The jingling-trotting ‘Jhatka gaadi’

December 13, 2006

Photo: K. Gopinathan/ The Hindu

Baduku jataka bandi, vidhi adara sahebha
kudure nee, avanu peldanthe payanigaru,
maduvego, masanako hogenda,
nadegodu padakusige, nelavihudu mankutimma…

– Extracted from “Mankuthimmana Kagga” by Sri D.V. Gundappa

(Life is akin to a horse cart whose driver is none but destiny, man is the horse who will go wherever he is directed to go unquestioningly.)

Horse carts, popularly known as ‘Jhatka gaadi’ or ‘Tonga’ in this part of the world, are becoming extinct. Tongas were one of the main sources of public carriage few years back. But since the mid ’80s, auto rickshaws have replaced these ‘Poor man’s Ambassador’ in majority of the places. Today, you find them when there is a ‘Bangalore Bandh’ or near Palaces and other historic places where tourists enjoy a fun ride, just to have a feel of the good old days.

Ever since the dawn of civilization, man has loved and tamed certain animals and domesticated them to acquire benefits. Perhaps it was the wild horse that captured his imagination. All over the world, man realized the potential energy in the horse which seemed to be infinite compared to his own limited energy. The saga of domesticating the horse to meet his needs, politically and domestically evolved into a state of fine art over a period of time.

Horses known for their superior strength, were trained and used in war, to plough fields, to ride across the country… the list is endless. The invention of the wheel put the horse to further use as it was roped in to draw carts and carriages across the globe.

We find mention of very impressive horse-drawn carriages, chariots, carts, not to forget the equestrian sports in the ancient texts and epics like the ‘Iliad,’ ‘Odyssey,’ ‘Ramayana,’ and ‘Mahabharata,’ which reflect on how well the mankind had advanced in days of yore.

Kings and noblemen prided in owning the best of horses and the most luxurious of carriages till as recently as less than a century ago. The well-to-do and the elite took pride in owning a horse carriage or two while the not so rich derived satisfaction in riding in a rented cart or carriage. I have heard my mother tell that my grandfather owned a horse. He would be pampered with oil massage and excellent fodder. It seems my grandpa would ride him to office everyday. And he would also carry the kids to school, who also got a few joy rides to the market.

Not so long back, normal Indian life was without hurry burry and the honest tongawala would spare no pains to reach the required destination of the passengers, in pouring rain or hot sun, covering the simple vehicle with tarpaulin. This trend lasted for more than two millenniums and has now seen a downfall on the fast track in less than half a century. Today the tongawalas are in dire straits.

Yesterday, my son accompanied me to the library. On the way, I had taken him to the Tonga stand to show him a few horses. He was excited to see them wagging their neatly combed tails. Some ‘Ashwas’ looked at peace with the world. Some others were busy having dinner. Their menu: Horse gram, fresh grass and hay.

Ramesh, an elderly owner of a horse cart, was cheerful when I spoke to him about his trade. He let my son sit on his horse. He told me that although the business is pretty dull, there are a few electrical, sanitary and hardware shops who still prefer the tonga to carry their ware within the city. Reason: A tonga has capacity to carry more luggage than the auto rickshaws. Also, the tongas cause no chemical pollution.

Fodder and water is provided by the bounteous nature. Ramesh says the daily expenditure to maintain a horse is anywhere between Rs.50-75. He said that there are 13 horses, one exclusively for wedding purposes. This white horse is taller and well built than the rest of the team. I told Ramesh that on the day Bandh was called in Bangalore, we saw a few tongas doing brisk business. And that there was a photo of one tonga ferrying passengers from the Railway Station. Ramesh pointed to a horse (who was busy eating) and told that was the one we saw in the papers.

A few tongawalas were busy cleaning the stable while others were listening to the radio and some others were chatting (not MSN or Yahoo. One-to-one). I told one of them that the tonga stand in Malleswaram Circle looks a lone desolate spot in the otherwise busy place for which an old man told that the tongawalas there sold the horses unable to maintain them. It seems a good horse costs anywhere from Rs. 70,000 to one lakh. But it seems there are still around 150 tonga stands in Bangalore.

It was interesting to know that to bring the horse on the road, it needed quite a bit of pampering. “Catering to all the mundane routine of changing the horseshoes, foraging fodder and tending to frequent limb injuries is a tedious affair,” said Ramesh.  Quips Nasiruddin, “It can get very hectic, but what can we do? The horse is our means of livelihood. It’s like an earning member of the family.”

