As in Ancient Greece and Rome, gladiators would fight to the death in a demonstration of their loyalty towards their masters, one perceives the same spirit in the ruthless display that is Murgh Bazi. Rooster fighting from the early 16th century has developed over time from being a sport to a dual of the underdog.
The practice of cockfighting has been synonymous with the bloodbath it truly is; where both, organizers and participants, cheer on a cruel fight between roosters tacked with sharp knives fighting to their deaths. Due to its illegal and unsavoury status the cockpit is transient, moving from location to location with every new fight, an attempt to stave of law officials from the trail.
Working on Murgh Bazi, I photographed in and around Ajmer, Rajasthan, finding cockpits where roosters were brought in jute bags and various other containers of similar shape and form. Rooster fights are usually set-up in the months of September running till May. There are bidding wars accompanying each series of fights, with bids ranging from ten thousand Indian rupees to one lakh. The series, which run for a period of six months, with at least two to three fights per month, are called jod in the native tongue and are of two kinds the wet fight – which uses water as a means to cool the roosters down, and the dry fight – which uses no application water.
Like champion horses these Roosters are kept on a special diet inclusive of almonds, cashew-nuts, pistachios, and raisins to get rid of any excess body fat. In addition they are fed various mixtures of spices such as liquorice (Mulethi), peppercorns (Dakhni Mirch), millet flour, and occasional injections of muscle-building hormones and antibiotics. To maintain their aggressions they perform carefully choreographed exercises and are kept away from the opposite sex to retain heat and develop rage within them. Many rooster breeders would hold out the hens, dangled almost like carrots before the roosters, teasingly kept just out of reach as the roosters run the course developing stamina.
Murgh Bazi, captures the drama, the thrill, the brutality, of a sport that celebrates barbarianism reminiscent of the bygone eras of conquest and war. While cockfighting has historic roots that date as far back as 3000 years, beginning with the Indus Valley, with mention in ancient texts such as Manu Needhi Sastiram, Kattu Seval Sastiram, and a place of prominence in the Mughal court, it was deemed illegal by the State Government and the Supreme Court in 1960 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act. Yet it sustains even today in the fringes of our culture and society. Despite it being a horrifying culture and sport, there are areas across the country where it is a thriving sport and practise. This project captures these fringe activities – the cruelty but also the love and care shown by the owners to their roosters.
Syed Adnan Ahmed is a Documentary Photographer and Graphic Designer from Ajmer, Rajasthan. He did his Bachelors and Masters in Graphic Designing and Photography from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Adnan has been passionate about photography from his early student days and has dedicated himself to this particular art form.
He has received the Habitat Photosphere Fellowship for Photography, Neel Dongre Award/Grant for Photography, NDMC Award for Excellence in Photography and has been a part of the travelling Photography exhibition organized by the social campaign of the Government of India, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. His work has also been exhibited in galleries like india international centre (IIC), All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society (AIFACS) and the MF Husain Art Gallery, and his photographs published in magazines such as India Today, Better Photography.