Cradled between the Vindhyan ranges and the eastern flanks of Satpura ranges of Central Indian Highlands, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve lies mostly in Umaria and partly in Katni districts of Madhya Pradesh. It is best known as the ‘tiger land’ of India, because of the highest density of tigers, as compared to rest of the country.
The scenic beauty of the Reserve is unique owing to the presence of vast grasslands – bahs – together with high cliffs, extremely rugged terrain, sharp crested hills and narrow valleys all in one single landscape. Some part of the area is generally plain with a few scattered undulating hillocks. The highest hill of the Reserve – the Bandhavgarh hill (highest point-811.40 m above MSL) is adorned by the 2000-year old ruins of the majestic Bandhavgarh Fort. The hill is surrounded by 32 other hills and hillocks. Each of these hills and hillocks have their own religious background and are regarded as sacred places of worship by local people including tribal, whose very culture, tradition and life are blended together with this area.
The diverse mix of habitats here, consisting of rocky hills covered with dense forests as well as low-lying swampy plains, supports a corresponding plentitude of fauna. Its luxuriantly rich eco-systems provide amply for every living being – from tiny insects to the majestic tigers. The Bandhavgarh hill is flat-topped with gentle northerly slope. Its vertical cliffs are the ideal nesting site of now highly endangered long-billed vultures and other rare birds of prey like the Shaheen Falcon.
The Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve (1161.471 sq. km.) comprises of Bandhavgarh National Park (448.842 sq. km.), Panpatha Wildlife Sanctuary (245.842 sq. km.) and a Buffer Zone (466.787 sq. km.) surrounding both the Park and the Sanctuary.
Initially, an area of 105 sq. km. was declared as the Bandhavgarh National Park in 1968, which was extended to 448.842 sq. km. in 1982. Panpatha Wildlife Sanctuary was notified in 1983. In 1993, the Bandhavgarh National Park, the Panpatha Wildlife Sanctuary and the Buffer Zone were together declared as the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve under Project Tiger.
Historical and Religious Importance
Bandhavgarh was the seat of ex-rulers of Rewa State and its history dates back to 3rd century AD. The Reserve receives its name from the Bandhavgarh Fort situated on the Bandhavgarh hill. History is that the Fort was given to brother Laxmana by Lord Rama to keep a watch on Lanka and hence, acquired the name Bandhavgarh (Bandhav-brother and Garh-fort). References to this are also found in the ‘Narad Panch Ratna’ and ‘Shiva-Samhita Purana’.
The Fort now stands as a mute testimony to the vicissitudes of time during which it changed hands to various warrior clans. The earliest available historical data is from ‘Bhimseni Samwat’ corresponding to 300 AD, during which the Fort was with the Bharhivas Vakataka Dynasty. Inscriptions of king Bhimsen are still found in one of the caves. After passing through the hands of Sengaras and Kalchuri Rajputs, the Fort and the surrounding area was later given as dowry to the Baghel clan and it remained with them till AD 1494. From 1495 to 1520 AD it was in the custody of Kuruvanshees, but was recaptured later by the Baghel ruler Maharaja Virbhanu Singh. Since then, the Fort remained with the Baghel rulers.
Huge statues, including sculptures symbolizing some of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu are seen in the Fort Plateau. The statues of Narsimha, Hanuman, Shiva, Varaha, Bhagvaha, Matsya, Kachchap and Bandhavadheesh, carved out of single rocks made of sand stone, were built during 10th-11th century AD. Down below, a large carving in sand stone of Lord Vishnu reclining on the serpent over a perennial water tank is the ‘Shesh-shaiya’, the biggest of all, and an attraction for tourists. Amazingly large tanks cut in sandstone and wells are also seen in the Fort plateau.
The famous Saint-poet Kabir had stayed in the fort during the period of Maharaja Virbhanu Singh. Subsequent ruler, Maharaja Rama Chandra was a contemporary of Akbar, who gave protection to the begum of emperor Humayun, when Shershah Suri pursued the latter. Akbar issued silver coins in the name of Bandhavgarh Fort. The Maharaja also presented his famous musician-singer Tansen from Bandhavgarh to the court of Akbar as a token of affection.
The Baghelas lived in Bandhavgarh till 1617 AD and then moved their capital to Govindgarh near Rewa during the reign of Maharaja Vikramaditya Singh. The Fort and the adjoining habitation (Gopalpur and Rampur) were gradually deserted and the last few inhabitants left in 1935. Bandhavgarh however remained the favourite shooting preserve (shikargah) of the erstwhile rulers of Rewa who retained sole rights to hunt in this area. This preserved the forest from degradation and protected its fauna till it became a National Park in 1968.
49 man-made caves are found in the Reserve. They were mainly prepared by cutting sandstone and used to serve as shelter for people to live in. Some of the caves have got inscriptions in oriental script; drawings and relic images, some of which may date back even to the Mauryan period. Perhaps as a symbolic expression as the presence of tiger, numerous impressions akin to tiger ‘pugmark’ are seen on the ceiling of a low-lying cave, which the locals call ‘Baghdalaka’.
Every year, on the occasion of Ramnavami and Krishna Janmashtami devotees visit the Bandhavadheesh temple situated inside the Fort. On Janmashtami, the number of devotees visiting the temple reaches up to about 20,000.