My son was really happy to see so many ‘Kudures’. We bid farewell to the tongawalas. On the way back, I thought these tongas may one day come in the category of antique pieces, only to be found in the museums and the old films. But immediately I also felt that tongas were destined to come back as Bangalore is heading for utmost pollution levels.

18 Responses to “The jingling-trotting ‘Jhatka gaadi’”

  1. M O H A N Says:

    What HorseSence!!!

    I too miss the tonga stand in gandhibazar area – specifically netkallappa circle ( the starting point of DVG road).
    Earlier while was a kid, used to see the horses and tongas, later it was a bus stand and finally a desolated place for autorickshaws!!!

    The joke is that these horse drivers became auto drivers.


  2. praneshachar Says:

    I went back to memories back to my childhood days In hosapete only mode of local transport within city was jataka/tonga for a very long time. even cycle rickshwas were not there. It was a wonderful thing to go in jataka. we were using th phrase jataka in our place if you go to hubli etc., it was tonga. as you have rightly put it they have given way to rickshawa both auto and cycle in our place. still few do exist
    it was nice to note your son had the glimpse of kudure and enjoyed it,
    kadu kudure odi banditta banditta…..
    Even when I went to MUMBAI the then BOMBAY first time my father took me in Victoria the majestic tonga ( remember hindi film by ashok kumar etc., Victoria 203 am I right)
    it was nice to gol through the high tech Bombay in the midst of glory to majestically sit in Victoria and go it was nice experience.
    your post took me back to memori lane and some of which I have narrated here
    once again a very well written detailed narration and remembering Ramesh and naseruddin fine work RK

  3. Vijay Says:

    Interesting to know that there is a tonga stand in Koramangala… I remember the Tonga rides from Mysore Railway Station to my Grandad’s house… sitting next to the tongawallah and pretending to ride the horse…

    I do feel sad when these animals are carrying construction material…

  4. prashanth Says:

    Same kagga-padya came to my mind after I read the caption… as usual wonderful write-up RK…

    Ans there is one movie song, which goes like this — ಜಟಕಾ ಕುದುರೆ ಹತ್ತಿ ಪ್ಯಾಟೆಗ್ ಹೋಗಮ್ಮ… 🙂

  5. Vani Says:


    Innu ond sala nu naanu hoge illa…. 😦

    Bangalore bundh aagidd dina ond sala hogbeku ashte

  6. Shruthi Says:

    Very nice post. I haven’t travelled in Jhatka gaadi in Bangalore – only in Mysore. (MYsore jhatka gaadis were supposed to be superior to the Bangalore ones :)) Usually the visit to the zoo would be completed with a ride back home in a jhatka gaadi. Then I grew up and lost the fascination. Many years later, my little cousin wanted to go and we took a jhatka gaadi… the horse was extremely weak and stubborn.. the owner hit it and hit it to make it move – it was such a pain to watch…. we got down immediately and took an autorickshaw home. And I haven’t sat in a jhatka gaadi ever since.

  7. rk Says:

    thank god you said ‘horse sense’ and not ‘nonsense’! 😉
    “horse drivers became auto drivers”…lol! 😀

    nice to know about your experiences. thanks for sharing them here. you are one of the elite to have travelled in the ‘Victoria’! and yes, ashok kumar acted as the old comic conman in Victoria no. 203, which was released in early seventies.

    yes, sad to see the poor animals overloaded with really heavy material…

    thanks. that is a funny song (from gajapathi garvabhanga) featuring honnavalli krishna and malashri. it was quite a rage when i was in school.

    nimm aase esht bega eederaskobahudu andre, nimagoskra dec.14th. auto strike. so think about it!

    yes, me too travelled from zoo till a relative’s place in mysore, (i think most can relate to this experience). 🙂

  8. Shruthi’s post CTLRC + CTRL V.. Except the last few lines. Instead I would choose a horse which is healthy (fit & fine types). I have passion towards the horse riding, so paid some 5/- & had the joy(Uff??) of HR in Dasara Exhibition. still remember those jumps & its so scary boss.
    Horse reminds me one more thing, Race course..(Kudre baala ?)….
    In that Sheep, Tiger, Horse, Coffee , Monkey, Cow puzzle.. I guess horse indicated family… It reminds me another song..
    ಕುದುರೇನ ತಂದೀನಿ ಜೀನಾವ ಬಿಟ್ಟೀನಿ.. ಬರಬೇಕು ತಂಗಿ ಮದುವೇಗೆ…..

