About Me

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Mumbai, India
I'm a landrace dog fancier, birder and amateur arachnologist. Founder of the INDog Project (www.indog.co.in) and the INDog Club. Before that, worked with urban free-ranging dogs of Mumbai from 1993-2007. Also a wildlife conservationist working in the tiger reserves of central India with Satpuda Foundation.

This blog is for aboriginal breed enthusiasts. It is part of the INDog Project www.indog.co.in. Only INDogs (Indian Pariah) and INDog-mix mongrels are featured here. The two are NOT the same, do please read the text on the right to understand the difference. Our aim: to create awareness about the primitive natural breed called the Indian Pariah Dog/INDog. I sometimes feature other landrace breeds too.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dog-keeping down the ages

Occasionally I come across this view that dog-keeping is a 'Western notion' that has only recently become fashionable in India. 


Okay, this does apply to the urban middle class; but about 70% or Indians happen to live in rural areas, where dog ownership is very common. 

And as it happens dog-keeping was well-known in this country long, long before we knew of any Western notions.

So when did we Indians start keeping dogs?

I don't know exactly when dog-keeping began, but here are a few glimpses of the archaeological record: 

This is a copy of a Neolithic rock engraving from Burzahom, North India; date possibly around 2000 BC. You can see a photo of the actual engraving in this photo gallery. It's the third image from the top. 

(It's funny, what most people first notice in this picture is the twin suns; but the thing I first noticed was the curly-tailed dog!)

And here's a drawing from the ancient rock shelters at Bhimbetka, Central India. In his detailed study 'Prehistoric Rock Paintings of Bhimbetka', Dr Yashodhar Mathpal lists 41 drawings of dogs in these shelters. According to his chronology 14 of these drawings are from the Mesolithic/prehistoric period; 8 from the transitional phase between prehistoric and historic periods; and 19 from the historic period.

Read more about the archaeological record for dogs in India in the INDog website.

Domestic dog remains have been found in many Harappan sites (Harappan period: 3rd - 2nd millennium B.C.)

'Dogs were known to be watch animals guarding the settlements and the domestic stock and also their role in the hunting pursuit of man cannot be ruled out.' That's the opinion of P. K. Thomas, Yoshiyuki Matsushima & Arati Deshpande in the chapter on 'Faunal Remains' in 'Kuntasi, a Harrappan Emporium on the West Coast', 1996.

Here's what P. P. Joglekar and Pankaj Goyal have to say in 'Faunal Remains from Jaidak (Pithad), a Sorath Harappan Site in Gujarat', 2010: 'Other domestic animals included in the assemblage that were used neither for food nor as draft animals were dogs (Canis familiaris) and cats (Felis catus)...No human activity was noticed on these fragments and these were probably kept as pets like today.'

A pariah-type dog skull found at Mohenjo-Daro was described in detail by Colonel R.B. Seymour Sewell and Dr B.S. Guha in 'Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization' (edited by John Marshall, 1931). The authors commented on the skull's similarity to other ancient domestic dog remains found in Anau and Russia, and also on its similarity to the Australian Dingo and to the village Indian pariah dogs of the present day.

Other than dog remains, figurines of pet dogs with collars were also excavated at Mohenjo-Daro. They seem to show three breeds, the pariah dog and two others.

(The record also indicates that there were scavenging dogs at many of the settlements - just as there are even today - but there were obviously pet dogs as well).

Here's a scene from the railing of the Bharhut Stupa (Central India), showing a woman seated with dogs and cats. Probable date of this railing: 3rd - 2nd century BC. 

Ancient Indian literature has references to both pet and ownerless dogs.

Pet dogs are mentioned in the Rg Veda (composed between 1300 - 1000 B.C.) Three deities own dogs: Indra, Rudra and Yama. Indra's dog is the celestial bitch Sarama, mother of all dogs. Here's an earlier post about Sarama.

And dog ownership seems to have been quite common among mortals as well!

Many of these dogs were guardians for the home.

'Be like two dogs, warding off injury to our persons...' - that's the Rg Veda 2-39-4.

'White offspring of Sarama, with tawny limbs, although barking you display your teeth against me, bristling like lances in your gums, nevertheless, go quietly to sleep' - a hymn to appease a watchdog, Rg Veda 7-55-2.

Incidentally, Sanskrit words for 'dog' included vakra valadhi, vakra puccha, vakra pucchika - meaning 'curly-tailed'. Dogs depicted in ancient art usually have high curled tails. As far as I know, the only Indian breed which has erect ears and curled tail is the INDog.

Fast forward to the present. Here are two contemporary tribal depictions of domestic dogs.

This one is a typical metalwork sculpture from Bastar, Central India. Hunting is now illegal in India by the way, but it remains a theme in the art of hunting tribes.

And this is a Rs 5 stamp recently released by India Post, showing a typical painting of the Warli tribe (Western India).

There are many photos of rural pet dogs in the INDog photo gallery,  have a look if you haven't seen them already.

Photos: I've mentioned the sources of the first three images in the form of watermarks across each image. The Burzahom drawing is from Upinder Singh's 'A History of Ancient and Mediaeval India, from the Stone Age to the 12th Century'. The photo of the Bhimbetka leashed dog is by K.L. Kamat, from the site www.kamat.com I used it in the INDog site with the owner's permission. The photo of the Bharhut Stupa railing is from 'The Ganges in Myth and History' by Stephen G. Darian.

I spotted the Bastar iron sculpture in the crafts store Avante in Mumbai. The photo was clicked by Kalpana Malani.

I don't use other people's images without acknowledgment. If you want to use images from my blog, I hope you'll extend me the same courtesy.

Read about dogs in ancient Indian literature: Willem Bollee's 'Gone to the Dogs in Ancient India' is a fascinating study of this subject.


georgia little pea said...

I can't believe people think having a family dog is a western notion and a new thing! Huh? I imagine dogs have been man's friend since the days of the hunter gatherers. "I help you catch things to eat, you feed me scraps, okay?" ;) That would be my unresearched uneducated guess anyway!

Loved this article and the idea of a celestial bitch is just heaven. I also find it funny and lovely that the first thing you notice in the ancient works are the curly tailed dogs. Way to go, Ms Khalap!

Hope you're well. Where has the year gone? it's almost spring here, thank goodness! X

Indian Mastiff said...

Just FYI  I have linked to this post.
I have used 3 images shown here on the post linked above.
I am an Indian Mastiff fan and wish someday these dogs will be DNA tested to know their true history.

Rajashree Khalap said...

No problem, thanks for letting me know

Indian Mastiff said...

Is there any facility in India where DNA testing of dogs is done?

Rajashree Khalap said...

I don't think so Indian Mastiff