The Leopards of Maha Shivratri

“To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India, I come as a pilgrim”. Martin Luther King Jr.


The JAWAI region in known for its religion, spirituality and temples. Each village has numerous temples and most of the hills have spiritual caves and shrines. A lot of these temples are devoted to Lord Shiva. In fact, one of the main god’s worshipped in the area is Lord Shiva.


Female Leopard at Fort Temple Entrance

Photograph by Adam Bannister

Maha Shivratri or ‘The Great Night of Shiva’ is celebrated annually towards the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It is one of the only Hindu festivals celebrated at night and is marked by meditation, all-night vigil and temple ceremonies. Devotees offer water, milk, dhatura, bhaang, akwan flowers to Shiva’s idol or Shivalinga and worship the Hindu God of destruction. Shiva is considered the ideal husband and unmarried girls and women pray for a husband like him.



Photograph by Anjali Singh

Photograph by Anjali Singh

According to a legend in the Shiva Purana, two of the triads of Hindu Gods – Brahma and Vishnu – were fighting to establish who is superior between the two. Horrified at the intensity of the battle, the other gods asked Shiva to intervene and he assumed the form of a huge column of fire in between Brahma and Vishnu to make them realise the futility of their fight. In order to continue to show their power and assume the topmost position in the fire, Brahma assumed the form of a swan and went upwards while Vishnu took the form of a wild boar and went inside earth. As light has no limit, neither Brahma nor Vishnu could find the end of the fire despite searching for thousands of miles. Since Shiva helped pacify the fight among the Gods, the day is celebrated in his honour.



According to another popular legend, a hunter could not find anything to kill in a forest, he decided to spend the night on the branch of a Bel tree to be safe from the wilderness. It was dark and the hunter was scared, so he started throwing leaves of the tree on the ground, unaware that there was a Shivalinga beneath the tree. Pleased with the patience of the hunter, Lord Shiva appeared in front of the hunter and blessed him with wisdom.




Photograph by Anjali Singh

Photograph by Adam Bannister




Leopard in JAWAI

Photograph by Yusuf Ansari
Photograph by Anjali Singh
Photograph by Anjali Singh

While this festival is observed with full tradition and participation in every Shiva temple in the JAWAI area, the leopards of JAWAI somehow sense this day as a special one and move towards the Shiva temples, on the night of Maha Shivratri. In the village of Perwa, the Shiva Temple has its own legend. According to the villagers, one of the past priests would turn into a big cat on this holy night and this would happen year after year till he died. People from the villages and neighbouring towns would collect at the temple to pray at night and witness this supernatural event.



At the Shiva Temple near Jeevda, our sighting logs and records prove that our resident leopards have moved for the past three seasons to the same hill, at this temple and have been sighted here either at night, or the following morning. On the night of Mahashivratri this season, we had an exceptional sighting of the Sena Male at the Sena Hills. He sat comfortably perched on a hill, west of the Sena Village for over an hour and then walked all the way down to a dry riverbed into the Jeevda area. He spent the entire night on the Pink Temple hill which houses the Shiva Temple of Jeevda while the all-night vigil of the Maha Shivratri festival took place. Locals have explained of similar leopard movement in other parts of the JAWAI region.



Could it be coincidence?. We feel that is one of those special things that smoothly synchronises all the elements of JAWAI peacefully together making it one of the world’s best ecosystems for man and wild. This is not science, this is India.



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