For wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers who visit the Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve (DATR) in Uttara Kannada district, the tiger is elusive and rare to sight.

But they can satiate their curiosity buds by making do by having a glimpse of the ‘tiger god’ that has been worshipped by the forest dwellers since ancient times, not only in DATR limits but also across the entire Uttara Kannada district. 

Worshipping the tiger god is in practice even today, in most villages surrounding the forests of Western Ghats in the district, and all traditional forest dwelling communities worship the idols of tiger. Unlike other popular deities, most of the tiger god idols are not paid obeisance on a daily basis.

In fact, they do not even attract devotees from distant places. At several villages, special puja to the tiger god is performed on the occasion of Deepavali or Holi Hunnime. Urging this ‘spirit’ not to attack cattle and human beings seems to be the intention behind this ritual.

For Kunabi community members who speak Konkani, tiger god is Vaghro, while Kannada-speaking communities call it Huliyappa or Hulidevaru. 

Interestingly, tiger is not worshipped as a vehicle of some god, but as an independent deity. Several idols of tiger are situated inside the forest where tigers once wandered frequently to quench their thirst. 

It is also said that whenever a tiger was killed in earlier days, its body was placed before the tiger god stone or idol, and an apology was tendered. A large number of tiger god idols across the district, numerous stories related to tiger, and various places having huli in their name hint at the abundance of tigers in Uttara Kannada a few centuries ago. 

“It is not easy to pinpoint to a single reason for tiger worship which can be seen in the entire Western Ghats area. It is part of the traditional environment protection method by worshipping nature through its personification, while fear and respect about the tiger are also the causes,” says M D Subhash Chandran, IISc scientist and noted ecologist. 

Sacred groves were also attached to the tiger god and they were called as Hulidevara Kan, remnants of which can be seen at a few places even today. 

According to IFS officer Manoj Kumar, who has served as the deputy conservator of forest in Dandeli when Project Tiger was introduced in 2007, fear about tiger should be converted into love towards it, for an effective tiger conservation. 

Being the richest forest district in the State, Uttara Kannada has majority of its geographical area under forest cover. Naturally, most of the villages here are either inside or adjacent to the forests of Western Ghats. 

Since centuries before the modern concept of forest conservation and wildlife protection emerged, residents of these village have been worshipping animals like tigers and serpents and other unique deities of forest like Jataka. The forests attached they lived in were considered sacred. 

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