Symbol of peace, original messenger to mankind… Pigeons facing identity crisis in Delhi

Looking at Delhi’s skyline, one can’t help but notice two things – overarching smog & omnipresent pigeons. Generally resented for their invasion of spaces designated for humans, there is more to these unassuming birds than meets the eye.

Columba Livia (scientific name for commonly found rock pigeons) were the first-to-be-domesticated birds by humans, possess superior ability to co-exist with humans, adapt really well to any environment. These intriguing birds have existed since times immemorial. They find mention in ancient Hindu scriptures, Roman civilizations where they were symbols of peace, messengers of God and later messenger to humans.

There is an ongoing broil pronouncing pigeons as public and health menace (in wake of their nesting, defecation of buildings, landmarks, statues, public property). I chose to reflect on what made these birds as trusted carriers of messages far and wide in distant past. Across ancient civilizations, humans have recognized pigeons as docile yet intelligent creatures with cowed voices, remarkable home-tracking skills that somehow found their way home when let loose.

Mankind harnessed this skill of pigeons to establish the first ever, long-distance mode of communication long before the advent of technology. Mughal rulers further channelized this skill into a folk sport called Kabootar-Baazi or Pigeon-Flying; a practice which may have officially died long back but lives on in minds of people, in Bollywood movies & perhaps somewhere amongst close circuits in reality.

Today the reins of communication may have been taken over by innovative telecommunication devices, yet the ancient folk sport has apparently lived-on in once Mughal-ruled Delhi city albeit in closed circuits. There are tales from random people; I am yet to witness & validate any of it myself.

Incase you are a keen birder yourself looking to explore the species & their glorious descent, ask for directions to seemingly non-existent, shifting Kabootar Market around Red Fort area. If you’re lucky enough to locate it, be prepared to be captivated by rich collection of indigenous & migrant pigeons in variety of forms, sizes & colors. As with the physical traits, the names given to each breed is equally distinctive – Menadaar, Patiala Chandne, Peele Jarde, Safed Patad, Surekha. I am informed that the remarkable ability of home-coming is in-built in all breeds of pigeons irrespective of their physical differences.

Pigeon Market Kabootar Market

A visit to this nondescript market brought along stories of how pigeon-rearing is still considered serious, full-time passion by handful of people in Delhi. People own, rear these creatures as their family members as a custom followed over the generations. Then there are other unverified stories of regular pigeon-flying competitions that happen in city. Here the owners lets loose its’ flock of pigeons, directs them in their flight in air by mouth-whistles & leads them back to their respective terraces in the end. When asked if they are well taken care of, people assert that pigeons are their most prized possessions – they are fed with dry fruit diet which is difficult to manage even for the owners, but they happily serve them on account of their affection.

The practice of rearing pigeons out of genuine love is an appreciative undertaking. Meting out any other treatment to these original messengers to mankind, rearing them with any ulterior agenda is downright condemnable.