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P.t.tigris Culture in India
Throughout its Indian range the P.t.tigris has been revered as the guardian of the forest. The tiger created rain and stopped years of drought so that people could grow food. They kept nightmares away, guarded young children on a path of safety, and bought about healing in areas of strong Islamic influence. Muslims believed that Allah gave the tiger as protection to his followers that any one that trangressed the commands of Islam would be punished by the tiger. Because of its large tiger population India has many adherents to these beliefs and Indian mythology is full of references to them. A legend from the North eastern state of Nagaland relates that the mother of the first spirit of the first tiger and of the first man came out of the earth through a pangolins den having the same mother man and tiger are seen as brothers. In one part of the Northern Bengal the tiger god was worshipped by both Hindus and Muslims. Scroll paintings give evidence that Muslim holy men relied on the tiger to attack anything that was evil.
In the area North of Bombay inhabitated by the Warlis tribes paintings are still made that show the tiger as a natural part of life, sitting or walking through a village with a harmless friendly look very much as an undisturbed tiger would appear in reality. The Warlis have always believed in the tiger god Vaghedeva. There are carved wooden statues of the tiger god all over the land many of them symbols reflecting the tigers importance as the bringer of fertility. Just before and during the festival of Diwali, when the earth is producing new plants in the harvested fields the young people sing and dance in a trance like state to the music of the tapa instrument when the dancing is over they worship Vaghedeva commemorating the most productive period of the year.
Members of the village donate part of their harvest profits to propitiate the tiger whose statues is adorned with images of the sun, stars and the trees and possibly an entwined serpent. With all symbols of life and its regenaration the Warlis regard the tiger as the greatest of all gods, the other gods are only there because of him, among the warlis the tigers connection with fertility extends even to marriage and pregnancy. Warlis bridal couples wear red and yellow shauls resembling the skin of the tiger when they visit the temple to propitiate palagata the goddess of marriage. Legend claims that if she is angry the shauls will turn into a real tiger and devour the couple. If this does not happen the union is sanctified and the couple rendered fertile.
In the ancient Indus valley civilisation the supreme goddess Durga is always depicted riding a tiger bringing light and peace to the earth. Durga whose name means beyond reach is the femine force of Shakti created by the gods to combat the evil male power that has been perculated throughout the world.
From her sprang the goddess Kali to join the fight and the vehicle for this fight was the tiger. Why? Perhaps because man and tiger was said to share the same mother but also perhaps because as the king of the forest the tiger had power beyond reach of any mortal. Even today the image of Durga riding her tiger is omnipriscent across India.
All along the South coast of India there is a tradition of tiger dancing that has its origin in religion but is nowadays more like a carnival than a sacred rite. The details vary from place to place but one of the most exciting tiger dances to watch takes place in a small town called Udipi in the state of Karnatka in September. Although this coincides with celebrations to mark the lord Krisna’s birthday it is thought that the dancing is of muslim origin. The tiger potrays images of being a provider, protector and guardian to the indian people. Tigers here are depicted carrying princes on their backs, growing wings in order to travel great distances, to cure and heal, turning white to become part of the milky way and thus keeping a protective eye on the earth and its inhabitants. They have been said to have fought with dragons to create rain guarding forests against thoughtless wood cutters, change to men and back again, carrying people into the next world fighting evil so that mankind can love and reproduce. Indian people have looked at them to prevent disaster regenerate life and provide balance, peace and fertility, no other animal has so much attributed to it. The combination of grace, strength,agility and enormous power has earned the tiger its pride of place as the national animal of India.
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