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Hunting and Shooting

Hunting and Shooting (shikar) as a sport may be traced back to the time when man scored the final and absolute victory over the aggressive animal kingdom. With the growth of population and reclamation of forestlands, the actual threat to human life by ferocious animals and birds was no more there; but the human instinct of killing animals and birds persisted in the name of sport. Hunting animals and birds in the wild is an amusement for many even now in spite of many national and international regulations restricting such a sport.

The ancient and medieval texts abound in stories of hunting and shooting by the adventurous members of royal families and their enthusiasts going out to hunting errand. The hunting scenes in ancient and medieval manuscript-illustrations, Terracotta, wall engravings and inscriptions indicate the pleasure and pride people used to take in hunting and shooting. The heroes of folk-tales are often seen to have been encountering fortuitously their beloved while in hunting. Shakuntala of kalidasa and Chitrangada of rabindranath tagore are the typical examples.

The medieval illustrations of hunting and shooting testify that the royal hunting was then accompanied by troops of drummers, horn-blowers, spearmen, clubmen, burden carriers, all of whom moved according to defined rank and status, in files and formations on foot, in palanquins, and on the backs of horses and elephants. The tumultuous noise created by the enthusiasts made the scared animals come out of their hideouts to the view of hunters. A number of terracotta plates show that ferocious animals attack men and animals of the hunting expedition, which means that sometimes the hunters were also mangled or killed by the animals under attack.

Historically, the most documented period for hunting and shooting is the colonial era when the European civil and military officers and other members of the Anglo-Indian society made hunting almost a regular feature of their life in Bengal. The Bengal landscape up to the late nineteenth century was characterized by jungles and marshlands infested by tigers, leopards, wild buffaloes, boars, rhinoceros, reptiles and so on. As these were wanting in Britain, the colonialists in Bengal took particular interest in hunting and shooting as a source of amusement.

The hunting style of the Europeans seems to have been quite different from that of the pre-colonial ruling classes. Gun was the main hunting weapon of the British. Arrows and spears were the main weapons of the Mughals. For forcing the animals to come out of their habitats, Mughals used a band of drum-beaters but the British hunters employed hounds for the same purpose. They formed hunting clubs, which maintained packs of hounds, procured hunting outfits and organized hunting expeditions. The most favourite object of hunting for the British was hog. For cultural reasons, hog hunting, what the British called 'pig-sticking', was unpopular to native elite. In pig-sticking expeditions, the Europeans made best use of horses specially trained for the purpose. Hounds were employed in finding out the hogs and forcing them out of their habitats. In hunting tigers, the Europeans tried to minimise risk by taking position normally on a machan (platform) erected on a vantage-tree in the designated place of the hunting field. To lure tigress near to their position, they used goats, pigs, etc as decoys. For safety, elephants were used extensively in hunting. But as is evidenced by contemporary records and burial epitaphs, the safety measures were not enough and sometimes hunters got killed or seriously wounded by the animals disturbed by them.

Besides elitist hunting and shooting, there was a traditional hunting class called shikari. The shikaris who belonged to a definite caste were professional operators. Hunting was their source of living and hence they may well be called predatory poachers. Against poaching there are laws and regulations and yet they manage to hunt even environmentally threatened birds and animals. [Sirajul Islam]