardhaman

European hunters on foot; Krishnachandraji temple; Kalna, Purva Bardhaman

Indian hunter on foot; Pancharatna Shiva temple; Panchthupi; Murshidabad

Indian hunter on foot; Pancharatna Shiva temple; Panchthupi; Murshidabad

Hunter on horseback; Dolmancha; Talchinan, Hooghly

Hunter on horseback; Dolmancha; Talchinan, Hooghly

Hunter on elephant; Banbishalakshi temple; Purushottampur, Hooghly

Hunter on elephant; Banbishalakshi temple; Purushottampur, Hooghly

Weapons used

The following weapons are depicted in the hunting scenes of the present series :

1) Spear or Lance : This was perhaps the most favored weapon of the hunters, as it was depicted in almost all the temples.

Hunters are seen using spear riding horses, riding elephants and while hunting on foot. Animals like tiger, lion, bear and deer are all shown being hunted by spears.

These can be seen in temples like :

a) Hunter on foot carrying Lance or spear : Nabaratna Shiva temple of Panchthupi, district Murshidabad (2 scenes); Krishnachandraji temple of Kalna, district Purva Bardhaman etc.

In the last mentioned temple, there is a scene where European soldiers on foot are hunting a tiger with lance or spear.

b) Hunter on horse : Gopinath temple of Dashghara, district Hooghly, Lakshmi Janardan temple of Debipur, district Purva Bardhaman; Dolmancha of Talchinan, district Hooghly, Ramchandra temple of Guptipara, district Hooghly; Raghabeshwar temple of Dignagar, district Nadia; Siva temple of Bankati-Ajodhya, district Paschim Bardhaman (this is an example of hunting scene in wood carving) etc.

c) Hunters on elephant with spear : This can be seen in temples like Ananta Basudeva of Bansberia, district Hooghly and Rajrajeshwar temple of Dwarhatta, district Hooghly.

2) Sword :

Sword is the second most common hunting weapon depicted in the decorations of Bengal temples. Animals hunted by sword in this pictures include tiger and lion. Deer, being very fast runners, are very difficult to hunt by sword, and are thus logically excluded.

Sword is shown to be used by :

a) Hunters on foot with swords : This is seen from hunting scene in Ramchandra temple of Guptipara, district Hooghly.

b) Hunter on elephant with sword : this can be seen in Raghunath Shiva temple, Ghurisha, district Birbhum.

c) Hunters on horse with sword : This can be seen in several temples, some of which are Ramchandra temple of Guptipara, district Hooghly; Shiva temple of Supur, district Birbhum; Radha Krishna temple of Ula-Birnagar, district Nadia; Charbangla temple of Baroinagar, district Murshidabad; Gopinath temple of Dashghara, district Hooghly etc.

3) Dagger :

Though daggers, being short in length, are not suitable for hunting, yet there are some pictures in some temples in the present series which depict hunting by daggers.

Examples are :

i) Hunter with dagger on foot : this can be seen in Ramchandra temple of Guptipara, district Hooghly and Charbangla temple of Baronagar, district Murshidabad.

ii) Hunter with dagger on elephant can be seen in Gangeshwar temple of Baronagar, district Murshidabad.

Animals hunted by daggers include tiger (Gangeshwar and Ramchandra temples) and bear (Charbangla temple).

4) Muskets : As already mentioned, firearms were introduced in hunting during in India during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (1556 - 1605 CE). So, it is not unnatural that hunters with firearms will be depicted in temple decorations of Bengal.

In keeping with this tradition, we see hunters with muskets in the decorations of some temples like Charbangla temple of Baronagar, district Murshidabad and Krishnachandraji temple of Kalna, district Purva Bardhaman etc.

5) Satnoli : The term translates into “seven tubes”. It is a special weapon used to hunt birds by the traditional bird hunter tribes (Pakhmara) of the western parts of West Bengal. It consists of seven tube-like segments of bamboo. The bird hunters make a long weapon by joining the separate segments before hunting a bird.

This is depicted in 2 temples of the present series, viz. Radhavinod temple of Joydev-Kenduli, district Birbhum and Lakshmi Janardan temple of Ghurisha, district Birbhum.

