Dogs Through the Ages



From the mighty Great Dane to the compact-sized Chihuahua, we sure love our faithful canine companions don’t we?

But did you know that this is a relationship that goes back 15,000 years?

Dogs have actually been a part of the humans’ lifestyle since the time of hunter-gatherers. Among the earliest archaeological evidence of this relationship are the remains of a domesticated dog found in a human grave in Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany, dating back to 14,708 BCE. It has also been reflected in art and mythology through the millennia.

Bhimbetka rock painting of a man with a dog
Bhimbetka rock painting of a man with a dog|http://www.kamat.com

In the Indian subcontinent, the 9000-year-old rock paintings at Bhimbetka rock shelters (7000 BCE) near Bhopal, are most likely the earliest evidence of the close human relationship with dogs.

The pre-historic images here reveal several representations of the animal, including one on a leash led by a man. Belonging to approximately the same period are the Singanpur rock paintings in Raigarh, Chattisgarh, which show a barking dog rushing towards its quarry.

Terracotta figure of a Mohenjodaro dog wearing a collar
Terracotta figure of a Mohenjodaro dog wearing a collar|Pinterest

This close relationship with dogs continued during the Harappan era, as can be seen from the terracotta figurines of Mohenjodaro (3400-1700 BCE), which show dogs wearing collars.

In Lothal in Gujarat, an ancient site belonging to the Indus Valley civilization period, bones and teeth of pre-historic hounds have been recovered.

The hounds native to India were objects of fascination abroad for their ferociousness and size. Roman author Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) in his book Naturalis Historia stated, ‘Animals grow biggest in India. From India comes the dog that is larger than all others.’ When Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 BCE, King Sopeithes of Gandhara is said to have gifted him around 150 hunting dogs. Written records also show that dogs were exported in large numbers to Ancient Rome and Egypt.


Written records also show that dogs were exported in large numbers to Ancient Rome and Egypt.

In Indian literature, the earliest reference to dogs is in the Rig Veda (X.108.1-11), which refers to Vastopati, the presiding deity of the house and guardian of the home. It also tells the tale of Indra’s celestial female canine Sarama and how she pursued and recovered the stolen cows from Patala (hell).

Bhairava, the incarnation of Shiva and Lord Dattatreya
Bhairava, the incarnation of Shiva and Lord Dattatreya|Wikimedia Commons

Dogs appear frequently in Hindu epics, the most important mention being in the Mahabharata, which begins and ends with it. The story begins with Janmejaya (predecessor to the Pandavas and Kauravas) and his three brothers who beat up a dog for no reason, and in retaliation, the mother dog curses him with a great tragedy on his clan.

Another famous Mahabharata story is , how after many years after the battle of Kurukshetra, when the Pandavas and their wife Draupadi decide to leave the earth and enter heaven, they are accompanied by a stray dog.


The most prominent place of a dog in Hindu mythology is as the Vahana of Bhairava, the fierce form of Shiva.

The most prominent place of a dog in Hindu mythology is as the Vahana of Bhairava, the fierce form of Shiva. Historian David Gordon-White in his book ‘The Myth of the Dog-Man’ writes how the origins of Bhairava and his ferocious dog companion lie in the Sabara tribe of Odisha, who worshipped dogs as a deity. Similarly, in Maharashtra and Karnataka, Lord Dattatreya, an incarnation of the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is worshipped. He is always shown with four dogs as his companions, which represent the four Vedas.

Representation of the Tamil Nadu herostone
Representation of the Tamil Nadu herostone|Pinterest

Dogs as hunting companions and pets were popular in medieval India as well. Across South India, there are Hero Stones, dedicated to dogs who died in the battlefield. For example, the Pallava King Mahendravarman (600-630 CE) created a special plaque in honour of a dog named Kovivan who died along with his master in a battle, which was found in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu. Similarly, hunting dogs are frequently seen in Hoysala temples acorss Karnataka, accompanying King Sala, the founder of the Hoysala dynasty.


In the Polygar Wars between the British and Tamil Nadu zamindars, dogs were included as a part of the army.

Dogs, which until now were used as hunters and guards, had a new role to play in the 18th century. In the Polygar Wars (1799-1805) between the British and Tamil Nadu zamindars, they were included as a part of the army. As written by a British East India Company officer Colonel James Welsh in his book Military Reminiscences, ‘…the fort of the Polygar warriors Marudhu brothers near Tirunelveli was defended by Kombai dogs…’ , a breed native to the town of Kombai in Tamil Nadu. Another breed used was the Rajapalayam hounds, which were trained to sneak into the East India Company army stables at night and bite the hamstrings of their horses, thus rendering them immobile.

Rajapalayam Hound
Rajapalayam Hound|Ebay

While the dogs took up fight for their humans, men too went on the streets in their defense. In the summer of 1832, the British government ordered the killing of street dogs in Bombay and as a reaction to this, the locals came out in protest. This event is noteworthy because it was the first incident of riots in Bombay and became famous as the Bombay Dog Riots.

In some cases, the dog was given more affection than its human equivalents, as seen with the eccentric Maharaja of Junagadh.

Muhammad Mahabat Khan III (1900-1959) owned over 800 dogs. Each of his dogs had its own room, a telephone and an attendant. It is believed that he even invited Lord Irwin to the marriage of his favourite pet Roshanara, and when he flew to Pakistan during the Partition of India, he left his wives behind to make more space in the aircraft for his dogs.

Muhammad Mahabat Khan III
Muhammad Mahabat Khan III|Pinterest

This situation finds parallels in modern-day India as well.

With pet cafes springing up on every corner and hairdressers, vegan dog food and luxury dog kennels rounding up the pampered pooch lifestyle, our domesticated divas have never had it so good on four legs.

From hunting together in the wilderness thousands of years ago to being part of family vacations, the relationship has evolved with the evolution of the species.

Something to ponder over while you take Tuffy for his morning walk!


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