A Beast-fight

This article was written for the Civil &Military Gazette of Lahore, following Kipling’s visit as a correspondent to the installation of the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir in 1886. It was republished by his father Lockwood Kipling for Chapter XVII (pp. 348-351) of Beast and Man in India.

Two huge water-buffaloes with ropes on their feet and a dozen men at each rope were introduced to each other; the crowd closing round them to within a few feet. Neither animal required any urging, but put his head down at once and butted. The shock of the opposing skulls rang like the sound of a hatchet on wood across the arena. Then both brutes laid head to head, and pushed and grunted and pawed and sweated for five minutes; the crowd yelling madly meanwhile. The lighter weight was forced back into the crowd, recovered himself, butted again, turned [349]sideways, and was again forced back. After a few minutes more, when each animal was setting down to his work with whole-hearted earnestness, the order was given to separate them; and very reluctantly the gigantic creatures were hauled in opposite directions. Then a curious thing happened. A little child ran forward out of the press, and standing on tip-toe, reached up and embraced with both arms the hairy jowl of the beast who had borne himself the most savagely in the fray. It was a pretty little picture—spoilt by the other buffalo suddenly breaking loose and charging down anew. A second shock and yet another struggle followed, and both beasts were eventually led off snorting and capering in uncouth fashion to express their disgust at not being allowed to go on. Two fresh bulls advanced gravely into the middle of the arena, gazed at each other politely, and as politely retired. They must have shared the same wallow together, for fight they would not.

“Next came the fighting rams, spotted and shaven beasts, with Roman noses and rowdy visages straining away from their owners and all apparently ‘spoiling for a fight.’ Two or three couples were let go together, ran back to gather way, came on and met, ran back, charged again, and repeated the performance till the sound of their foolish colliding heads was almost continuous.

“After the first few minutes, when you begin to realise that neither animal is likely to fall down dead, ram fighting is monotonous. Sometimes a ram runs back for his charge valiantly enough, but midway in his onset loses heart, turns a fat tail to his antagonist, and flees to his master. The adversary, being a beast of honour, immediately pulls up and trots back to his master. One light-limbed dumba (the fat-tailed variety) with red spots seems to be the champion of Jummu. His charge generally upsets his antagonist at once, and few care to stand a second.

“As soon as all the rams had been disposed of, certain vicious shrieks and squeals gave evidence that the horses were being got ready, and the police set about widening the ring. Presently a bay galloway and a black pony danced out, dragging their attendants after them at the end of a long rope. The instant they were let go, they ran open-mouthed at each other, then turned tail to tail and kicked savagely for five minutes; the black suffering most. Then, after the manner of horses all the world over, they turned round and closed, each striking with his fore-feet and striving to fix his teeth in the other’s crest. They squealed shrilly as they boxed, and finally rose on end, a magnificent sight, [350]locked in each other’s arms. The bay loosening his hold on the black’s poll, made a snatch at the black’s near fore-leg, which was at once withdrawn. Both horses then dropped to the ground together and kicked and bit at close quarters till the bay fled, with the black after him, through the crowd. The men at the end of the drag ropes were knocked over, scrambled up, and caught at the ropes again, while the two maddened brutes plunged and struggled among the people. About half a dozen were knocked over and shaken, but no one was seriously hurt; and after wild clamour and much running hither and thither both bay and black were caught, blindfolded, and led away to reappear no more. Buffaloes fight like men, and rams like fools; but horses fight like demons, with keen enjoyment and much skill.

“And now twilight had fallen; the wrestlers, who tumbled about regardless of the excitement round them, had all put their man down or had their own shoulders mired. The mob on the double tiers of the amphitheatre dropped down into the arena and flooded the centre till the elephants could scarcely wade through the press.

“Just at this time an unrehearsed and most impressive scene followed. The biggest of the elephants, a huge beast with gold-bound tusks, gold ‘broidered jhool and six-foot earrings, had been ordered to sit down for his riders to mount. Before the ladder could be adjusted, he sprang up with a trumpet, turned round towards the palace, uphill, that is to say, and knocked a man over. Then he wheeled round, the mahout pounding at his forehead with his iron goad, to the other end of the arena, where another elephant was going down the incline towards the lower part of the city. He raced across the space, full of people, scattering the crowd in every direction, butted the retreating elephant in the rear, making him stagger heavily; ran back, butted him again, and threw him on his knees near the stone revetment of the earth-work terrace of the palace. Here the mahout re-established some sort of control, swung him round, and brought him back to be taken off roped and chained, in deep disgrace.

“The man thrown down at the beginning was brought up into the palace verandah. He was naturally knocked out of breath and desperately frightened, for the elephant had set a foot on the loose folds of his paejamas. An old woman, overthrown in the charge after the other elephant, lay on the ground for a few minutes, and then hobbled off with the help of a stick. That [351]was the extent of the damage, inconceivably small as it may appear, caused by a vicious elephant rushing through a crowd of some thousands of people. The murmur of fright and astonishment that went up from the crowd after it was seen that the brute was out of hand, was curious to listen to; being a long-drawn A—a—a—hoo which chilled the blood. The sight of the crowd flying in deadly fear of their lives was even more curious and impressive. Most impressive of all was the bulk of the beast in the twilight, and the clang of the silver earrings as it darted,—elephants can dart when they like,—across the ground in search of its enemy.

“With this unique spectacle the sports of the evening closed.


©Rudyard Kipling 1886 All rights reserved