If we had to sacrifice tigers at the annual festival of Dashain, would we have as many tigers in Nepal as goats? Most people I asked thought I was crazy and just brushed the question aside. What did Darwin mean when he said that “those species that adapt will survive”? Goats are extremely adaptive across the many climate zones of Nepal unlike the tiger. The tiger seems much more selective in its choice of habitat. In the case of goats, if human beings are the ones making the various choices of where to live and what to eat, we cannot simply attribute the growing number of goats to Darwin’s theories of “natural selection” either. So much of the world around goats is “unnatural selection”.
The good news is that both the tiger and the goat are receiving due attention. From seminars to projects; from human resources to financing, both seem to draw a lot of attention. It has been established that both the tiger and goat can and will help eradicate poverty in Nepal. In Nepali heritage, the tiger has a higher status, or is of the ‘upper caste’ because it is Goddess Durga or Bhagwati’s vehicle. The goat, on the other hand is disposable, is for sacrifice and meat. In the long run, this may actually end up favoring the goat. Humans generally have a tendency to protect and preserve things they can eat, and destroy anything that can kill and eat us! Survival of the fittest, I guess.
Just south of the old town of Dhulikhel is a shrine dedicated to the young prince of Panauti who went on a hunting trip but, instead, ended up feeding his own flesh to a starving tigress who was so weak that she was not even able to feed her cubs. We do not yet have a real shrine dedicated to the goats. Another famous temple in Kirtipur is dedicated to Bagh Bhairab. Part of Nepal’s rich heritage consists of a board game called Bagh Chaal (or ‘Tiger’s Move’). It is a fascinating game where goats or sheep have to trap the tiger or be eaten. It is a great game for strategic thinkers who are constantly finding ways and means to leverage their unique skills to win the seats of power.
As you take a closer look at the image of the Goddess on the back of a tiger, do you recall the famous limerick which you may have had to learn in school?
There was a woman from Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger!
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger!
The source of the Bagmati River is in Shivapuri National Park and is known as Bagh Dwar – could literally mean ‘tiger’s mouth’. The Bagmati River is sacred and yet very dirty. The tiger may be sacred but we know that a lot will have to be done if future generations are to see a tiger in the wild. We have all seen the numbers, and they are very low in Nepal. They have even become extinct in many parts of the continent. There is, however, a huge goat meat deficit in Nepal that could continue to escalate. People are simply not going to wait for festivals to have goat meat any more.
Intangible heritage is a phrase that’s been coming up more and more in Kathmandu these days, but what is it,...