It is in South India, I think, that the country&’s finest breeds of cattle have been evolved. A man from the South myself, it could be that local patriotism is responsible for this opinion, except that no cattle worth the name are bred in that part of the country from which I come.
You know how narrowly confined and cribbed a man&’s local patriotism is. It extends, at its widest, to a mile beyond the borders of the tract to which he belongs. Mysore and Coimbatore and Ongole are so far away from my own bit of India that I can entertain no greater parochial feeling towards the cattle of those places than towards North Indian breeds. And it is of the magnificent Amrit Mahal and Hallikar bullocks of Mysore, the Kangeyam of Coimbatore (also a draught breed), and the no less superb dual-purpose breed from Ongole (or Nellore — it is the same, call it by whichever name you like) that I am thinking.
I took some pictures of typical Southern breeds recently, at a cattle show, to give you some idea of them. And at this show I had the opportunity, once more, to compare the breeds of the South with those of the North — with Sindhi and Gir cattle, and Murra buffaloes. Strangely enough, there were no common village buffalos at this show — only Murra (or Delhi) buffalos. Apparently the organisers thought only that breed worth the exhibiting. Many village buffalos, in many parts of South India, reach a large size and are heavy milkers, and should certainly be shown at any representative exhibition of Indian cattle. I think the common “water-buffalo”, perhaps the most ancient of our extant cattle and a direct descendant of the wild buffalo, is one of the most typically Indian of our domestic animals and one that deserves to be better appreciated and honoured.
All strains of our humped domestic cattle (cows, bulls and bullocks, as distinct from buffalos) belong fundamentally to the same bovine type — to the type termed, for lack of a better name, “zebu”. In the South, many breeds have been specially evolved for the bullock-cart, and these are usually grazed and raised in the jungles under semi-feral conditions so as to ensure their retaining a certain hardihood spirit and mettlesome energy.
If you could have a look at a thoroughbred Amrit Mahal or Hallikar bull or a matched pair of bullocks of these breeds, I think you will agree with me that finer cattle have never been bred anywhere. Both are bred for a purpose — fast transport — and finer cart-bullocks just do not exist. The cows yield little milk and are valued solely for their blood, for their ability to reproduce stock true to type.
Both breeds have many points in common. Both are exclusively Mysorean, in both the bulls and cows, in addition to the bullocks, who carry sabre-horns and are strongly down-faced — in most Indian breeds the bulls and cows are short-horned, compared to the bullocks, and the bull is somewhat dish-faced. By comparison of the two, the Hallikar is slightly the slimmer and longer-limbed, though in overall height they are about equal. In both, the bullocks are superbly proportioned, quick-muscled, high-mettled and usually all-white. Typically, the Amrit Mahal bull is white on the sides and a dark iron-grey on the face, neck, hump, hind quarters and limbs — the Hallikar bull is similarly shaded, in white and light-brown, often with a patch of white over the eye.
It is said that the tiger, coming across a bunched herd of these cattle grazing in the jungles, turns around and makes for healthier localities — and who can blame the tiger for his prudence. It is positively dangerous for strangers to approach high-blooded bulls of those breeds for in spite of their half-ton mass, they are astonishingly quick and their sabre-horns are made for goring. Even the bullocks are apt to resent the approach of strangers.
I have ridden in heavy country carts drawn by these bullocks. Their sustained speed is amazing and they never give up when the wheels get stuck in a hollow patch of mire, as other bullocks do.
The Kangeyam, evolved in Coimbatore, is slightly shorter and possibly shorter-coupled, but thicker built — I should think a big Kangeyam bull would weigh quite as much as a big Amrit Mahal bull. The bull is dark grey and white, shaded rather like the Amrit Mahal, but very different in conformation and horn, being dish-faced and having shorter, curved horns. The bullocks have long, heavy horns and are excellent for the cart, and the cows are said to yield some milk, though the Kangeyam is not a milch-breed. This breed too, is grazed and raised in the open air, in the scrub.
Ongole (for Nellore) cattle have justly been called the pride of India. This is a true dual purpose breed, yielding big, strong bullocks and excellent milkers. The cow, as in most Indian breeds, is considerably smaller than the bull or bullock, and is singularly sweet-tempered. A full-grown Ongole bull is an impressive sight; perhaps it is the largest and most massive of all Indian bulls and it is dominantly white, heavily dewlapped, and has a skin like velvet — it is short-horned, the horns being mere knobs, and powerfully muscled. The bullocks and cows are pure white and strikingly handsome — they have a certain look of refinement, hard to put into words. The bullock is tall and squarely built, very strong and docile, but slow in comparison to other pedigreed cart-bullocks.
There are a number of other Southern breeds, so many that I do not even know the name of one, which I saw and admired at the show — a short, compact, sharp-horned animal, chestnut with a delicate lacing of white on the body and face, belonging to the neighbourhood of Salem. The only thing I can remember about its name is that it has a bucolic sound approximating to “burrgurr” — some reader, I am sure, will know the right name.
Near Madura they breed a very special kind of small-sized cattle — the bulls are used for the “jellikat”, a form of bull-baiting popular in those parts. These bulls are exceptionally quick and fierce, in spite of their small build. The smallest of all is the Punganur Kuttai. The word “kuttai” means short, and the “Punganur” fully justifies its name, for it is only a yard high — a beautifully proportioned chestnut animal that has the lamentable distinction of being the most exclusively small-numbered breed of cattle in the world. I doubt if there are two dozen pure-bred Punganur Kuttai left now; only 30 years ago, there were many more, though the breed was even then on the decline.
Considering their size, the cows are heavy milers and the bullocks are the smallest cart-bullocks of all purebred stock. The bullocks are light, handy, quick-footed and willing, and were much in demand in the old days for a sport called “reklah”. But with the passing of the vogue this miniature breed declined, and is now almost extinct. We have on occasion, shamefully neglected the authentic culture of the country.
(This was first published on 22 November 1959 in The Sunday Statesman)