Shabaash Virat! A Fine Steed ‘Hangs His Saddle’ and Rides Into the Sunset

Virat, the black stallion of the President of India's Bodyguard Commandant retired from service on 26 January.

5 min read

Horses and the Indian profession of arms share an inexplicable bond, romance and emotion that predates recorded history.

Faith or factual truth, the Vedas note the Sanskrit word Ashva (horse) and speaks of Indra riding spoked-wheel chariots, just as Lord Rama rode out on one, or as Krishna served as charioteer in another – never mind that archaeologists insist that horses were domesticated much later in Eurasia and spoked-wheel chariot were first used by Hykos to conquer Egypt, only 3600 years ago?

The Importance of Horses in Indian Tradition

The definitive imagery of Arjuna's five white horse chariot in the Dharma Yudha (righteous war) with Krishna as the charioteer extolling Arjuna ‘to fulfil his Kshatriya (warrior) duty to uphold the Dharma’ as part of the holy Gita, is part of our subconscious soldering beliefs.

Later, Gautama Buddha’s Kanthaka, Maharana Pratap’s Chetak, Rani Laxmi Bai’s Badal, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Laili etc would seep into our subliminal muscle-memory as noble and inextricable part of our civilisational, cultural and martial traditions.


Lt Col James Tod in Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan notes the veneration, ‘The devotion of the Rajput is still paid to his arms, as to his horse. He swears ‘by the steel’, and prostrates himself before his defensive buckler, his lance, his sword, or his dagger’.

The French idolised and valourised the cavalryman with the old French term chevalerie (horse soldiery) to posit the virtuous concept of ‘chivalry’ which entailed ethos, courtesy, courtly mannerism, honour and valiancy onto its usage.

No such necessity was ordained for the furious cavalry of the Mongols who conquered the largest empire by landmass ever, on their mounts – their Mongol horses ensured that at one time, twenty-five percent of the world population lived under the Mongols.

Lives of the fearsome Mongols warriors revolved arounds their horses and they are believed to be inducted into horse-riding at the tender age of three, as they would say, ‘If the horse dies, I die; if it lives, I survive’.

Cavalry Charges in Indian History

But it is only befitting, that the last successful cavalry charge in history of modern warfare, entailed gallant Indian soldiers. In 1918, at Haifa (modern day, Israel), a surreal charge by the mounted sowars (with only spears and lances) from the State Forces of Jodhpur, Mysore and Hyderabad routed the well-entrenched Turk & German defences with machine guns and artillery.

This daring cavalry charge goes down in the annals of history as exceptional heroism in broad daylight, against unbelievable odds.

Major Thakur Dalpat Singh of the Jodhpur lancers earned his much-deserved Military Cross after paying the ‘ultimate price’ (seven other Indian ranks and sixty horses were killed), but not before they had accounted for fifteen hundred Turks, killed, or wounded.

Decades later, the Jodhpur and Mysore Lancers were to embed their indefatigable spirit and representation into independent India’s 61st Cavalry Regiment.

Soon, advancement in technology made traditional horse-mounted cavalry redundant, and the noble steed made way for tanks, and the inseparable horses were left for only ceremonial duties and sporting events.

Storied history and horsey-emotions for Armoured Regiments were sacrosanct, and they invoked the spirit of the horse in their tanks, as they went about retaining nomenclatures like Poona Horse, Central India Horse, Skinner’s Horse, Scinde Horse, Deccan Horse etc with much folkloric elan and justifiable aplomb.

The Mounts Surrounding the President

However, the singular honour of the senior-most regiment in the Indian Army’s order of precedence, the household cavalry regiment of the President’s Bodyguards (PBG), has retained its supremely magnificent mounts to escort and protect the President of India at Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Largely ceremonial (with operational reconnaissance and parachute pathfinder duties in war), the legacy of this fine ‘institution’ is incapable of being written, without mentioning the noble beasts who seamlessly matched their gait, trots, gallops, canters and jumps for almost 250 years, at the unflinching command, trust and tug of their sowars.

With unbelievable precision, timing and reaction, the horses of the President’s Bodyguards have added incalculable majesty and dignity to the sovereign with their sheer presence – matched in-step with the awe-inspiring sight of PBG sowars in resplendent ceremonial uniforms with glittering accoutrements, who are carefully selected of a certain minimum height (6 feet), to add to the striking, dramatic and stately presence.

Each year, the Republic Day Parade starts with the President’s Bodyguards mounts (each, a minimum of 15.5 hands height, the tallest held by any mounted unit in the country) accompanying the President of India to the saluting podium.

The imposing start to the proceeding begins with the PBG Commandant unsheathing his shining sword to give the command ‘Rashtriya Salute’. This signals the play of the national anthem, matched by 21 booms from the thundering World War 2 vintage 25 pounder guns, as the PBG mounts stand tall in perfect unison and poise.

Virat: The Pride of A Regiment

Such a legendary partaker of national history and pride with the President’s Bodyguards has been the dark-bay coloured Hanoverian horse, Virat, who captured the nations imagination after ‘hanging his tack’ from the President’s Bodyguards after 19 years, including participating 13 times in the Republic Day Parades, during his illustrious career.


Virat’s services included the rare privilege of being the Commandant’s ‘Charger’, who fronted the elaborate ceremonies and parades, and was therefore bestowed with the Army Chief’s Commendation Card (the first horse to earn the same for his outstanding services and abilities).

No less than the President, Prime Minister and the Defence Minister in tow, gave the wonderful horse a much-deserved ‘Shahbash’ pat, and made sure that he was accorded a grand farewell, in keeping with his name, Virat.

The famous steed is not just physical elegance, flamboyance and equine-beauty personified, but his fearless yet sublime nature had made him the favourite beast in the PBG stables.

As he graciously soaked in the adulation of the nation, Virat stood ramrod tall with a flowing mane, full tail, naturally shaped arch of head and with the gentlest of eyes – the pride of the Regiment was riding into the proverbial sunset, with the full know that he will still get the affection, care and dignified treatment, that befits a legend like him, till the last day he stands tall.


For centuries, the military horses have mirrored, heeled, and responded to their combatant-rider’s behavior, relying on an acute stream of senses to detect emotions, safety or even danger – they can hear human heartbeats, four feat away and have the profound ability to synchronise their own heartbeat, with that of their human.

This mystical love for this spirit animal has a special place in the soul of the Armed Forces and on battlelines, even as the likes of Virat are now literally put-to-pastures, the indelible sound of the hoofs and the spirit of horse lives on, timelessly. As Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘I can make a General in five minutes, but a good horse is hard to replace’, so it is, with Virat.

(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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