The Saluki in India
12 Nov 2012
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The Saluki in India
I was called today by a police dog squad handler looking for a puppy to buy. When i had told him i had 6 beautiful female saluki pups ready to go to their forever homes he could not recognise the breed. He said he had been looking after dogs for quite some time and had read many books on dogs but had never heard of the . The situation remained the same even after i explanied to him that this was the most ancient breed in the world and that it was native to Maharshtra and Karnataka as well as most of the West Asia. This made me realise just how we Indians are in the face of influence of two or three popular breeds. saluki Therfore i reproduce below an article by myself which has been published in the American Saluki Association and the Saluki Club of UK newsletters in 2009.
The Saluki has been in India for at least the last 800 years as depicted by paintings of those periods. All the paintings I have seen are of nobility out on hunts and the salukis are depicted in the colours prevalent today namely white, cream, red, parti-coloured, grey among others. Some are of very famous historical personalities like the Rana Sangha and Chand Bibi and Akbar Both smooth and feathered specimens are portrayed with characteristic long muzzles and tapering almond shaped eyes.
The first time I saw a saluki in the flesh was at an FCI show in Madras 8 years ago. What caught my attention was their regal attitude. Try as one might to draw their attention they continued to look into the distance. I had also heard of their prowess from that Old Hand of dogdom in India, Nawab Nazir Yar Jung. This article would not be enough to recount all the saluki hunts this still youthful 83 year old has been on. An international show judge for over 50 years he has owned and bred numerous Indian and western salukis including a Burydown Freya daughter. Contrary to my initial assumption, he never mixed these two gene pools. This was because “none of the western dogs, except a grey grizzle Srinagar male, could measure up to the standard of the Indian saluki.” His uncle (host to the Russian Czar Nicholas II) and his cousin’s favourite breed was the native saluki. Nawab Nazir observes that there used to be and still is a great variation in the size of the saluki. The bigger ones were used on black buck (80 lbs) and the smaller more manoeuvrable ones on hare and fox.
In the last few months I got the opportunity to see hundreds of these dogs very closely thanks to Deena Talbot and Irene Holt. These American ladies have lived for quite some time in that part of India where the native saluki can be found and they have put in a lot of hard work on behalf of the breed in India.
Stretching from the Himalayas almost to the Equator and from the hot Thar Desert to the tropical eastern jungles India’s vastness and diversity is to be seen to be believed. Due to the diverse cultural, religious and linguistic differences between Indians living even a few hundred miles apart there is no single name this breed is known by. However, the proponents of all these different names concur that it is the same breed.
The common strand in these names for the saluki is that they point to a westerly origin of the breed. The names are
a) Pashmi (meaning long haired from the Persian word “pashm”)
b) Pishuri (meaning from Peshawar, in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan)
c) Lahori (meaning from Lahore in Pakistan)
d) Caravan (as it came with the caravans, which was the favourite mode of long distance travel)
The area in which the saluki can be found in India today is the wide tract of land forming the northern boundary of the erstwhile Hyderabad state. Peoples from all over the Middle East settled this zone from the 1300s. By the 17
thcentury the number of these soldier-settlers had significantly increased with them intermarrying locally and the rulers of Hyderabad (larger than France), distributed fiefs to many of them. This area was an almost treeless slightly undulating expanse abounding in fleet footed game like hare, Indian antelope and blackbuck. Thus it was only natural for the saluki to become a favourite of the rural population.
In fact, even today the saluki’s ability to negotiate the rough terrain and its spartan requirements while providing for the pot still endear them to all locals who can afford to keep them.
Though most of these native hounds do not lack elegance, they are bred solely for functionality and not for the show as in Europe and the US. In fact showing is an abhorrent concept to our “village”breeders. This has resulted in a very hardy variety of animal that can subsist on a minimal diet of mainly unleavened millet bread. Therefore, whereas most Western breeders selectively breed for the recessive feathered gene and prefer show and breeding stock with more feathering, most of the salukis in their COO, including India, are smooththrough Natural Selection.(Readers must be aware both smooth and feathered can be born in the same litter from one smooth or both smooth parents) However, richer landlords who can spare the resources for grooming often prefer the feathered type.
The saluki’s ability to guard property and exterminate foxes is of course a bonus for their farmer owners. The breeding has been such that no saluki in India ever attacks farm animals or children even in the heat of the chase.
The vast gene pool of these thousands of Salukis should be given due consideration so that India can take her historical place among the Region of Origin of this at least 7000 year old breed. Whereas most breeds have a history and Country of Origin, the FCI breed standard lists the Middle East as the Region of Origin of the Saluki. This is because the indigenous peoples of this huge region have traditionally kept it and because its origin is lost in time.
Interestingly, this region is also the cradle of the three most ancient civilizations- Egyptian, Babylonian and Mohenjodaro. Often it is the only breed per se kept traditionally by the peoples of this region! British diplomat Sir Ignatius Chirol was one of the first to coin the term Middle East. In his series of 20 articles (1902) “The Middle Eastern Question” he defined the term as"
those regions of Asia which extend to the borders of India or command the approaches to India”. The Middle East has also come to include North-Eastern Africa. Therefore, the Middle East is a trans-continental region with no clear boundaries.
On a lighter note, most countries of the world have breeds of their own but the Saluki is the only breed which has countries of its own!