History of India’s ‘Horsey’
Wajahat Habibullah
WINGED STALLIONS AND WICKED MARES: HORSES IN INDIAN MYTH AND HISTORY by Wendy Doniger University of Virginia Press, Indian edition, Speaking Tiger, 2021, 300 pp., 699.00
January 2022, volume 46, No 1

Doniger’s is a work of passion. This is on display not only in the unfolding of the narrative of her Winged Stallions and Wicked Mares but graphically in the 1968 photograph of Doniger on her Anglo-Arabian mount Damien, which although frozen in stationery pose clearly shows the elegant seat of a consummate lover of the animal. And the theme of the book revolves, as Doniger mentions in the first sentence of Chapter 1 (p. 1), ‘Horses in Indian Nature and Culture’, around the nature of the horse, stallion and mare; and how this weaves into the history of India springing from the Sanskrit and vernacular ‘storytelling traditions’, emanating almost from the birth of time. This includes in fascinating detail, in the chapter on ‘Horse Myths and Rituals in the Absence of Horses’, the account of the legend of the horse in tribal art and tradition, even amongst those tribes that may never have had experience with horses (p. 189). This is part of what the author describes as the essentiality of horses ‘to the religious imagination of India’ (p. 23). Doniger’s is the definitive work on the history of India’s ‘horsey’—a word repeatedly used by her with obvious relish— mythology, but it is not a history of the evolution of India’s horse.

The core of Doniger’s presentation, and certainly the most prized, is then in three chapters, beginning with ‘Horses in the Vedas’ and concluding with the ‘Ashvashastra, the Science of Horses’, having minutely scanned the Brahmanas (900 BCE), the Upanishads (600 BCE), the Epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana (300 BCE-300 CE) and the Sanskrit Puranas.

Continue reading this review