Among the devoted visitors to the Chandi Mata temple in Bagbahara, Chhattisgarh, is a pack of Sloth Bears. They come for the food and stay for the human pampering
When the temple gets crowded, the forest department volunteers move the bears behind a closed gate and let the devotees feed them from there. The cubs were curious to see my camera, and one of them even tried to have a go at it!
I still remember how I felt when I first heard about the Sloth Bears of Chandi Mata Temple in Bagbahara, Chhattisgarh. I was thoroughly taken aback. In a country like India, where population explosion and habitat encroachment have made human-wildlife conflict a daily phenomenon, this story of human-animal harmony sounded too good to be true. A temple where wild Sloth Bears visit every day, eat prasad (food offering) fed to them by the devotees and roam freely within the premises without harming anybody?! I knew I had to see it for myself. So on an August weekend in 2019, my wife and I packed our bags and caught a train to Raipur, Chhattisgarh.
The Chandi Mata Temple is situated nearly 100km from Raipur, in the Ghuchapali village of Bagbahara, in Chhattisgarh's Mahasamund district. The temple is seated atop a hill, surrounded by a sparse forest and adjacent hills that are inhabited by a population of Sloth Bears. The locals believe that the bears are cursed devotees of Chandi Mata, who seek salvation by visiting the temple. Some even see them as reincarnations of the mythical 'Jambavan' from the Ramayana epic. Cursed or otherwise, never have I seen or heard of wild animals being so disciplined.
The forest department volunteers deputed at the temple, who act as a barrier between overenthusiastic visitors and the bears, do their job well. The Sloth Bears even respond to their commands, eat what they feed them and return peacefully to the jungle once their stomachs are full. According to the volunteers, the bears visit the temple due to a scarcity of natural food in the forest. They also agree that the bears have probably become too lazy to find food for themselves.
It has almost been a decade since Sloth Bears started visiting the temple, and during this entire period, not even a single incident of human-bear conflict has been recorded. The Chandi Mata temple in Bagbahara is a heartening example of human-wildlife coexistence in 21st-century India!
Thursday, 12 January, 2023
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Ritobroto Moitra is a PSU employee based in Kolkata who spends his spare time travelling to different parts of the country and photographing its wild denizens. He believes that wildlife photography can be crucial to spread awareness and generate interest in nature and wildlife conservation. Photographing India's lesser-explored wildernesses is of particular interest to him. Ritobroto posts as @wildlife_grapher on Instagram.