Domestic Animals of India: Pets of Taj Mahal

Amidst the opulent walls of palaces such as the Taj Mahal, the radiant glow of ancient temples in Varanasi lit by oil lamps, and the fragrant gardens of Shalimar Bagh filled with the scent of jasmine, there were various animals, including dogs and cats, but also those who were often overlooked by people.

From graceful Persian cats to charming Indian parakeets, these domestic animals were integral to the people daily lives. Embark on a journey through the annals of history to discover the fascinating bond between the Emperors, Maharajas, Yogins, common people, and their animal companions in ancient India. In this article, we will explore this relationship through concrete facts, captivating historical anecdotes, and the stories of renowned individuals who shaped this unique dynamic.

Palaces like the Taj Mahal were not only the residences of people, but also served as habitats for animals, including dozens domestic pets
Palaces like the Taj Mahal were not only the residences of people, but also served as habitats for animals, including dozens domestic pets

Domestic Pets of Mughal India

Persian Cats: Graceful Guardians of Domesticity


In the serene ambience of Indian temples and palaces, Persian cats held sway, cherished for their elegant beauty and elated demeanor. These feline companions were particularly adored by the maharajas' wives. Among the most notable was the beloved Persian cat, Shamsa, renowned for her striking amber eyes and silken fur. Shamsa's gentle purrs and affectionate nuzzles were said to soothe the anxieties of the emperor's wife and her entourage. 

Inside the Taj Mahal, Persian cats were favorite companions in the women's quarters of palaces, but they were also cherished pets of some emperors
Inside the Taj Mahal, Persian cats were favorite companions in the women's quarters of palaces, but they were also cherished pets of some emperors


Not only noble maidens, but also Emperor Shah Jahan, renowned for the architectural marvel of the Taj Mahal, harbored a deep affection for Persian cats. One of his favorites was Nargis, a silver-coated beauty known for her graceful demeanor and affectionate nature. Nargis often lounged in the magnificent gardens of the Taj Mahal, delighting visitors with her swift movements and playful antics. Persian cats also served a practical purpose, helping to keep the palace halls clean by warding off vermin.

Indian Parakeets: Winged Messengers of Joy


Indian parakeets flew like green jewels through the verdant orchards and luxurious gardens of Mogul India, their joyful songs echoing through the air. Known for his sense of aesthetics, Emperor Shah Jahan enjoyed the companionship of these colorful birds. The emperor was enthralled by the vibrant feathers and melodic chirping parakeets, which brought joy to the settings of the Taj Mahal. 

Mughal Princess is holding an Indian parakeet in Taj Mahal
Princess is holding an Indian parakeet


Similarly, Princess Gulbadan, the daughter of Emperor Babur, was well-known for her love of Indian parakeets. An ornate aviary at her palace in Agra was home to these birds, where they produced a vibrant spectacle of color and singing, creating the atmosphere of a paradise garden on Earth.

Afghan Hounds: Companions of the Hunt


According to historical records, Indian males hold Afghan hounds in high regard because of their magnificent appearance, which radiates dignity and grace. On the other hand, women have a preference for the company of cats and birds. The Afghan Hounds, who were revered as hunting companions, displayed their hunting skills by pursuing their targets with precision. 

Afghan hounds are known for their skill in hunting in Mughal India
Afghan hounds are known for their skill in hunting


Babur's trusted friend Sherbaz was one of the most well-known Afghan hounds in Indian history. Sherbaz's steadfast loyalty earned him favor from the emperor, and when the hound passed away, he was even buried in a marble monument that still remains today.

Indian Mughal Rabbits: The favorites pets of the private chambers


Mughal rabbits were a common sight in the emperors' private living quarters. These little animals, who were bred for their distinctive fur patterns and serene disposition, added humor and happiness to the somber matters of court life.

Empress Mumtaz Mahal, who inspired the Taj Mahal, had a special fondness for Mughal rabbits. Among her most beloved pets were Chandni and Badal, two fluffy friends who offered company throughout her difficult times.

Indian Mughal rabbits were favorite companions visible in private rooms and inner courtyard gardens of the Taj Mahal
Indian Mughal rabbits were favorite companions visible in private rooms and inner gardens of the Taj Mahal


Emperor Akbar also had a special fondness for Mughal rabbits. Kept in ornate cages within the chambers, these delicate creatures may also wear simple decorations during special occasions, adding a bit of fun to often very formal celebrations in the palace.

The relationship with other animals in Mughal India

Peafowl: Splendid Symbols of Imperial Majesty


Some animals were kept as friends, while others were used as status symbols. That's how it is with peafowls.The gardens of Mogul palaces were filled with peafowl. Admired for their colorful plumage and elegance, these birds represented the might of the empire.

