Monday, 8 August 2016

Divine vehicles!

Nature worship has always been an important part of Indian culture. With 'Peepul' trees being worshipped as the epicenter for learning and knowledge, they are also regarded as the abode of the god ' bada dev' worshipped by certain tribals in Central India. However the most important instance of animals in Indian religion, more specifically, Hinduism has been the role of animals as the 'vahans' or vehicles of the Indian gods and goddesses. While the reason for why the concerned animal is associated with the  particular god/ goddess may not be always known, some of them have beautiful logic to them.

For example, the Goddess Durga also known as 'shakti' is associated with the tiger or lion ( the cat species varies according to region) as the big cat epitomises strength, power and a protector against all evil. Which is where the concept of 'baghesur' or the tiger god also comes up. Wherein a lot of villages worship the cat in form of a tiger/ lion to protect them from all evil and hence the goddess is celebrated along with the cat.

L- R : A tiger temple at Bandhavgarh, Goddess Durga,Photo credit: www.namaha.wordpress.com,Tiger dancers celebrate Muharram 

Another Goddess who forms an important part of Hinduism is Goddess Saraswati who is more famously found in educational institutions as she is associated with education, learning, music, purity and beauty. Which could also be the reason, why she is associated with two beautiful birds, namely the swan and the peacock. In some regions, the swan is replaced by a Heron or 'bagula'. Purity in form of the swan and beauty in form of the peacock. In central India, the Peacock feather is also considered very holy and any fallen feather also known as 'vidya' is collected by the students to keep in their books to help them learn better. Saraswati's depiction as riding a Peacock also translates as taking control over arrogance and not giving precedence to materialistic beauty. 
Goddess Sarawati. Photo credit: www.pintrest.com, www.rexburgyoga.com


Moving from terrestial to the more acquatic, two important gods associated with the 'makara' are the Goddess Ganga and lord Varuna, the god of seas and oceans. Not entirely a crocodile, the makara is said to be half crocodile and half elephant, with some statues even depicting a trunk on the head of the crocodile. The crocodile is associated with water gods as it is said to be the protector of the waters and keeps the water clean of any contamination. At times, however,there is a debate on the mount of the goddess Ganga as the Dolphin. This association of the Goddess with the Dolphin is owing to the fact that the river Ganga is supposed to be a happy, fast flowing river, thereby reflecting the traits of the Dolphin who is a fast swimming mammal. 

God of the seas and oceans, varuna, photo credit: www.pintrest.com, goddess Ganga, photo credit: www.www.imgrum.net .jpg

 Taking a more aerial route, we come to the goddess Lakshmi who is associated with the owl, more specifically the white owl which people believe to be the Barn owl. According to some beliefs, the Owl is her sister Alakshmi who is often  said to accompany the goddess of wealth, but if logic intervenes, she is associated with the owl because owls feed on rats, keeping their population under control and thereby protecting farms and crops which aid in yielding a good harvest which in turn brings wealth to the owner. Since Lakhsmi is the goddess of wealth and fortune she is celebrated with the owl. However, a sad turn to this belief is that a good number of owls are caught and sacrificed during Diwali owing to the belief that it will bring people wealth and prosperity.

Goddess Lakshmi. Photo credit: www.dollsofindia.com

Said to be the river of turtles, the river  Yamuna is said to be the best place to sight turtles even today, especially in a place called Bateshwar in Uttar Pradesh which is said to be a safe haven for the shelled beauties. This healthy population in the waters of this beautiful river could be one of the reasons why the Goddess Yamuna has been depicted as riding a turtle. In fact, despite its over polluted state,  in some parts,Yamuna has been considered a sanctuary for fauna such as dolphins and Gharials. 
Goddess Yamuna with her turtle mount. Photo credit:www.pintrest.com
Labelled as the king of birds by lord Vishnu himself, the identity of Garuda who is depicted as half bird half human, as an eagle or Bhraminy Kite has often been debated. Said to be the ultimate creature of perseverance and determination, there couldn't be a better mount for the lord of preservation. It is said that,Garuda's only demand as Vishnu's mount was to be able to feed on snakes and is till date considered a sworn enemy of the 'nagas'. Perhaps it is Garuda's gastronomical love for snakes that has led many of the modern day birds much like the Crested Serpent Eagle to feed on the slithering beauties!


