The Pride of India: Our Striped Stalwarts
Many a wildlife lover have been caught up in the allure of the stripes. It would not be an overstatement to assign the tagline “No one can see just one”, we often see those who have spotted a tiger in the wild being overcome with a “wild” addiction and visiting India’s tiger reserves again and again in the hope of sighting this magnificent species! Of course, this may not mean that other wildlife denizens are less beautiful, but this big cat definitely rules many a heart, for its sheer grace and charisma know no bounds. Also, the fact that this animal stands as the symbol of India, its national animal calls for some of the “attraction quotient” of the wild beast. But did you know that the tiger hasn’t always been a symbol of India’s natural heritage?
A National Symbol
After independence, the Ashok Stambh, with its four lions was used as the national emblem and thereafter the lion was declared the national animal. However, it was in 1972 that this hallmark was changed to the tiger. This was in precedence to Project Tiger which was launched in 1973 to conserve the dwindling population of tigers. The tiger stands for all that is about grace, strength, agility and above all, raw power. These qualities are very much synonymous with what the country wished to adopt and imbibe. Moreover, India has been home to the majority of the world’s wild tigers, making the country a natural home for the big cat. With a view to preserving this state, the Indira Gandhi government decided to make the tiger the centre of attraction and thus the tiger replaced the lion as India’s national animal.
A Cultural Symbol
Who has not heard of passionate chants of “Maa Sherawali”, with an image of Goddess Durga? The goddess is believed to ward off evil with the sheer power of a tiger. Tiger skins have adorned the godly beings, Lord Shiva is a distinct example of this. Tigers have been synonymous with strength and power and have found mention in many cultural and religious texts. So much so, that Indians have a tradition of tiger-worship which has been passed on through ages. Tiger seals have been found from the Indus Valley Civilization (25th century BCE) when it was displayed on the Pashupati seal. Mighty empires too adopted it as their emblems, for example, the Chola Empire (300 CE to 1279 CE). But it was not just the large royal families, but even common man who revered the big beast. Some tribal communities such as the Gonds are known for having elevated the striped beast to godly status, placing it even above the elephant in architectural murals. A ride through the land of the Gond tribes makes one come across a number of “tiger temples” with little models of the powerful animal adorned with garlands. These cultural and religious associations of the tiger have proven to be life-saving for the species- because the tiger was fervently revered, seldom did these tribes kill its kind, indirectly leading to conservation of the species as a whole.
A Symbol of Monetary Power
So synonymous is the tiger with India, that the Reserve Bank of India decided to adopt a logo of a tiger under a palm tree as its defining emblem. Look closely at a currency note, and you will see a round logo featuring a tiger and a palm tree in one corner. This choice of the emblem is rather interesting. When the RBI was formed pre-independence, it wanted to portray an image which was not too closely aligned with the government, but a rather “independent” image. While the Ashoka lions ruled the roost in all government-led representations, the tiger signified a healthy mix of financial independence as well as government intervention.
A Symbol of Growth and Hope
Today, tigers have a more widespread presence in our country accounting for more than 70% of the world’s wild tiger population. Moreover, their numbers are seen to be steadily increasing.
- 2006 census: 1411 tigers
- 2010 census: 1706 tigers
- 2014 census: 2226 tigers
Moreover, the tiger is found across the country (although in pockets), unlike the lion which is found now only in the Gir region of Gujarat. Hence, even in the global context, the tiger is more naturally identified with our country. Project Tiger has been an instrumental step in making this possible, tackling problems such as habitat destruction, hunting and poaching, forestry disturbance and so on.
The rising tiger numbers seem to be an indirect indication of unfettered growth and positive times ahead. They aptly represent the state of our fast-growing and emerging economy. And the royal Bengal tiger itself represents what the country stands for- sheer strength, resilience and unending power. So, the next time you hear the national animal let out a roar, you might as well consider it to be the sound of success!
Cover Pic: Male tiger glows in the last rays of the sun on the backwaters of Kabini. | Photo: MITHUN H.P
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