People who have traveled to the forts in the Deccan (roughly, the southern half of India) have noticed the carved animals on the walls. They often appear near doorways, generally on outside walls. I noticed them, too, but only got as far as assuming that the dominant animal (often a lion, or tiger, or elephant) represented the dynasty and its strength and prowess.
There is much more going on. The dynasty’s totem animal is usually doing something with another animal and it’s not always fighting. Fighting is common enough, but sometimes the totem animal is sitting quietly next to another animal. Sometimes it’s even sheltering the animal. Sometimes the totem animal is portrayed much larger than the second animal.
The bas-reliefs of animals on forts represent in visual language very real geopolitical statements by the dynasty. The totem animal defeating another animal states that the king will ruthlessly attack and subdue enemies. This visual geopolitical can be very specific. Thus, on the fort walls the totem elephant of one dynasty crushes, say, a phoenix, the totem animal of another specific dynasty. This visual language, thus, makes specific threats and challenges to rivals.
The totem animal resting in peace with another animal offers reconciliation and respect for either allies in general or, more frequently, a specific ally. A large totem animal portrayed with a much smaller offers protection and support for nearby smaller states, guaranteeing their integrity. The totem animal sheltering another animal offers both generalized support to a dynasties threatened by outside powers but also specific support to the dynasty whose animal is carved on the fort wall.
Perhaps the most fascinating feature of this visual language is its broad provenance. Similar conventions involving totem animals are found not just in the Deccan but in paintings and bas-reliefs across North India, Central Asia, Persia, and Afghanistan. The earliest of these animal interactions – with geopolitical meanings – goes back at least 2000 years.
A couple of years ago I noticed these sorts of animal figures on the walls of Janjira sea fort, off the Konkan (western) coast of Maharashtra. The fort was built by African slave /soldiers in the seventeenth century. Apparently, the rules of this pictorial language were not difficult to learn.