Vishnu on his mount Garuda. Photo credit: www.worldtechfun.com
Loved by all, lord Ganesh is associated with the most unlikely of mounts - the rat. Leading to debates of no one is small enough to deal with issues larger than oneself, the rat or the shrew( depictions again vary according to the region) represents someone who is determined enough to carry the weight of anything larger than itself and should not be considered weak or an unlikely candidate to bear the magnitude of the problem. Another reason for the rat to be the 'vighnaharta's' (remover of obstacles) mount is that the rat can go through any small space or hole which helps the lord in question reach out to any obstacle and eliminate it owing to the flexibility of his mount.

Lord Ganesh on his mount. Photo credit: www.wikipedia.com

From the most loved to the most feared, lord Yama is popularly known as the god of death. Often associated with the Gaur or the Water Buffalo (varies according to region), the animal is so associated with the God,so as to depict the strength which upholds actions or 'dharma' and justice where it is needed. Lord Yama is said to be the most justice of the divine forces in Hindu mythology. 
Lord Yama on his mount. Photo credit: www.pintrest.com 
Apart from animals being recognised as mounts or 'vahans' of the gods, goddesses in Hinduism, animals have also played an important role as protectors to humankind, whether it was in form of Narsimha the Lion who eliminated an evil thought or king, to Jatayu the vulture who died fighting a wrong deed to Jambavan the Bear who was said to be very knowledgeable, to  the three 'avtars' of Vishnu as a Wild Boar, Fish and Turtle which are said to have protected  the Earth and all those living within.

Thus, it often brings to mind that we have much to learn from our mythology that gave such importance to trees and fauna existing in our forests, always accompanied with a certain message. So why can't we with these similar principles learn to appreciate those we can learn much from? 














Divine vehicles!

Nature worship has always been an important part of Indian culture. With 'Peepul' trees being worshipped as the epicenter for learning and knowledge, they are also regarded as the abode of the god ' bada dev' worshipped by certain tribals in Central India. However the most important instance of animals in Indian religion, more specifically, Hinduism has been the role of animals as the 'vahans' or vehicles of the Indian gods and goddesses. While the reason for why the concerned animal is associated with the  particular god/ goddess may not be always known, some of them have beautiful logic to them.

For example, the Goddess Durga also known as 'shakti' is associated with the tiger or lion ( the cat species varies according to region) as the big cat epitomises strength, power and a protector against all evil. Which is where the concept of 'baghesur' or the tiger god also comes up. Wherein a lot of villages worship the cat in form of a tiger/ lion to protect them from all evil and hence the goddess os celebrated along with the cat.

L- R : A tiger temple at Bandhavgarh, Goddess Durga,Photo credit: www.namaha.wordpress.com,Tiger dancers celebrate Muharram 

Another Goddess who forms an important part of Hinduism is Goddess Saraswati who is more famously found in educational institutions as she is associated with education, learning, music, purity and beauty. Which could also be the reason, why she is associated with two beautiful birds, namely the swan and the peacock. In some regions, the swan is replaced by a Heron or 'bagula'. Purity in form of the swan and beauty in form of the peacock. In central India, the Peacock feather is considered very holy and any fallen feather also known as 'vidya' is collected by the students to keep in their books to help them learn better. Saraswati's depiction as riding a Peacock also translates as taking control over arrogance and not giving precedence to materialistic beauty. 
Goddess Sarawati. Photo credit: www.pintrest.com, www.rexburgyoga.com


Moving from terrestial to the more acquatic, two important gods associated with the 'makara' are the Goddess Ganga and lord Varuna, the god of seas and oceans. Not entirely a crocodile, the makara is said to be half crocodile and half elephant, with some statues even depicting a trunk on the head of the crocodile. The crocodile is associated with water gods as it is said to be the protector of the waters and keeps the water clean of any contamination. At times, however,there is a debate on the mount of the goddess Ganga as the Dolphin. This association of the Goddess with the Dolphin is owing to the fact that the river Ganga is supposed to be a happy, fast flowing river, thereby reflecting the traits of the Dolphin who is a fast swimming mammal. 

