Horse of flesh meets horse of iron

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Horse of flesh, meet horse of iron

Horse of flesh, meet horse of iron

Horse-traders won’t think this much of a deal but time was when horses in the flesh such as these were prized in the south Indian kingdom of Thanjavur, or Tanjore as the British masters called it. Today, though, these derelicts wander without honour, rummaging in rubbish bins for a bite.

I came upon this striking mare in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu on a hot August afternoon. As I prepared to photograph it, a bike shot into the frame, making for an intriguing contrast in so many ways. The horse of flesh stepped aside, making way for a horse of steel. This moment, in this picture, mirrored a century of life gone by in this storied south Indian town.

There are plenty of such horses roaming the streets of Thanjavur, and many more along the ragged coastline in Point Calimere have been feral for generations (await a post on that later). Most people I asked were comfortably ignorant about the horses but some informed me that most of these animals were the remnant stock of a flourishing trade dating back to the Chola era. After all, it is here in Thanjavur that the Brihadisvara Temple, one of the Great Living Chola Temples, is situated. Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Darasuram, where the other two Great Living Chola Temples are located, are not far from here. Other horses may be descended from the cavalry horses and transport horses from the British occupation of Thanjavur.

Tomorrow, January 31, marks the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Wooden Horse. Keep an ear to this blog for more horse whispers.

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