Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
The Men-Tigers

Rām Chand Rāo, commonly called the Sarīmant, chief of Deorī,[1] here overtook me. He came out from Sāgar to visit me at Dhamonī[2] and, not reaching that place in time, came on after me. He held Deorī under the Peshwā, as the Sāgar chief held Sāgar, for the payment of the public establishments kept up by the local administration. It yielded him about ten thousand a year, and, when we took possession of the country, he got an estate in the Sāgar district, in rent-free tenure, estimated at fifteen hundred a year. This is equal to about six thousand pounds a year in England.


The tastes of native gentlemen lead them always to expend the greater part of their incomes in the wages of trains of followers of all descriptions, and in horses, elephants, &c.; and labour and the subsistence of labour are about four times cheaper in India than in England.


By the breaking up of public establishments, and consequent diminution of the local demand for agricultural produce, the value of land throughout all Central India, after the termination of the Mahrātha War in 1817, fell by degrees thirty per cent.; and, among the rest, that of my poor friend the Sarīmant.


While I had the civil charge of the Sāgar district in 1831 I represented this case of hardship; and Government, in the spirit of liberality which has generally characterized their measures in this part of India, made up to him the difference between what he actually received and what they had intended to give him; and he has ever since felt grateful to me.[3] He is a very small man, not more than five feet high, but he has the handsomest face I have almost ever seen, and his manners are those of the most perfect native gentleman.


He came to call upon me after breakfast, and the conversation turned upon the number of people that had of late been killed by tigers between Sāgar and Deorī, his ancient capital, which lies about midway between Sāgar and the Nerbudda river.


One of his followers, who stood beside his chair, said[4] that 'when a tiger had killed one man he was safe, for the spirit of the man rode upon his head, and guided him from all danger. The spirit knew very well that the tiger would be watched for many days at the place where he had committed the homicide, and always guided him off to some other more secure place, when he killed other men without any risk to himself. He did not exactly know why the spirit of the man should thus befriend the beast that had killed him; but', added he, 'there is a mischief inherent in spirits; and the better the man the more mischievous is his ghost, if means are not taken to put him to rest.'


This is the popular and general belief throughout India; and it is supposed that the only sure mode of destroying a tiger who has killed many people is to begin by making offerings to the spirits of his victims, and thereby depriving him of their valuable services.[5] The belief that men are turned into tigers by eating of a root is no less general throughout India.


The Sarīmant, on being asked by me what he thought of the matter, observed 'there was no doubt much truth in what the man said: but he was himself of opinion that the tigers which now infest the wood from Sāgar to Deorī were of a different kind—in fact, that they were neither more nor less than men turned into tigers—a thing which took place in the woods of Central India much more often than people were aware of.


The only visible difference between the two', added the Sarīmant, 'is that the metamorphosed tiger has no tail, while the bora, or ordinary tiger, has a very long one. In the jungle about Deorī', continued he, 'there is a root, which, if a man eat of, he is converted into a tiger on the spot; and if, in this state, he can eat of another, he becomes a man again—a melancholy instance of the former of which', said he, 'occurred, I am told, in my own father's family when I was an infant.


'His washerman, Raghu, was, like all washermen, a great drunkard; and, being seized with a violent desire to ascertain what a man felt in the state of a tiger, he went one day to the jungle and brought home two of these roots, and desired his wife to stand by with one of them, and the instant she saw him assume the tiger shape, to thrust it into his mouth. She consented, the washerman ate his root, and became instantly a tiger; but his wife was so terrified at the sight of her husband in this shape that she ran off with the antidote in her hand.


'Poor old Raghu took to the woods, and there ate a good many of his old friends from neighbouring villages; but he was at last shot, and recognized from the circumstance of his having no tail. You may be quite sure,' concluded Sarīmant, 'when you hear of a tiger without a tail, that it is some unfortunate man who has eaten of that root, and of all the tigers he will be found the most mischievous.'


How my friend had satisfied himself of the truth of this story I know not, but he religiously believes it, and so do all his attendants and mine; and, out of a population of thirty thousand people in the town of Sāgar, not one would doubt the story of the washerman if he heard it.


I was one day talking with my friend the Rājā of Maihar.[6] on the road between Jubbulpore and Mirzapore, on the subject of the number of men who had been lately killed by tigers at the Katrā Pass on that road,[7] and the best means of removing the danger.


'Nothing', said the Rājā, 'could be more easy or more cheap than the destruction of these tigers, if they were of the ordinary sort; but the tigers that kill men by wholesale, as these do, are, you may be sure, men themselves converted into tigers by the force of their science, and such animals are of all the most unmanageable.'


'And how is it. Rājā Sāhib, that these men convert themselves into tigers?'


'Nothing', said he, 'is more easy than this to persons who have once acquired the science; but how they learn it, or what it is, we unlettered men know not.'


'There was once a high priest of a large temple, in this very valley of Maihar, who was in the habit of getting himself converted into a tiger by the force of this science, which he had thoroughly acquired. He had a necklace, which one of his disciples used to throw over his neck the moment the tiger's form became fully developed. He had, however, long given up the practice, and all his old disciples had gone off on their pilgrimages to distant shrines, when he was one day seized with a violent desire to take his old form of the tiger.


