The act of hunting wildlife species in the forests of the Indian sub-continent has continued from past. The large and thick forests of India, until barely a century ago, echoed with the sounds of guns that were set off in pursuit of animals and birds of various proportions, as part of that favoured pastime of the subcontinent’s ‘royal’ and/ or ‘elite-hunting’.
These rulers: be they Mughal, colonial or otherwise; have sometimes revealed common but otherwise different justification for hunting.
Of hunting of wild life species in the Mughal Subah of Kashmir, several, two basic important questions are to be dealt with. One, why hunting of wildlife species in the Mughal Subah of Kashmir figures far less in comparison of the other Subahs of Mughal empire?
Two, can the Mughal emperors be called wildlife conservationists? Or, what role did the Mughal emperors play in the conservation or decline of wildlife species?
Kashmir in 1586 became part of the Mughal Empire under Emperor Akbar. Emperor Akbar’s kingdom as recorded by Abu’lFazl was divided into fifteen Subahs. Each Subah was divided into Sarkars, and Kashmir was a Sarkar of the Subah of Kabul.
However, Jahangir - the son and successor of Emperor Akbar – lateron separated Kashmir from Kabul, and redefined the boundaries by making Kashmir a Subah of the Mughal Empire.
Since imperial accounts give us the full details of the hunting of wildlife species in the Mughal era. However, it bears to mention that, the hunting of wildlife species in the Mughal Subah of Kashmir had remained far less in comparison of the other Subahs of Mughal Empire.
For example, exploring Mughal accounts, one would learn that, most frequently hunting of wildlife species had taken place in the environs of: Delhi, Agra, Awadh, Ajmir, Gujarat, Gwalior, Punjab and Kabul. And places like: palam, Bari, Hisar, Simawali, Alapur, Sunnam, Bhatinda, Patan, Fathpur, Nagor, Mirath, Jodhpur, Dholpur, Sidhpur, Amnabad, Nandana, Girjan, Bhimbar, Bahramgala and Jahangirpur are mentioned as the favourite imperial hunting areas by the Mughal emperors in their accounts.
Though, Kashmir was the favourite place where Mughal emperors wanted to stay in most of their life time. However, if one looks at the main favourite imperial hunting areas mentioned above, except Bhimbar and Girjan—routes that passing through Poonch connect Kashmir with Lahore, Mughal Subah of Kashmir represents none.
Like any other Subah of Mughal empire: why in Kashmir was not any favourite imperial hunting area is something that needs to be explored?
Indeed, the absence of favourite imperial hunting areas in Mughal Subah of Kashmir does mean that, there would have been less number of wildlife species surviving in the environs around. Or, some kind of wildlife species wouldn’t have been in plenty there.
And this possibly would be the reason that Mughal accounts do not mention any favourite imperial hunting place in Kashmir except Bhimbar.
Whereas, the absence of favourite imperial hunting areas in Mughal Subah of Kashmir might have remained the reason for less hunting of wildlife species in comparison of the other Subahs of Mughal empire. Though, it is difficult to warrant it only as a definite reason for that.
If one counts the number of wildlife species hunting incidents that the Mughal emperors had enjoyed in Kashmir, these are only few to be counted straight. For example, Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri and Shahjahanama record the following incidents:
In September and October of 1620, Emperor Jahangir while being in Kashmir had enjoyed hunting water fowl in the environs of Safapur and Lar valley, and upto two hundred hawks and falcons in the environs of Pampur.
In the ending week of October and the beginning of November 1620, Emperor Jahangir while returning from Kashmir to Lahore had enjoyed hunting of fifty-six mountain rams and seventy-six Markhor goats and other species on the way in the environs of Bhimbar, Girjan and Makhiyala.
Again in 1627, Emperor Jahangir while moving from Kashmir to Lahore enjoyed hunting antelopes on the way in the environs of Bahramgala.
Similarly, in May 1634, when emperor Shahjahan made a departure from Lahore to Kashmir, he enjoyed hunting Chital (Deer) on the way in the environs of Bhimbar.
The foregoing incidents of hunting recorded in Jahangirnama and Shahjahannama reveal that the hilly area between Lahore and Kashmir passing through Poonch had actually been potentially rich as the natural habitat of wildlife species during the Mughal period which unfortunately is not in present.
As they say ‘past resides in present’. Were the Mughals had ‘controlled’ their act of hunting (and/ or ‘gaming’) wildlife species in this belt, the position one hopes that, would have been different in the present.
Though the act of hunting wildlife species in past has been observed with multiple positive connotations. However, in our age of environmental crises, if one has to measure between positive and negative side of this act, it has served less positive but more negative consequences in our vast diverse environment.
Therefore, among the flaws, that we deeply consider now, the flaw survived with the Mughals’ was their habit of hunting wildlife species.
However, it would not go wrong to mention here that, the Mughal emperors’ of India inherited this habit from the culture of their forefathers-back in Central Asia. In India, it started with the coming of Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur. The plenty number of instances of hunting wildlife species recorded in Mughal accounts bear testimonial.
Although, with the abundance of thick forests—serving as natural habitat to the large numbers of animals and birds, then there wasn’t any ecological issue at the heart of debate attached to it in the Mughal period like what is now, and the practice of hunting, was mostly enjoyed much as a ‘sport’ particularly by the members of the ‘royal’ and/ or ‘elite families’.
However, present studies have shown that, human actions have reduced the number of species, and the number of individual organisms within most species—has made diminishing biodiversity and the complexity of ecosystem.
To this, the Mughal emperors’ act of hunting wildlife species, therefore, is not an exception. Their act of hunting wildlife species would have had a definite share in the loss of biodiversity and the complexity of ecosystem. This act of theirs, in the following years, has thus made an effect in the balance of wildlife ecology.
The hunting party, on an average, would kill a couple of tigers, some elephants, and large numbers of antelope, deer and other birds.
Thus, in Kashmir or elsewhere, the act of hunting wildlife species must have caused growing reduction in the number of species and the loss of habitat as well.
For examples. Emperor Akbar keenly followed, supervised and participated in the trapping of the Cheetah.
Cheetah, as Asok Kumar Das observes: “Became an obsession with emperor Akbar who according to the chronicler Muta’mid Khan, collected not less than 9,000 cheetahs during his 49-year reign….While cheetah continued to be prominent during the Mughal period, but it was from then on that the cheetah population rapidly dwindled and finally, by the 1950s, this swift and wonderful wild cat became extinct in the Indian subcontinent.”
Like his father, Jahangir also records that: 28, 532 animals had been taken in his presence during 1580-1616 AD, of which, 17, 167 he himself had killed.
If given the frequency of their hunts, some kind of wildlife species, gradually in the following years had started losing their foothold in the Indian subcontinent.
This, indeed, more often than not, may question the Mughal emperors’ character of being called, ‘the wildlife conservationists’?