As India’s largest paramilitary force, the Border Security Force, celebrates its golden jubilee on December 1, 2015, we take a look at the unique camelry that is an integral part of this organization.
Every year, as the military and paramilitary contingents march down Rajpath on Republic Day, the Camel Contingent and the Camel Mounted Band of the Border Security Force literally steal the show.
The Camel Mounted Band and the musical and acrobatic teams of the Camel Contingent perform regularly at the Jodhpur Sthapana Divas, the Thar Mahostav at Barmer, the Desert Festival of Jaisalmer, the Annual Camel Fair and Festival of Bikaner, the Marwar Festival, and the Rajasthan Sthapana Divas – being the main attraction in these fairs and festivals.
Camelry in history
Camelry, or camel cavalry, has been a part of military establishments around the world for a long time. Camels were first mentioned as being used in warfare sometime around 853 B.C.
“In India, camelry dates back to the time of Maharaja Rao Jodha of Jodhpur in the early 15th century. In A.D. 1465, the Maharaja’s son Rao Bika had an altercation with him and left Jodhpur with 100 camels to set up his own kingdom. He chose to reside in the area which is present day Bikaner. The new kingdom was named after him and the proprietor of the land, Nera, who was a Nehra Jat,” says Mr Kuldip Choudhary, Deputy Commandant, OIC, Camel Contingent.
After that, there is no mention of camelry until the time of Maharaja Ganga Singh in A.D. 1880. The Bikaner Camel Corps came into being under him and was also known as the Ganga Risala.
When India became independent, the cavalry and camelry of the Rajasthan region merged with that of the Indian Army.
Camelry became a part of the Artillery Regiment, with 13 Grenadiers and 17 Grenadiers being the new camelry units of the country.
“When the camels were a part of the Indian Army’s Grenadier units they participated in the wars of 1948 and 1965. The Border Security Force was established in 1965 and, soon after, the Indian military camels were dispatched to them for training and security duties. The BSF camels played a major role in the war of 1971. But it was in 1976 though that the BSF was first able to showcase its camelry contingent at the Republic Day parade on Rajpath in New Delhi,” says the proud Commanding Officer of the Camel Contingent.
From 1986 onwards, Inspector General KS Rathore took a lot of interest in the BSF camelry. He also came up with the idea of using camels for ceremonial and entertainment activities like mass PT, musical rides and acrobatics on camel back.
The unique camel band of the BSF was the brainchild of Shri Rathore. The task to train the camels and their riders in these fields was given to Inspector Moti Singh Chauhan and Assistant Commissioner Takht Singh. Mr Deen Bandhu was the first bandmaster of the Camel Band.
After three years of rigorous training, from 1986 to 1989, the Camel Mounted Band of the BSF marched down Rajpath for the first time in January 1990.
Camel training and performance
The Border Security Force has around 1200 male camels on its rolls. Camels are acquired at the age of 5 and are enrolled after a formal veterinary inspection. On average, a camel serves in the force for 15 years, retiring from active service at the age of 20 or 21. The BSF has primarily three subtypes of dromedary camels – Jaisalmeris, which are sturdily built; Bikaneris, which are high speed runners; and the Nachnas, which are used for ceremonial duties.
The Camel Training Centre is located at the BSF Frontier Headquarters at Jodhpur. Intense training is given to the camels as well as their riders here. The rider has to know how to handle and take care of his camel properly. The camel has to be trained to trust its rider and do the various tasks it is commanded to do.
The camels used for ceremonial duties are trained a little differently. They have to get used to having continuous loud music playing around them. These camels and their riders wear something like 75 different pieces of decorative items when they step out for ceremonial duties. It takes time for camels to get used to wearing all these hand crafted items.
Camels are intrinsically lethargic animals. But they are extremely shrewd and have a strong sixth sense. Unlike other animals, a tamed camel remains revengeful and can harm even its own rider. Hence, the rider and the camel have to train together and become an integral part of each other’s lives. Unless the bond between the rider and the camel is strong, it is very difficult for either to perform the duties assigned to them.
The Brass Band, which is mounted on the camels, is like a normal band but with the musicians seated with their musical instruments on the camels. Before a ceremonial performance, a band musician usually chooses the camel he will be seated upon and the original rider is always somewhere close by to assist if necessary.
Camels retire from duty after putting in around 15 years of service. The 2015 Republic Day parade was the last Rajpath appearance of the majestic camel, Sangram. This 16-year-old camel has participated in 11 Republic Day parades and was the oldest in the camel contingent this year.
To know more about the Border Security Force and the unique Camel Contingent, log onto the official website of the BSF: www. bsf.nic.in