History of Animal Keeping in Ancient India and it’s Socio-Economic, Scientific Applicability in 21st Century

“Atharva Veda”, “Shalihotra”, “Aghnya”, “Gopa”, “Artha-Shastra”


April 29, 2023


The human race is a member of the Mammalian class and the Primate Order. So, a human is also an animal. But what differs from other animal species is human wisdom. It is only humans who can domesticate other animals and use them to fulfill different needs. In hunting/gathering hominid societies, animals were rich sources of meat, skin, and bone. But the artistic and curious human mind kept records of his relationship with the animal world through rock paintings from the Upper Paleolithic era. From different centres of human habitats throughout the Indian Sub-Continent, a huge amount of animal remains have been discovered by Archeologists. Apart from kitchen waste which highlights the on-veg food habit of nomadic people, terracotta animal figurines, day-to-day bone tools, ivory and shell ornaments, artifacts etc., pointed out the importance and use of domesticated animals in human life. Animal domestication and husbandry became synonymous with Indian Proto-Historic and Historic civilizations not only economically / militarily but also with religious and cultural traditions. Sheep and goats were first domesticated by South Indian Neolithic men around 2 thousand and five hundred B.C. as sources of milk, wool, meat, leather and other commodities. Today’s Indian domestic fowl originated from red jungle fowl. Seals of Indus civilization were decorated with humped and hump-less bulls, goats, sheep, elephants, and fowl. Vedic Aryans husbanded horses, dogs, sheep, goats, fowl, elephants, cow-bull etc. During the Mauryan era, buffalo was included in the category of dairy cattle. Domestication of animals is not a new thing in human history. The novelty lies in Indian people’s attention and urge for the wellbeing of domesticated animals. Ancient Indian literature like Vedas, CharakSamhita, SushrutSamhita, HaritaSamhita, Agni Purana, Mastya Purana, Artha-Shastra etc. Provide proper guidance on orientation, construction, and purification of animal houses, besides veterinary Ayurvedic and surgical treatment of numerous diseases. In Vedic literature, Cow was considered as the measuring unit of wealth. Cow received the status of “Aghnya” [Not to be killed]. Priests were the first veterinarians of ancient India. Prominent among them were Shalihotra [Earliest expert in Horse medicine and author of “Haya Ayurveda”], Palakapya [Author of “Hasty- Ayurveda”] etc. 6th Century B.C. Indian rulers of Sravasti, Kousambi, and Lichabi kingdoms issued humped bull/cow inscribed coins. During the Indian invasion of Alexander the Great [326 B.C.], a Prince from Punjab presented Cock with engraved silver coins as a form of tribute. Arthashastra mentioned the King’s duty of ensuring enough pasture land near every village. Gopa was accountable for keeping a record of this land. Horses and Elephants were the two main war animals of the Mauryan army. Proper care was given to them. Hurting/killing of any of these species resulted in the death penalty. The third Mauryan Monarch, Asoka, after his conversion to Buddhism, established veterinary hospitals throughout his domain. Ancient Indians were aware of the technique of animal husbandry as well. In short ancient Indian Veterinary Ayurvedic and surgical treatments are effective in curing dysentery, cough, wound, infertility, and different infections besides psychological stress still in the Twenty-First Century. Besides terrestrial animals’ ancient Indian people were aware of the existence of fish, shells, and turtles. It is my aim in this essay to analyze customs, technologies and history of the domestication of animals by ancient Indian people and its socio-economic-scientific applicability in the scenario of the Twenty-First Century. I will utilize both primary and secondary sources to endure this goal.