Amrit Mahal Transport of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan

Mysore is renowned for its exceptional breeds of cattle, with the Amrit Mahal or Sultans breed standing out as the finest draught cattle in the region. This breed is a combination of three principal varieties: Hallikar, Hagalavadi, and Chithradurga.

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 victories 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. These powerful animals even pulled heavy field guns through tough and dangerous roads, ensuring quick artillery support when necessary. Their remarkable speed and unmatched stamina often turned the tide of battle, saving the Mysore army from defeat.

The Amrit Mahal cattle are active, fiery and walk faster than the troops. Typically white or grey in color, this breed holds a distinguished position among cattle, much like the thoroughbred does among horses, due to their impressive form, temperament, and endurance. These cattle are not only intelligent but also highly trainable, although they do require special care and attention to be easily managed.

Bullocks as young as four years old, after undergoing some training, were utilized 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 roots of the Mysore Amrit Mahal establishment can be traced back to the Vijayanagar era. Around the 1570s, a Viceroy of Vijayanagar brought selected breeds of cows to Srirangapatna from Vijayanagar. This establishment was known as Karuhatti.

Over time, these cattle passed into the possession of 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.

During the reign of Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar (1673-1704), the cattle establishment was established as a department of administration known as Benne Chavadi, which translates to the "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 significant attention during the rule of Nawab Hyder Ali Khan (1761-1782) and his son Tipu Sultan (1782-1799). Hyder is said to have acquired a special breed of small Brahmani bulls known for their endurance and fast trotting from a conquered poligar of Tiruchirappalli (Trichinopoly). By crossing these bulls with the indigenous breed of Mysore, the Amrit Mahal breed was developed. Hyder used these cattle in warfare for transportation purposes and had around 60,000 bullocks in various parts of the kingdom. 

In military warfare, Hyder Ali was renowned for his brilliant tactics and expedience. His ability to quickly mobilize and maneuver troops earned him admiration, even from his enemies. The Britishers recognized the exceptional quality of his troops during their encounters with Hyder Ali. His bullocks were able to move 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 and Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan also had a keen interest in animal husbandry and made significant improvements to the cattle department. He renamed Benne Chavadi to Amrit Mahal, which literally means milk department. The bullocks were allocated vast kavals for grazing and training. Tipu classified them as gun, pack, and plough bullocks and appointed Purnaiya to oversee the department. 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. Tipu Sultan personally attended the annual musters, where he would reward those who excelled in their duties. 

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 came under British control. However, it was later entrusted to the Wodeyars. 

amrit-mahal-bulls-battle-of-pollilur-close-up-explosion-of-ammunition cart

Amrit Mahal and 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. During the Peninsular war in Spain, Arthur Wellesley reportedly expressed regret at not having the assistance of the Amrit Mahal cattle.

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," stated S. L. Rajashekharaiah, Assistant Director of the 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, the care-taker of the 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

Amrit Mahal - Livestockpedia