  9. TSSM Says:

    I believe places like bagalkot still have tongas.
    While tongas in the cities are becoming extinct, bullock carts in the villages are facing the same fate.

    quo vadis? Homo sapiens?

  10. decemberstud Says:

    @ RK :

    Very nice. Yep, I rememebr all the jaTakA baMDi’s at Mysore railway station, in front of zoo, exhibition etc. Nowadays, it’s become a “Dasara Special” and autos have pretty much taken over completely. You still see the colorful tongas at obscure places in Mysore. But, hardly any.

    The problem is the money which goes into maintaining the cart and the horse. And, apparently the ‘poor’ tongawallhas have a hard time managing finances.

    @ Prashanth :
    Which kagga ? ‘baduku jaTakA baMDi, vidhi adara sAhEba” ?

  11. some body Says:


    thanks for the wiki link that you appear to have added after you first put up the post. i put here the translation, “internalized” from that site, which is a little more complete (“completer”?) than yours.

    “Life is a Horse driven cart, Fate its driver
    You’re the horse, Passengers – as allotted by God
    Sometimes rides a bride, sometimes a corpse
    When stumbled, there’s always the earth – says Manku Thimma”

    i got my parents’ copy of the kagga here with me, but am yet to read it. like i said elsewhere on a similar context, a transliteration would have helped (me) immensely! 🙂

    – s.b.

  12. rk Says:

    howdu, jhatka gaadis are a must during dasara. and thanks for reminding a wonderful song.

    sad to know that bullock carts are also becoming extinct. 😦
    truely, where are we going?

    i feel all mysoreans can connect to jhatka gaadis faster than bangloreans. as i heard it straight from the horse’s mouth (rather horse-owner’s), maintaining a “stud” is really difficult for the ‘poor’ tongawala.
    aside: i remember in my childhood some elders using the term ‘jhatka saabi pant’ when some of us wore short sized pants, which we had overgrown. and i have seen that a ‘jhatka saabi’s pant’ is really much shorter in length than the normal ones.

    thanks for providing the complete meaning. mankuthimmana kagga is also called kannadada bhagavad geethe. i am lucky that my better half knows it by-heart and recites one for every situation.

  13. decemberstud Says:

    @ RK :
    True…unfortunately all ‘studs’ are high maintenance 🙂

    @ SB :
    You HAVE TO read kaaga. It’s probably easier to get a transliteration of this than that of Ranna. On that note, I have to tell you that I got alengthy reply from Sri. G.Venkatasubbiah on that padya. Ooops, now we have spanned on that topic across three blogs. I will post that soon.

  14. Oh.. SB.. Transliteration andre idaa.. ayyo raama. Examples are so nice to explain something.
    Mostly rannana padhya transliterate maadlikke swalpa time beku.
    kagga du 7 cassettes ide, CMH(Chinmaya Mission).. I keep listening to these every 6 months once, its easier than reading.. easy is a motivating factor for any achivement isn’t it? Ain’t motivated now ?

  15. rk Says:

    yes, i had all ‘studs’ in mind!

    sri brahmaji avaru heliruva MTK with explanations is really soothing!

  16. Srik Says:

    I recently traveled in a jataka bandi in Nanjangud where we hired one from temple to one of our relatives’ house. Though it was a good ride, it was not as joyous as earlier times.

    One more jatka rides i cherish is that i took in Hyderabad. That guy bargained a lot with us to show the consulate, vidhan sabha, court and Charminar….which all come in 1-2 KMs range. we paid a hefty amont thinking that he’s showing us a lot of places, he showed them all from a distance and made us take an auto again to browse thru those places!! Very smart and clever Jatka sabi 😀

    RK, one appreciation to your wife for memorising the whole of Mankuthimmana Kagga. I know that she hails from the same town as of Dr. DVG. 🙂

  17. praneshachar Says:

    Yes your betterhalf needs lot of appreciation for remebering the Kagga of Dr.DVG. one of our earlier director was very fond
    the same he used to keep book and noted important one and his speech never ended without a quote from the same optly timed for the occassion

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