If you are planning on heading out on a tiger safari in India, you are likely to already have a strong interest in these mighty creatures. You may have read up on their hunting and territorial habits – useful things to know about to maximise your chances of sightings – and, of course, as one of the world’s favourite animals, there is a wealth of common knowledge about tigers. You’ll be aware that in India you’ll see Bengal Tigers, so learning some more species-specific facts and ways that local societies have interacted with and incorporated tigers into their cultures can help you appreciate the relationship between humans and tigers.
National Animal of India
As you will no doubt hear as you venture forth on your tiger safari, the Bengal Tiger is the national animal of India. Found in almost every region of the country, their cultural and ecological significance makes them an important national icon. Symbolising power, valour, and passion, tigers have long been figures of awe. In former eras this meant that tiger hunting was considered an honourable pursuit for nobles, but in modern times the focus has thankfully shifted to conservation. As the top predator in the food chain, their continuing survival is vital to the Indian subcontinent’s ecosystem, thus adding more layers to the tiger’s symbolic status. As befits an embodiment of India’s natural wealth, and a key species for measuring the health of its ecosystem, respecting tigers means protecting them, now more than ever.
Tigers in Religion
Perhaps the greatest role that tigers play in Indian religion is as Durga’s mount. In many forms of Hinduism, Durga ‘the invincible’ is a fierce, powerful, creative, compassionate form of Devi, the female aspect of the divine. She is frequently depicted riding on a tiger – especially when riding into battle. Shiva, one of the most important and powerful gods, whose role as the destroyer is vital to the continuing existence of a cyclical universe, is often shown wearing or sitting on a tiger pelt to show that he has conquered worldly passions. The deity Ayyappan, worshiped primarily in the southern regions, is also associated with tigers, having tamed and ridden on one. So remember, as you continue on your tiger safari, that the connection between tigers and local culture runs deep.
Protecting India’s tigers
Although tigers and humans have a long history together, they have also had their conflicts: despite our awe of tigers, they are threatened, as a species, by human activity. Going on tiger safari can benefit the species if done responsibly. For a start, the tiger reserves you travel through are an important part of conservation, and in supporting them you support the wildlife they protect.