Norma Bartol: Majestic stables to satisfy any horse lover
Although I spent time in India, a fabulous place to be sure, I missed a place that would have fascinated me (as a longtime horse lover): the Stables of Udaipur. I would not have known about them except that moving brought about a collection of books that I didn’t know about. In the collection, I found a book that fascinated me, “Stables, A Majestic Spaces for Horses,” and indeed the stables were majestic.
South Rajasthan was the royal residency of the House of Mewar, the oldest Rajput dynasty. The stables are found in the heart of the palace.
Every day the horses would follow a morning walk that brought them before the Maharana for his inspection, which happens every day, just as a good horseman should do. An enclosure is there for the five Marwari horses to do their morning exercises, which any horseman can tell you is most important for the horses. Not to my surprise, Maharana’s daughter joins him and rides the horses, as she is a great horse enthusiast.
“For his gods, man has built temples and cathedrals, for his kings, palaces. For one animal — and one animal only, man has built a magnificent and sumptuous shelter: the stables which are found here.”
The first thing that one notices is the outdoor ring where the Maharana’s five horses are, and where one can find the Maharana’s daughter riding.
The city of Udaipur was founded in 1559 when Udai Singh II arrived on a horse, hunting on the bank of Lake Pichola, and where a local advised him to build his palace.
The stables were in the cellar at that time because the North of India was in the middle of internal wars, as well as local wars. Without their horses, they never would have survived, so the horses needed to be kept safe and secure.
According to legend, the pedigree of the Marwari horses goes back to the time when the horses had wings!
Ashwan Pooja takes place in October, at which time, for the entire morning, the grooms are busy decorating the horses. Halra is a silver collar decorated with flowers, and a peacock feather with silver filigree baling is placed between the curved ears of the horses. Neveri is a silver bracelet worn above the knee, and dumoni is a decoration crafted from leather encrusted with silver, which is secured by the saddle and placed beneath the tail of the horse.
The Maharana wants the horses to be beautifully decorated. He blesses them following strict rules dictated by the Brahman of the Royal family, who sits beside them.
I find it hard to believe that today the Marwari horses, which one can identify with their inwardly curving ears, are unfortunately threatened with extinction. But the House of Mewar will continue breeding them, thus “perpetuation, a secular tradition from another age, but one that is still as powerful as ever.”
Greenwich native Norma Bartol, a former Greenwich Time reporter and columnist, lives in the backcountry.