God of the seas and oceans, varuna, photo credit: www.pintrest.com, goddess Ganga, photo credit: www.www.imgrum.net .jpg

 Taking a more aerial route, we come to the goddess Lakshmi who is associated with the owl, more specifically the white owl which people believe to be the Barn owl. According to some beliefs, the Owl is her sister Alakshmi who is often  said to accompany the goddess of wealth, but if logic intervenes, she is associated with the owl because owls feed on rats, keeping their population under control and thereby protecting farms and crops which aid in yielding a good harvest which in turn brings wealth to the owner. Since Lakhsmi is the goddess of wealth and fortune she is celebrated with the owl. However, a sad turn to this belief is that a good number of owls are caught and sacrificed during Diwali owing to the belief that it will bring people wealth and prosperity.

Goddess Lakshmi. Photo credit: www.dollsofindia.com

Said to be the river of turtles, the river Goddess Yamuna is said to be the best place to sight turtles even today, especially in a place called Bateshwar in Uttar Pradesh which is said to be a safe haven for the shelled beauties. This healthy population in the waters of this beautiful river could be one of the reasons why the Goddess has been depicted as riding a turtle. In fact, despite its over polluted state,  in some parts,Yamuna has been considered a sanctuary for fauna such as dolphins and Gharials. 
Goddess Yamuna with her turtle mount. Photo credit:www.pintrest.com
Labelled as the king of birds by lord Vishnu himself, the identity of Garuda who is depicted as half bird half human as an eagle or Bhraminy Kite has often been debated. Said to be the ultimate creature of perseverance and determination, there couldn't be a better mount for the lord of preservation. Garuda's only demand as Vishnu's mount was to be able to feed on snakes and is till date considered a sworn enemy of the 'nagas'. Perhaps it is Garuda's gastronomical love for snakes that has led many of the modern day birds much like the Crested Serpent Eagle to feed on the slithering beauties!


Vishnu on his mount Garuda. Photo credit: www.worldtechfun.com
Loved by all, lord Ganesh is associated with the most unlikely of mounts. Leading to debates of no one is small enough to deal with issues larger than oneself, the rat or the shrew( depictions again vary according to the region) represents someone who is determined enough to carry the weight of anything larger than itself and should not be considered weak or an unlikely candidate to the magnitude of the problem. Another reason for the rat to be the 'vighnaharta's' (remover of obstacles) mount is that the rat can go through any small space or hole which helps the lord in question reach out to any obstacle and eliminate it owing to the flexibility of his mount.

Lord Ganesh on his mount. Photo credit: www.wikipedia.com

From the most to the most feared, lord Yama is  popularly known as the god of death. Often associated with the Gaur or the Water Buffalo (varies according to region), the animal is so associated with the God,so as to depict the strength which upholds actions or 'dharma' and justice where it is needed. Lord Yama is said to be the most justice of the divine forces in Hindu mythology. 
Lord Yama on his mount. Photo credit: www.pintrest.com 
Apart from animals being recognised as mounts or 'vahans' of the gods, goddesses in Hinduism, animals have also played an important role as protectors to humankind, whether it was in form of Narsimha the Lion who eliminated an evil thought or king, to Jatayu the vulture who died fighting a wrong deed to Jambavan the Bear who was said to be very knowledgeable, to  the three 'avtars' of Vishnu as a Wild Boar, Fish and Turtle which are said to have protected  the Earth and all those living within. 