Peafowls were characterized by Emperor Jahangir as "the jewels of the gardens of Taj Mahal, the pride of the sky."
Peafowls were characterized by Emperor Jahangir as "the jewels of the gardens of Taj Mahal, the pride of the sky"

 

Emperor Jahangir was particularly enamored with peafowl. He kept a lavish menagerie within the sprawling grounds of his palace in Lahore, where peafowl roamed freely amidst exotic flora and shimmering pools.

Jahangir's love for these splendid birds was immortalized in his memoirs, where he wrote poetically of their elegance and allure, declaring them to be "the jewels of the garden, the pride of the sky."

Indian Mastiffs: Guardians of the Gates


In the bustling streets and crowded bazaars, mastiffs served as steadfast guardians, their intimidating presence deterring would-be criminals. Bred for size and strength, these formidable dogs patrolled cities and palace grounds, their deep barks echoing through the night. These loyal guardians, trained from birth to serve and protect, also formed an integral part of the palace security. 

Elephants: Symbols of Power


While not traditional "pets," elephants played a significant role in the construction of the Taj Mahal itself, revered as symbols of power.

Mughal India was home to several thousand elephants, which participated in the building of the Taj Mahal
Mughal India was home to several thousand elephants


Emperor Shah Jahan employed a team of trained elephants to transport stone blocks for the Taj Mahal, including Bahadur, a legendary tusker renowned for his strength and intelligence.

Arabian Horses: Valued in Gold


In Mogul India, horses held a revered place, symbolizing prestige. Arabian horses were prized for their endurance and elegance.

The value of the Arab horses was measured in terms of gold in Mughal India
The value of the Arab horses was measured in terms of gold


For millennia, they have been bred in the deserts of Arabia and are known for their refined and elegant appearance, which is marked by a dished face, large expressive eyes, arched neck, and high tail carriage. These distinctive features contribute to their striking beauty. These magnificent horses were kept in stables within fortified citadels, their value equated to that of gold. Arab horses are also renowned for their exceptional stamina and endurance. They could travel long distances at a steady pace with minimal water and food.

Marwari Horses: Icons of Wild Spirit


In Mughal India, horses held a revered place, symbolizing power and prestige. Besides the imported Arab horses, native Marwari horses also roamed the arid plains of Rajasthan with indomitable spirit, favored for their strength and intelligence. One of the most famous was Chetak, the loyal steed of Maharana Pratap, celebrated for his bravery during the Battle of Haldighati.

Beautiful Marwari horses originated in the arid plains of northern India, specifically Rajasthan
Beautiful Marwari horses originated in the arid plains of northern India, specifically Rajasthan


One of the most striking features of the Marwari horse is its distinctive inward-curving ears, which can rotate up to 180 degrees. Marwari horses are known for their unique and smooth gaits, including a lateral ambling gait called the "Revaal." This comfortable and efficient gait made them well-suited for long-distance travel across rough terrains.This unique trait sets them apart from other horse breeds. Despite their historical significance, Marwari horses faced a decline in numbers during the 20th century. However, efforts have been made to preserve and promote the breed, leading to a resurgence in recent years. Several organizations and breeding programs in India are dedicated to the conservation and promotion of Marwari horses

Animals in ancient Indian society


Beyond the opulent palaces and grand courts of the Mogul rulers, domestic animals played crucial roles in the lives of common people across India. From bustling marketplaces to humble villages, these animals were not just companions but also vital partners in daily life.

Domestic Animals of India: Pets of Taj Mahal
Ancient India, like every other society, was a society in close contact with different kinds of animals, the inhabitants interacting with them in various ways

In the crowded streets of Mogul India, stray cats and dogs were a common sight. Cats were particularly valued for their ability to control vermin, helping to keep homes and markets free of pests. Dogs, on the other hand, served as loyal protectors, guarding homes and alerting their owners to potential dangers

For many families, domestic animals were not just pets but also sources of livelihood. Cattle, goats, and chickens were kept for their milk, meat, and eggs, providing sustenance for families and surplus goods for trade. Oxen and horses were indispensable for plowing fields and transporting goods, essential tasks for agrarian communities.

Even in the bustling urban centers, animals played vital roles in commerce and transportation. Donkeys and camels were commonly used as pack animals, carrying goods through narrow alleyways and crowded streets. Pigeons were employed as messengers, delivering urgent communications between merchants and traders.

Festivals and ceremonies often included animals, whether as offerings to deities or as participants in rituals symbolizing prosperity and fertility.

Despite the stark divides between the wealthy nobility and the common folk, the bond between humans and animals transcended social barriers in Mogul India. Whether in the grand palaces of emperors or the humble dwellings of peasants, domestic animals were valued members of the community, enriching lives with their presence and serving as reminders of our shared connection to the natural world.

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