Mangalore: Mangala’s Tryst With Horses

April 16, 2008

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
 -  Benjamin Franklin, US philosopher and statesman (1706-1790)
 Horses have played pivotal role in the history of civilizations. Before Benjamin Franklin, dating back to modern America, we have the story of Trojan horse of ancient Greek history wherein a gigantic hollow wooden horse was left by the Greeks upon their pretended abandonment of the siege of Troy. The Trojans took the giant wooden horse into Troy and Greek soldiers, concealed in the horse, came out and opened the gates of the city to the Greek army at night and conquered the city. Thus, the word Trojan horse has now come to mean a person or thing intended to undermine or destroy from within. We have other expressions associated with horses such as “dark horse” in races and even in politics.
Shakespeare has frequent references to horses;
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs,
Piercing the night’s dull ear. – Henry V
A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse! – Richard III
Given such importance of horses in the history of civilizations and literature, it is difficult to believe that Mangalore has no resident horse. Time was when a town’s importance was measured by the number of horses it hosted, specially in the American Wild West. Thus came the expression “One-horse town”.  Mangalore is now literally a no-horse city.

Once Arab traders brought well-bred horses to Mangalore for regional kings and chieftains. They were camped near the present Mangalore Central Railway Station and the place came to be called Kaprigudda – after the dark North African stable hands who brought the horses and camped there. Kudroli derived its name from horses stabled there by the Arabs. Until the first bus plied on the roads of South Kanara in 1929, the elite traveled by horse carriages and jatkas. But, with the auto-rickshaws coming on the scene, in the 1950s, horses became redundant and also expensive to maintain. With speeding automobiles hogging the roads, it became dangerous for horse carriages to negotiate the roads. Thus, since the last fifty-odd years or so, horses have disappeared from the streets of Mangalore. Will Rogers has bemoaned the exit of horse carriages thus: “The good old horse-and-buggy days when you lived until you died and not until you were just run over.”
The only horse that remained in Mangalore till December 2006 was used for religious ritualistic purpose and had its one hour of fame on one day of the year – on the eighth day of Kadri Utsav when the Ratha takes one round in the temple courtyard.
The role of horse on Kadri Temple Utsav goes back to over one thousand years when the founder of Jogi Panth, Matsendranathji, built the Jogi Math on top of the Kadri Hill. The horse was owned, stabled and looked after by the Jogi Math. The annual Utsav at the Shri Manjunatha Temple at Kadri starts with the flag hoisting on Makara Sankranthi. On the eighth day Brahmarathotsava (Car festival) takes place. At 7 PM, the Ratha is given a start signal by the Arasu or Raja of Jogi Math (incidentally, an Hindi-speaking north Indian), who rides on a decorated horse, saying “Avo beta, Manjunatha” (Come son, Manjunatha ). Then the Ratha is pulled one round of the courtyard surrounding the main temple complex. With this, the role of the horse ends.

It is the tradition for the Arasu to walk down the steep path (now concrete steps have been constructed) linking the hilltop Jogi Math with the Manjunatha Temple. In recent years the horse was led through the highway, via Nanthur Cross and Mallikatte, to the temple dwara on the south. Throughout the year the horse was left free to forage on Kadri Hill and return to its stable in the Jogi Math complex.
Earlier, when Mangalore had many horses, the Jogi Math used to secure one of the horses for the ritual. When the horses in the city became extinct, the Math decided to have its own horse. A devotee working for Shankar Vittal Motors in Shimoga secured a horse from there. Named Shanker, it served for about 25 years until it died of old age. Some devotees from Bangalore secured two horses which died shortly after coming to Mangalore – one in an accident and the other due to illness. The third horse, Chetan, was in service till it died December 2006 of serious wounds. Now the Jogi Math authorities do not seem keen on having a captive horse of their own for the one-hour ceremony in the whole year. In January 2007 they secured a horse from a tile factory owner at Ganjimutt—outside the city limits. According to Jogi Ananadanath, who has written a book titled Nathapanthkshetra Jogimatha and is closely connected with the affairs of the Kadri Math, there is no plan to replace Chetan and the annual one-hour ceremony involving a horse would be managed by borrowing it for the day.

So, present-day Mangalorians have to be satisfied with the statue of Rani Abbakka riding on a horse in Ullal. Recently some Mangalorians had an apparition of a horse carriage. On the evening of April 6, 2008, Mrinal, daughter of Dr. Subir  and Loretta Rebello, landed at the Bendore Church to wed Andrew, son of  the late Dr. Charles and Philomena Peris. There was nostalgia among the old and novelty for others. The guests and bystanders fixed their eyes on the horse carriage and its driver. One of the questions children asked the driver was if the horse bites. The horse, cart and cart-man had been carted out from Mysore for a three-day outing in a tempo at a reported cost of Rs. 25,000.The horse carriage was used to convey the bride from her residence at Kadri and drive the nuptial couple to the reception venue at Ladies Club grounds on Light House Hill. 
John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is Editor of website (Interactive Cerebral Challenger)

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