Saturday, 30 July 2016

The quest to save, has us fighting each other, everyday.

"How will what you are doing, help save the forests?" - Generalisation of human opinion.



The world already feels somewhat of a battleground what with fights for space, money,  opinions and emotions raining down almost everyday  much like this torrential downpour. The only difference is, the rain, we need. The fights, we don't. So why do I suddenly feel the need to philosophise about fighting? it is because, in my time as a 'wildlifer' I have seen more people fighting each other rather than fighting for the species in question. They fight  about what the other is doing wrong rather than what is going wrong for the species in question. Why is it necessary to pin point loopholes in another person's attempt to save the species rather than mend the loopholes in the system  that has brought  this species to the brink, where it needs to be carefully guarded lest it disappear, appearing only as dusty souvenirs in shops or books where it's shelf life will probably be even lesser than what it is now. Blaming one another, berating initiatives, mockery is  a waste of time.  All this time lost in trying to prove the other wrong, is us, losing time in forming a plan to save the species. When there are so many of us crusading to save the same thing, why can't we ever attempt at doing it together? Will it make us any less of a  human being? if anything, it will make us petty and confined to a bubble that will lose its sparkle and value if any, when we lose what we have all been tirelessly working for, leaving nothing but a carpet of self absorbed opinions and ego centric ideas in its wake, that do no one, least of all the species in question any good.

In our quest to prove a point, and to determinedly announce ourselves as the saviours of the planet, I feel we have forgotten to care or absorb  the qualities that make the forests our muse, so special. The flexible nature of water, the strength of tree roots, the protective nature of an elephant herd, the focus of a tiger, the team spirit of wild dogs or even the grace of a panther these are the qualities we should imbibe. What are we trying to prove ? why can't we work together, why can't we have a less myopic vision that barely extends beyond one's own nose?Why can't we debate or share each other insights? Why can't we talk? Perhaps we will never know or perhaps we are too indifferent to care but either way, in this constant quest to fight each other over something we all love, I hope things don't end in despair.


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Bandhavgarh - Wilderness is always best described in pictures

The King 
Panther's moon





A glassy domain









Habitat
Strength of the reserve
Blue skies always 
Examining his realm
Stalking
Golden sunrise 
The bather and the 'bathee'
Camouflage
Sal delight
Stretch
Silhouette 
Gentleness is not defined by size 
Grace
The protector
Tiger tree
Sunset
And we can smell the rain
Rain dance 
Signs
Spot on
The wait 

The result

Thursday, 2 June 2016

A day in the life of tracking the stripes


Tracking is an art. Tiger tracking, is the most patient form of art. It draws sweat, considerbale amount of flies, sunburn, hunger and frustration. But when you spot the striped divinity, you know it was all worth it and for the drivers and guides of a reserve it is an everyday affair. It all usually starts early in the morning in any tiger reserve (which has safaris of course), with the driver and guides feverishly scouring the forest floor for pug marks, scat or even flattened Earth (indicating a tiger resting spot) to understand where they should begin the process of tracking le tigris. "Pugmark raat ka hai, male chala gaya area se" is what our guide opens the tour with. Alarm calls are of course the sure giveaways but if it's a chital (spotted deer) that is  responsible for the alarm call, you can't be too sure that it is indicative of cat movement. "Buddhu banate hain yeh chital" spits a driver in disgust while another claims that chital call even when they spot a Snake or Jungle cat. A honk suddenly splits the morning air. 'Sambar' exclaims the excited guide as the driver takes off full speed. "Par bahut andar se hai, chance kam hai, lekin agar sambar bola hai toh tiger hi hoga" explains the guide while the driver claims vantage point atop the jeep to peer through the Sal groves. As we wait, our sweat has attracted several flies. Our guide explains indulgently, "Hand cream lagane se makhi zyada aati hai, khaas karke Boro plus." Nodding sagely, we drink in this information and our waiting ceremony comes to an end. "Aage check karte hain" signals the driver, as the guide continues scanning the floor.  A few turns later, a coughing sound encourages the driver to bring the vehicle to a grinding halt. "langur alarm call, movement zaroor yahin hai." After a few patient minutes, the Cicada asong forest is suddenly hit by the call of a cheerful Jungle Fowl. A bit late to announce arrival of dawn, I think to myself, but then the guide looks at us purposefully and says " jungle fowl alarm call, tiger shayad beth gaya hai, shayad kill par hai" Sweating and flustered we  hope he is right, when a vehicle passes by and casually announces a tiger sighting. "Ek- do  gadi ko hi dikha hai bhaiya, "tiger andar chala gaya, ab mushkil hai dikhna.

