Wildbuzz | The Baaz, from prince to poor
It would involve a feat of extraordinary diligence to unearth another species that could rival the accumulated obscurity on the charismatic around the wood pigeons (baaz) after the score.
One species which has found a rich resonance in the religious / cultural life and noble courts of the subcontinent has all but disappeared from Indian public consciousness, with the exception of the strange practitioner of falconry who persisted in his passion and obtained this bird with increasing difficulty. To add to the woes of the Northern Goshawk, it is mistaken in the public mind for some mundane raptor species, such as black kites, and its distinct profile is erased. Admittedly, not a single goshawk is kept in an Indian zoo.
Considered the most esteemed bird of prey of the Mughal period, its association as a raptor trained to hunt with Mughal emperors, Sindh Ameers, hill rajahs, kings of Bhavnagar and Sikh gurus has conferred on the around the doves of titles and exalted names: Shikari chidiyon ka sardar, Shah-en-Shah, Sikander and Shahbaaz. As defined by its zoological nomenclature in Latin — Accipiter gentilis — this raptor could only be piloted by the nobility. He was worshiped by kings because of his reckless courage when chasing prey: a female goshawk of Sindh nobles is even known to have slaughtered Chinkara gazelles! Considered unparalleled in avians in the chivalrous cultures of the subcontinent, the Northern Goshawk was traded among members of the royal family as gifts, given in ransom, and sparked battles between Sikh gurus and Mughals.
Ornithological literature unearths a silver trail specific to the baaz. In a bygone era, the Northern Goshawk was trapped in Afghanistan and Gilgit-Baltistan and sold for huge sums to the princes of the subcontinent in Lahore / Amritsar Mandis. How much was the price of a baaz, when the wages were in annas and a few rupees:
“The baaz (wood pigeon) is the most esteemed bird of prey in India and a trained bird was once sold for a significant sum … for prices ranging from ??20-50 and ??10-30 for the male (known as Zurrah), âwrote theâ father of Indian ornithology, âTC Jerdon, in The Birds of India, Volume 1, 1862.
“The Shahbaaz is an expensive bird … sometimes costing up to (sum) entirely equal to Â£ 200 in England,” wrote Victorian explorer Sir Richard Burton in his 1852 book Falconry in the Valley of the Indus.
“Every Indian prince in whose condition falconry still survives does not consider his household complete without one, and this is the height of every Indian falconer’s ambition to own one … ??150-200 being paid for a young female (baaz) a few days after her capture, âwrote CH Donald in his 1920 book, The Birds of Prey of the Punjab.
âAn American soldier wanted to buy one of the famous Amritsar mandi goshawk for raptors in 1941-1942. He later wrote in a magazine about his failure to buy the bird from the Rajahs. This was because the Northern Goshawk was available for a princely sum of ??300 then and was observed by the ‘baazdars’ sent to mandi by kings with brilliant purses. In contrast, a peregrine falcon was available for ??5-15 to mandi then, ârecalls Sarfrazuddin Malik, an accomplished falconer who piloted raptors in California before returning home to soak up the art of the royal falconers of Bhavnagar, Gujarat.
However, a gradual change in the fortunes of the Northern Goshawk occurred when the Punjab adopted the Northern Goshawk as a state bird in 1989 and the species was dusted with layers of archival ignominy. Recorded as a sparse breeder in India and a very rare winter visitor to the plains, the rarefied status of the Northern Goshawk is expected for a much needed boost in the coming week. As part of the Indian government’s initiative to commemorate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) has undertaken a series of activities under the banner âAzadi ka amrit mahotsavaâ. Ludhiana Zoo was commissioned by CZA to focus on Northern Goshawks from November 29 to December 5 and undertake massive outreach activities to showcase the raptor considered a symbol of the gurus and culturally embodying the brave and martial spirit of the people.