Dekho idhar ai Mahlaqa
Mera kabootar doosra
Jaldi batao kya huwa
Jhat bholepan se yeh kaha
Sarkar who tau udd jaaye
Bola ke hai kyunkar udda
Aisa tau ho sakta naa tha
Hat doosri mutthi jot hi
Kuchh muskura kar khol di
Yun udd gaya Aali Janab
Yeh saadgi uff re gazab!
Shahzaade ka dil aa gaya
Phir jaante ho kya huwa!
Who hasn’t heard this famous story about Jahangir and NurJahan ( then MehrunNisa)?
One day when Prince Salim was taking a round of the royal gardens with a pair of Shirazi pigeons, a beautiful flower distracted him and he wanted to pluck it. He saw a young Mehrunnisa standing nearby and gave her the pigeons to hold. She let one go. When Jahangir asked her how she could let it go she said, like this and let the other one fly off too.
I don’t know authentic the story is but it’s stuff of which legends are made.
Anyone who has visited monuments will have seen the number of pigeons flying all over. Most of the monuments have earthen pots full of water for them to drink from. In Delhi you will find pigeons being fed in busy intersections and I must say they make a pleasing sight.
However, they are more than just a sight for sore eyes or a source of nuisance because of the bird droppings.
Once upon a time they were used for serious sport and spectacle. In many parts of old cities in the sub continent they still are. There are fights over pigeons if they suspect someone of stealing their birds by deceit. Loss of pigeons to other coops is a loss of prestige for the owner.
Kabutarbaazi or Pigeon gaming is an age-old Indian tradition.
According to Maheshwar Dayal in “Aalam Mein Intikhab Dilli” keeping pigeons goes back to Mahabharat when these birds were kept in the palaces and they entertained the royalty. Ladies would sit in their jharokhas ( balconies) and watch them.
But it was the Muslim kings who took this pastime to another level of sport.
Since there was no opposition from the clergy this sport was adopted even by the common man.
Firoz Shah Tughlaq had built a hospital for sick pigeons in his Kotla .
Timur took away many pigeons from Firozabad Kotla as part of his spoils.
The art reached its zenith under Jahangir who equated kabutarbazi with ishqbaazi and brought renowned experts in the sport to Delhi.
Mahv e parvaaz hai yeh dil aur main
Jaan chidakta hun is kabootar par
Kashif Husain Ghair
This heart is engrossed in flying, in love
I can sacrifice my life for this dove
Many poets used the pigeon as an imagery for the heart.
The Mughal Emperor’s entourage leaving the Palace would be announced by releasing a coloured pigeon so that all would be informed of his advent.
Bahadur Shah Zafar had a Syed Waris Ali in his employ who had trained 200 pigeons to fly in rows behind the Emperor when he came out of his palace seated on his favorite elephant Maula Baksh on the way to the Eidgaah for prayers. The pigeons would provide shade for the Emperor.
I can just visualize it by recalling the modern day air parades of flying jets in formations.
By the way these pigeons were trained to fly in such a way that their dropping didn’t come on the Emperor or his elephant.
After Ahmed Shah Abdali sacked Delhi many kabootarbaaz went to Awadh.
Wajid Ali Shah had 24000 pigeons in his palace including a pair of ‘ReshamPara” which was bought at the price of Rs 25000 in those days! He had to leave them all behind when he was exiled to Calcutta and missed them sorely out there.
The pigeon fanciers are called Ustads and the experts are called Khalifas.
Kabootar baazi the sport is teaching the pigeons to fly from their own houses and return home with pigeons from some other flocks. The pigeons are taught to respond to their master’s voice.
In Bareilly our mohalla has many kabootarbaaz and come evening you can hear many sounds of ‘aa aa aa’ with masters calling their pigeons home. Its a sound which can’t be described it has to be heard and seen when every roof top is filled with the fanciers and you can see flocks all over the sky.
Everytime I visit Old Delhi in the evenings I can see the pigeons being called home.
The joining of one’s flock in another is loss of prestige and then these have to be bought back.
Udte udte kabhi masoom kabootar koi
Aapki chat pe utar aaye to shak karta hun
Ahmad Kamal Parwazi
If an innocent pigeon while flying in the sky
comes to rest on your roof I feel envy
Owners would lovingly spend much time with their kabootars and adorn their feet with jewelry ranging from bangles to ghungroos. Kabootar in turn would reciprocate and always come home.
They would be fed ghee and malai. Some even fed their flying pigeons opium and other intoxicating substances to induce ‘masti’
Kabootars such as Girahbaaz could fly for hours and they never forgot their coops or their food.
The pigeon coops were called ‘kaabuk’ and they were built on the roofs of the houses with great care and love. Pigeons became such an integral part of their owners lives that the loss of one pigeon would send them into despair and they would go to great lengths to recover them.
The Kabūtarnāmah, an illustrated pigeon manual copied in 1788, here showing a training session and some different types of pigeon (IO Islamic 4811, ff. 2v-3)