Ready to bite the seat covers in pure purile frustration, we decide to take a round of the forest and enjoy the forest instead. We trundle up a hill and as we near the end, we see something that makes our heart skip a beat. A tail, a striped tail, followed by the body of the 'trackee'- Bagh. "Maine kaha tha na isi road par aayega, announce the driver and guide in unison. The tiger oblivious of lovestruck humans following it, continues walking, leaving huge pugmarks in its wake and as it walks, the chital set up an orchestra of calls, while the langurs cough themselves hoarse. As the tiger marks its territory, the spray can be heard clearly in the still evening. "Road -e - road chalega sahab" whispers the guide, as the tiger suddenly cuts across and melts into the forest. And as we celebrate  a successful tiger encounter, our faithful trackers like so many in other parts of the country, gear for another day of heat, flies, tracks and calls which encapsulates the essence of tracking the stripes. 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

A tiger above the rest - A tribute to the Big Bam of the Central Highlands

The Big Bam in his prime
I first heard of a tiger named Bamera in the summer of 2010, while we were doing a survey in the buffer villages of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. At the time, he had gained notoreity for lifting cattle and had planted a certain degree of fear in the mind of the villagers. "Bahut bada hai sahab, itna bada tiger humne aaj tak nahi dekha" spluttered a villager, a resident of the same village where Bamera got his name from. Located in a beautiful region known as Panpatha, with a huge dam and an ever reaching green landscape, Bamera was as beautiful a tiger and as extravagant as his namesake village. 

Very quickly, Bamera made an entry into Bandhavgarh as it's dominant male, overthrowing his ageing father - B2. Slated to be the biggest tiger Bandhavgarh had seen for a few years, Bamera coaxed everyones imagination into becoming a stuff of legends among the drivers and guides of the park. "Aree, gadi ke bonnet jitna bada hai" some claimed while others gestured with their hands an un realistic proportion to specify his size and width. But all had one declaration in common- "Bilkul B2 jaisa hai, shant aur shareef." Dying to sight this fast becoming darling of the forest, I finally saw him in the summer of 2012, during one of our Village Kids' Awareness Programmes. As soon as we had entered the Tala zone of the park in the sweltering heat, we could sense the sambur's un easiness. Several hesitant honks and foot stampings later, out he walked ignoring the frenzied Chital and honking Sambur to finally settling down in a pool of water in the Chakradhara meadows. Drinking water at sporadic intervals, he looked around lazily and slowly drifted into a hot summer afternoon nap. As expected, other vehicles rushed in to see him, clamouring with each other to get a better look at him, when one of the drivers laughed and said " yeh Bamera hai, aaram se dekho, itni jaldi uthne wala nahi hai" and he was right. This  trait though, has always been true of Bamera, this calm disposition about him which was a treat to observe. That summer Bamera was quite a show stopper for the kids, appearing regally almost everyday, only to be met with gasps and admiration from the children. 


