Hunt for the Tiger
Hunt for the Tiger
Sometime in 19th Century
It was a dark night somewhere in the jungles of Deccan plateau. Celestial bodies weren't seen in the sky. A group of tribals beating their drums and ululating were leading a troupe of sorts. Some where carrying torches too. Colonel James Smith of the Busaval regiment was leading a hunting expedition. It was reported to him that tiger was repeatedly attacking cattle in some villages close to the forests. James felt it was rather unusual for a tiger to do so unless it was injured or had become too old to hunt wildlife. It was this tiger he had come to hunt.
As the troupe stumbled its way across the jungle wild animals got disturbed by the ruckus they made. Various calls and rustling from the bushes could be heard. Their idea was to disturb the tiger from its hideout and give it a chase. It worked as they heard a roar soon enough. James barked loudly the game was on. Tribals enthused by the roar they had heard beat the drums faster and louder and their ullulation reached a crescendo. The chase went on for sometime but the tiger seemed to have given them a slip. They reached a river and James decided that they would camp for the night as the hunting party got exhausted by that time.
When James woke up and went looking for a bush to ease himself, he stumbled into a cave. What he saw amazed him and he called out in excitement to the others. Soon the troupe had gathered and cleared out the bushes, tree branches covering the opening of the cave. The cave opening had some stone carvings and James knew it belonged to the Buddhists religion. His heart was pulsating with the discovery. He knew intuitively that he had discovered something big and his name would be bonded with these caves written in history.
The old farmer continued the story after a lime juice break. Before that he said he was insistent in showing us something. He took us to the waterfall and asked “can you see that the waterfall is shaped like South India with the water pool appearing like SriLanka?”
He took us further and showed what looked like a single waterfall, was cascading into several ones. An exclusive sight it was!
Somewhere in the years before the Christ was born Buddhism emerged as a reaction to many things along Hinduism like idol worship, too many rituals, rigid casteism, superstitions in the name of worship. Many embraced Buddhism especially the lower castes like Chandalas, weavers, artists who had enough of oppression by the upper-class Hindus. But Hindu chieftains put down this religious conversion sometimes even with violence. One group led by a Chandala leader took refuge in these forests. They took shelter in some of these caves beside the river.
Legend says that Buddha appeared in his dream and asked to paint these caves, the history of Buddhism. The group had people who knew about plant dyes and some of them could paint as well. So, they started the work. They used the reflection of the Sun from the river during mornings and after noon to paint the caves.
They carried their work in secrecy and the forest provided deep cover over centuries. Although Buddhism waned over time. Apart from Hindus, Muslim invasions prosecuted Buddhist. However, small communities of Buddhist carried on their work here for over several hundred years. And then James stumbled upon the caves and rest they say became history.
The techniques used for the fabulous paintings is called Tempera similar to the European fresco techniques but differs in that the layer of plaster dry when it was first painted. A base material consisting of clay, cow dung and rice husks were pressed on to the wall inside the caves. Then various pigments and dyes from plants used to paint pictures. Paintings reflect the birth and history of Lord Buddha and also consists of jataka tales.
I wondered had Buddhism remained in India, it would have tempered Hinduism and perhaps annihilated the caste system from it as Dr Ambedkar had wished. I recalled the somewhat recent incident when scores of Dalits converted into Buddhism in the capital city.
The old man wasn’t done away with easily. He opened his cloth bundle and revealed some raw stones which he called as amethyst. I didn’t have signal and could not verify the information. He gave one piece of stone as gift to my daughter, a part of the trick, I presumed to convince me to buy the stones. My daughter recalled that I had brought a small piece of amethyst from Srilanka and the ones being shown looked like Amethyst. So, we bargained and paid a price to the old man. Being a writer, I was always looking for stories to write and the old man had provided one to think about. Plus, he showed us the details of the waterfall which normally most visitors would have skipped. I comforted myself perhaps the old man wasn’t a con man. Later when we came to the marker place we saw plenty of stalls selling amethyst of various sizes around similar price that we had settled for with the old man.
Last thing the old man had told us what was ajanta means a place where there is no janta. A lonely place good for contemplation in the middle of forests. We had a good lunch at the tourism corporation hotel and departed for the city to be back with the janta.