Hunter with spear on horseback; terracotta; Raghabeshwar temple, Dignagar, Nadia

Hunter with spear on horseback; terracotta; Raghabeshwar temple, Dignagar, Nadia

Hunter with spear on elephant; terracotta; Rajrajeshwar temple; dwarhatta, Hooghly

Hunter with spear on elephant; terracotta; Rajrajeshwar temple; dwarhatta, Hooghly

Hunter on foot with spear; Nabaratna Shiva temple; Panchthupi, Murshidabad

Hunter on foot with spear; Nabaratna Shiva temple; Panchthupi, Murshidabad

Hunter with sword; terracotta; Ramchandxra temple; Guptipara, Hooghly

Hunter with sword; terracotta; Ramchandxra temple; Guptipara, Hooghly

Hunter with dagger; terracotta; Charbangla temple; Baronagar, Murshidabad

Hunter with dagger; terracotta; Charbangla temple; Baronagar, Murshidabad

Hunter with sword and dagger; Ramchandra temple; Guptipara, Hooghly

Hunter with sword and dagger; Ramchandra temple; Guptipara, Hooghly

Hunters with musket; terracotta; Charbangla temple; Baronagar, Murshidabad

Hunters with musket; terracotta; Charbangla temple; Baronagar, Murshidabad

A bird hunter using Satnali for hunting birds; terracotta; Radha Vinod temple; Joydev-Kenduli, Birbhum

A bird hunter using Satnali for hunting birds; terracotta; Radha Vinod temple; Joydev-Kenduli, Birbhum

Use of animals in assisting role

From ancient times, man has used some domesticated animals in hunting (not as mounts). The commonest animal thus used is the dog. Dogs as hounds are a common accompanying assistant to the hunters. There are several breeds of hounds who are specialized for hunting. They are used for finding, chasing, hunting and collecting the hunted games.

Besides dogs, big animals like cheetahs are sometimes used for this purpose.

The other common animal-assistant in hunting is the birds, mostly hawks and falcons which were and are still used in bird-hunting.

Now let us see how this is reflected in temple decorations in Bengal.

In the temples of the present series, we see dogs accompanying hunters in many temples. In one or two cases, the animal accompanying the hunter seems to a cheetah (with tails longer than that of a dog), but we cannot find a single example of birds like hawk or falcon accompanying the hunters.

Dogs accompanying hunters are depicted in many temples like Charbangla temple of Baronagar, Jorbangla temple of Vishnupur, Gopinath temple of Dashghara, Lakshmi Janardan temple of Debipur, Dolmancha of Talchinan, Ramchandra temple of Guptipara, Raghabeshwar temple of Dignagar, Ananta Basudeva temple of Bansberia, Madanmohan temple of Vishnupur, Shiva temple of Baidyapur, Jorbangla Kali temple of Itanda etc.

Cheetah as a hound : In a hunting scene from Ramchandra temple of Guptipara, district Hooghly, we can see an animal accompanying the hunter with a very long tail and a face which is broader than that of a standard hound dogs depicted in other hunting scenes. Most probably it is a cheetah.

Hunter with dog; terracotta; Jorbangla temple; Vishnupur, Bankura

Hunter with dog; terracotta; Jorbangla temple; Vishnupur, Bankura

Hunter with a cheetah (possibly); terracotta; Ramchandra temple; Guptipara, Hooghly

Hunter with a cheetah (possibly); terracotta; Ramchandra temple; Guptipara, Hooghly

Games or the animals hunted

These include animals and birds, we do not find any aquatic animals (like fish or crocodiles) being hunted in any of the temples of the present series.

A. Animals : These include tigers and deer mostly, but other animals like bears, rhinoceros and lions are also seen in few cases.

  1. Bear hunting : this can be seen in temples like Charbangla temple of Baronagar, Jorbangla temple of Vishnupur and Pancharatna Shiva temple of Panchthupi.
  2. Lion hunting : this can be seen in temples like Gopinath temple of Dashghara, Jorbangla Kali temple of Itanda etc.
  3. Deer hunting : this is depicted in many temples like Gopinath temple of Dashghara, Pancharatna Shiva temple of Panchthupi, Lakshmi Janardan temple of Debipur, Shiva temple of Supur, Dolmancha of Talchinan, Rajrajeshwar temple of Dwarhatta, Madanmohan temple of Vishnupur etc.