The showstopper
The  next  I saw Bamera was in 2013 and this is perhaps my favourite memory of him. It was when he was  playing nanny to the Banbehi cubs and one of the 3 cubs had sought shelter under a lantana bush  at Bhitri, refusing to give away its location, resulting in both Bamera and Banbehi frantically looking for it. The "aunh" was very gentle, lazy, half hearted like a purr almost, urging the cub to come out of hiding, while Banbehi  staged impatience by lashing her tail and sniffing the air, as if telling Bamera to get a move on and do a better job of cub hunting.  We watched this spectacle, as long as time would permit, unfold with the cub displaying serious tenacity by sticking to its hiding spot, while the  parents finally retreated into the hills hoping that their cub would follow.  Among other things, Bamera was recognised as a good father and the perfect babysitter, so much so, that Banbehi  was known to leave all her three cubs in his care and wander her realm, while Bamera seemed like he was more than happy to be the stay at home father and allow Banbehi to bring home the bacon. 


Bamera with the cubs 

Banbehi cubs, in their fathers care 

The babysitter in his habitat

The last I saw of Bamera was in the winter of 2013, when a sudden call by a sambur in the failing evening light, encouraged a race towards Chakradhara. We had just about made it and    watched the tiger with the most unhurried of gaits, walk into the tall grass. Everything seemed glorious and rainbow like, but little did I know, that that was probably the last time I was seeing him. Thereon, Bamera's sightings has only been here say, a tail/glimpse here,  a cattle lifting story there, very similar to his mysterious entry into the jungle fold. His exit, with the coming of younger tigers seemed inevitable and soon to be without much suffering, but nature had other things in store. The massive paw that had once decorated the forest floor, had now begun to deteriorate. He finally took very ill in the last 1 year and had to be shifted to an enclosure where he was labelled safe. Safe from the wrath of villagers and younger tigers, but this safety unfortunately deprived people who loved him dearly to get a glimpse of him. But, I guess,  in a way I am glad that I didn't see a deteriorating Bamera. I wouldn't want to know a  deteriorating Bamera and would rather, that my memory playback to  him as  the golden cat who appeared mysteriously grabbing everyones imagination to mewing like a house cat , to the un hurried walk, to the molten stare to leaving massive tracks on the soft, golden sand. 

Thank you Bamera and good bye.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

People Of The Forest - Part 1



Babu at Shesh Shaiya 

There are many who claim to protect the forest, there are many who love the forest, but there are very few who know the forest. If someone ever tells you that they know the forest, it would either be  a villager living around the forest or a forest guard. One such person, I had the pleasure of meeting was -Babu, I don't know his name in its entirety, but it doesn't matter. The way he talks of the forest, spells more than just his name, of him as a person. Brave (eyes black and blazing with a knowing look), a sudden softness when he talks about tigers and a quiet sadness when he talks about how protection is sometimes a thankless job, Babu epitomises the phrase 'Of the jungle.'

 When asked of his forest experiences, the first one that comes to his mind is of monitoring B2 the much loved tiger of Bandhavgarh.This was all B2's area where we used to camp at night  to make sure he doesn't get into trouble with the villagers, points Babu at the vast land with a tiny 'nallah' that surrounds a village. He was a super tiger, gentle and very different from the Mirchaini cubs who were very curious and bold tigers. Every tiger has a distinct personality and we foresters have a knack of communicating with tigers without really saying anything, Babu claims a smile now crinkling his eyes. He also claims that he is very lucky with tiger sightings and if he predicts that a tiger will be sighted, it will hold true no matter what. "Tiger milega, kyun nahi milega?  waise bhi hum tiger thodi na dekhne ja rahe hain! gilheri (squirrel) dekhenge aur wapas aa jayenge" he says with a naughty smile on his face. Brimming with such humour, the funniest story he narrates is of how he lost his way in the forest during patrolling.



We were barely 100 mts from the camp but we kept going around in circles. It's this particular root in the forest, if you step on it, you lose your memory for some time he explained. He has several such anecdotes and stories but time is short and  barely enough to get an insight into the life of this human denizen of the forest. But then, there is always next time and when I ask whether he will be there next time to regale us with more forest stories, he smiles and says of course I will be there, "Jungle yahan hain, toh main kahan jaoonga sahab?"