With mustard and maize fields set against the backdrop of the Aravalli hills and thatched-roof hutments sparsely populating the view, the quaint town of Bera in India’s desert state of Rajasthan is a unique example of harmonious living between humans and wildlife.
For over a century now, the leopards and humans have co-existed in peace and harmony, with no cases of the leopards ever attacking the locals. Hailed as the “leopard country” it is home to the highest concentration of leopards on the planet with around 90 wildcats existing amid the thorny desert scrubs.
As wild as it sounds in the modern day where the loss of habitat, rampant construction, poaching and unregulated tourism in unprotected areas drive leopards into the cities and where they attack people, the wildcats in Bera continue to exist in complete harmony with the native Rabaris of the area. According to the 2011 census about 11,000 Rabaris inhabit Bera’s plains, the nomadic shepherding community is said to have migrated to Rajasthan from Iran through Afghanistan a thousand years ago.
Wearing white dhotis, red turbans, silver amulets with long sticks resting on their shoulders and sporting long thick moustaches twirled into creative shapes, the close-knit community of the Rabaris herd cows and sheep. Customs, mythology, history and ancestral heritage mean everything to the tribe.
They believe that their remarkable coexistence with leopards comes down to a deep spiritual connection and the leopards are their guardian angels, hence they worship them. When the beasts attack their sheep or cattle they assume it to be a sacrifice to Shiva and believe that he will increase their cattle manifold.
While the leopards roaming around freely in the temples of the region while the priest chants may seem odd to us city-dwellers, life in Bera has always been like this for the natives. In a world where climate anxiety grips us and human co-existence with other living beings is in constant question, the tale of Bera sends out a powerful message of tolerance, co-existence and respect between fellow living beings to the world.
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