'He expressed the wish to one of his new disciples, and demanded whether he thought he might rely on his courage to stand by and put on the necklace. 'Assuredly you may', said the disciple; 'such is my faith in you, and in the God we serve, that I fear nothing.' The high priest upon this put the necklace into his hand with the requisite instructions, and forthwith began to change his form. The disciple stood trembling in every limb, till he heard him give a roar that shook the whole edifice, when he fell flat upon his face, and dropped the necklace on the floor. The tiger bounded over him, and out of the door, and infested all the roads leading to the temple for many years afterwards.'


'Do you think, Rājā Sahib, that the old high priest is one of the tigers at the Katrā Pass?'


'No, I do not; but I think they may be all men who have become imbued with a little too much of the high priest's science—when men once acquire this science they can't help exercising it, though it be to their own ruin, and that of others.'


'But, supposing them to be ordinary tigers, what is the simple plan you propose to put a stop to their depredations, Rājā Sahib?'


'I propose', said he, 'to have the spirits that guide them propitiated by proper prayers and offerings; for the spirit of every man or woman who has been killed by a tiger rides upon his head, or runs before him, and tells him where to go to get prey, and to avoid danger. Get some of the Gonds, or wild people from the jungles, who are well skilled in these matters—give them ten or twenty rupees, and bid them go and raise a small shrine, and there sacrifice to these spirits.


'The Gonds will tell them that they shall on this shrine have regular worship, and good sacrifices of fowls, goats, and pigs, every year at least, if they will but relinquish their offices with the tigers and be quiet. If this is done, I pledge myself', said the Raja, 'that the tigers will soon get killed themselves, or cease from killing men. If they do not, you may be quite sure that they are not ordinary tigers, but men turned into tigers, or that the Gonds have appropriated all you gave them to their own use, instead of applying it to conciliate the spirits of the unfortunate people.'[8]



Notes:


1. Deorī, in the Sāgar district, about forty miles south-east of Sāgar. In 1767, the town and attached tract called the Panj Mahāl were bestowed by the Peshwā, rent- free, on Dhōndo Dattātraya, a Marātha pundit, ancestor of the author's friend. The Panj Mahal was finally made part of British territory by the treaty with Sindhia in 1860, and constitutes the District called Pānch Māhals in the Northern Division of the Bombay Presidency. The vernacular word pānch like the Persian panj, means 'five'. The title Sarīmant appears to be a popular pronunciation of the Sanskrit srīmant or srīmān, 'fortunate', and is still used by Marāthā nobles.


2. Ante, Chapter 16, note 6. The name is here erroneously printed 'Dhamoree' in the author's text.


3. He had good reason for his gratitude, inasmuch as the depression in rents was merely temporary.


4. An Indian chief is generally accompanied into the room by a confidential follower, who frequently relieves his master of the trouble of talking, and answers on his behalf all questions.


5. When Agrippina, in her rage with her son Nero, threatens to take her stepson, Britannicus, to the camp of the Legion, and there assert his right to the throne, she invokes the spirit of his father, whom she had poisoned, and the manes of the Silani, whom she had murdered. 'Simul attendere manus, aggerere probra; consecratum Claudium, infernos Silanorum manes invocare, et tot invita fari nova.'-(Tacitus, lib, xviii, sec. 14.) [W. H. S.] The quotation is from the Annals. Another reading of the concluding words is 'et tot irrita facinora', which gives much better sense. In the author's text 'aggerere' is printed 'aggere'.


6. A small principality, detached from the Pannā State. Its chief town is about one hundred miles north-east of Jubbulpore, on the route from Allahabad to Jubbulpore. The state is now traversed by the East Indian Railway. It is under the superintendence of the Political Agent of Baghēlkhand, resident at Rīwā.


7. This pass is sixty-three miles south-east of Allahabad, on the road from that city to Rīwā.


8. These myths are based on the well-known facts that man-eating tigers are few, and exceptionally wary and cunning. The conditions which predispose a tiger to man-eating have been much discussed. It seems to be established that the animals which seek human prey are generally, though not invariably, those which, owing to old wounds or other physical defects, are unable to attack with confidence the stronger animals. The conversations given in the text are excellent illustrations of the mode of formation of modern myths, and of the kind of reasoning which satisfies the mind of the unconscious myth- maker.


The text may be compared with the following passage from the Journey through the Kingdom of Oudh (vol. i, p. 124):


'I asked him (the Rājā of Balrāmpur), whether the people in the Tarāi forest were still afraid to point out tigers to sportsmen. "I was lately out with a party after a tiger", he said, "which had killed a cowherd, but his companions refused to point out any trace of him, saying that their relative's spirit must be now riding upon his head, to guide him from all danger, and we should have no chance of shooting him. We did shoot him, however", said the Rājā exultingly, "and they were all afterwards very glad of it. The tigers in the Tarāi do not often kill men, sir, for they find plenty of deer and cattle to eat,"'