Jahangir’s Elephants

The English traveller Thomas Coryate (1577-1617) describes the weekly elephant fights held at the court of the Mughal emperor, Jahangir (depicted in the illustration below). Above, Coryate riding an elephant, a wish come true: “I have rid upon an elephant since I came to this court, determining one day (by Gods leave) to have my picture expressed in my next booke sitting upon an elephant.”

The King presenteth himselfe thrice every daie without faile to his nobles ; at the rising of the sunne, which he adoreth by the elevation of his hands ; at noone ; and at five of the clocke in the evening. But he standeth in a roome aloft, alone by him selfe, and looketh uppon them from a window that hath an embroidered sumptuous coverture, supported with two silver pillasters to yeeld shaddowe unto him. Twice every week elephants fight before him, the bravest spectacle in the worlde. Many of them are thirteene foot and a halfe high ; and they seeme to justle together like two little mountaines, and were they not parted in the middest of their fighting by certaine fire-workes, they would exceedingly gore and cruentate one another by their murdering teeth. Of elephants the King keepeth 80,000 in his whole kingdome at an unmeasurable charge ; in feeding of whom, and his lyons and other beasts, he spendeth an incredible masse of money, at the least ten thousand pounds sterling a day. I have rid upon an elephant since I came to this court, determining one day (by Gods leave) to have my picture expressed in my next booke sitting upon an elephant. The king keepeth a thousand women for his own body, whereof the chiefest (which is his Queene) is called Normal.

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