Mysore is renowned for its exceptional breeds of cattle, with the Amrit Mahal or Sultan's breed being the most superior draught cattle found in the region. This breed is a combination of three principal varieties, namely Hallikar, Hagalavadi, and Chithradurga, which contribute to its exceptional qualities.
Did you know that the Amrit Mahal breed played a crucial role in the Anglo-Mysore wars?
The Mysore army's excellent transportation network was a key element in the successes of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. The Amrit Mahal bulls were truly incredible! Often remaining upwards of 16 hours in yoke, they constantly supplied the Mysore army with ammunition, food and equipment. They even pulled heavy field guns through tough and dangerous roads, able to give instant artillery cover when required. These fierce animals often saved the Mysore armies from defeat, thanks to their unequalled endurance and speed.
The Amrit Mahal cattle are active, fiery and walk faster than the troops. They are usually white or grey in colour. This breed holds a unique position among cattle, as their form, temperament, and endurance are comparable to that of the thoroughbred horse. These animals are also highly intelligent and can be trained to perform a variety of tasks. However, they require special care and attention to ensure that they can be handled with ease. Bullocks of four years old, after some training were used in the armies of Hyder and Tipu.
"Amrit Mahal cattle could travel thirty-five to forty miles a day while the cumbersome British army with its tents and trunks, women and servants could hardly travel ten miles a day", notes Major Meer Ibrahim.
The establishment of Mysore Amrit Mahal can be traced back to the Vijayanagar period. Around the 1570s, a Viceroy of Vijayanagar brought selected breeds of cows to Srirangapatna from Vijayanagar. This establishment was known as Karuhatti.
Over time, the cattle of Srirangapatna were passed on to the Wodeyars of Mysore. During the reigns of Chamaraja Wodeyar V (r: 1617-1637) and Ranadhira Kanteerava Narasaraja Wodeyar (r: 1638-1659), they made several additions and assigned kavals in various parts of the kingdom for grazing purposes.
It was during the reign of Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar (r: 1673-1704) that the cattle establishment became a department of administration, known as Benne Chavadi, meaning "butter department". This department served as both a breeding stud and a supplier of milk and butter to the palace. Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar was the first to introduce the practice of branding the cattle with his initials.
The Mysore cattle received special attention from the time of Nawab Hyder Ali Khan (r: 1761-1782) and his son Tipu Sultan (r: 1782-1799).
Hyder is said to have obtained a unique breed of small Brahmani bulls from a conquered poligar of Tiruchirappalli [Trichinopoly]. These bulls were known for their endurance and fast trotting. By crossing them with the indigenous breed of Mysore, the Amrit Mahal breed was born. He used these cattle in warfare for transportation purposes and had around 60,000 bullocks in various parts of the kingdom.
Hyder Ali was a military genius, renowned for his tactical prowess and expedience in warfare. His troops were known for their unparalleled speed, animation, and skill, which even his enemies could not help but admire. The Britishers, in particular, were impressed by the excellence of his breed, during their various encounters with Hyder Ali. Hyder's bullocks were capable of moving his artillery before the British could even begin to mobilize their own. These bullocks enabled Hyder Ali to cover a distance of 100 miles in just two and a half days to the relief of Chidambaram during the second Anglo-Mysore war (1780-1784).
Amrit Mahal & Tipu Sultan
Tipu Sultan was a visionary leader who recognized the importance of animal husbandry and took great interest in organizing the cattle department. He renamed Benne Chavadi to Amrit Mahal, which literally means milk department. The bullocks were assigned vast kavals for grazing and training. Tipu classified them into gun, pack and plough bullocks and appointed the Brahmin Purnaiya to oversee the department. [Interestingly, some historians suggest that Tipu later changed the name of Amrit Mahal to Keren Barick].
Tipu also issued a Hukumnama, a set of regulations for the administration of the Amrit Mahal department. As part of these regulations, a systematic count of the heads of cattle was conducted regularly, ensuring that accurate records were maintained. Tipu Sultan himself took a keen interest in the annual musters, where he personally attended and distributed rewards to the deserving individuals.
These bulls enabled Tipu Sultan to cross the peninsula in just one month, covering a distance of approximately 400 miles in less than 4 weeks, for the recovery of Bednore in 1783, and to march 63 miles in two days before General Meadows could make any attempt to cut off his safe route to Srirangapatna.
After the fall of Tipu Sultan in the 4th Anglo-Mysore war in 1799, the Amrit Mahal bulls and the department fell into the hands of the British. However, it was later entrusted to the Wodeyars.
Amrit Mahal & the British
The Amrit Mahal cattle proved to be instrumental in later military campaigns. For instance, General Pritzer was able to march an impressive 346 miles in just 25 days while pursuing the Peshwa, thanks to the endurance and strength of these bulls. Similarly, when General Campbell's Bengal equipment failed, the Amrit Mahal cattle allowed him to advance on Ava and ultimately bring the war to a favorable conclusion.
The Amrit Mahal cattle played a crucial role in enabling Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, to execute unprecedentedly rapid military movements that continue to inspire admiration among military experts. In recognition of their invaluable contribution, the Duke of Wellington recommended their protection in a letter addressed to the Commander-in-Chief. It is said that he often regretted not having their assistance during the Peninsular War in Spain.
By the end of 1813, the cattle had degenerated to such a degree that it was on the edge of extinction. The cattle management was then taken over by Captain Harvey of the Madras Commissariat.
Tipu's Amrit Mahal establishment at Hunsur was under the supervision of capable men such as Capt. M. A. Rowlands, Dr. Gilchrist, and Major Inroy for a considerable period. In 1860, a large number of Amrit Mahal draught cattle were purchased by the Khedive of Egypt for their service. It is evident from the success of the breed in the Afghan wars that its quality has not deteriorated and is, in fact, superior to all other cattle breeds used.
As reported in "The Hindu" in November 2019, there are 63 grasslands spanning over 68,267 acres in six districts of Karnataka State, designated for grazing the breed.
"The system introduced by Tipu Sultan continues. Once a year, we take the systematic count of heads of cattle in the presence of all the staff", said S. L. Rajashekharaiah, Assistant Director of Amrit Mahal Cattle Breeding Centre, at Ajjampura in Chikkamagaluru district.
The Ajjampura center, established by the British in 1929, currently houses over 300 Amrit Mahal cattle. This center also has sub-centers in Hassan, Chikkamagaluru, Tumakuru, Mandya, Davangere and Chitradurga districts. In total, the sub-centers provide shelter for more than 2,000 Amrit Mahal cows and buffaloes.
The Amrit Mahal breed of cattle is currently on the brink of extinction. Their population has been steadily decreasing, and their characteristics have been changing due to lack of proper care.
"It is the most superior and enduring breed of cattle ever. It can walk tirelessly up to 12 hours, is hard working and has served people in Karnataka for centuries. They definitely deserve better" says Tippeswamy, care-taker of Amrit Mahal calves at the Ajjampura breeding center.
East India Company and the Amrit Mahal Transport of Sultanate-e-Khudadad By Major Meer Ibrahim
Note on the Cattle of Mysore By A. Kristnasamiengar and Captain. H. T. Pease
Tipu Sultan championed the conservation of Amrit Mahal breed - The Hindu