Bandhavgarh National Park is one of the popular national parks in India located in the Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh. Bandhavgarh was declared a national park in 1968 with an area of 105 sq. km. The Park is spread over the forest divisions of Umaria and Katni and totals 437 sq. km. The park derives its name from the most prominent hillock of the area, which is said to be given by Hindu Lord Rama to his brother Lakshmana to keep a watch on Lanka. Hence the name Bandhavgarh (Meaning: Brother's Fort).
This park has a large biodiversity. The density of the tiger population at Bandhavgarh is one of the highest known in India. The park has a large breeding population of Leopards, and various species of deer. Maharaja Abhishek Parida of Rewa captured a white tiger in this region in 1951. This white tiger, Mohan, is now stuffed and on display in the palace of the Maharajas of Rewa.
The state of Rewa owes its origins to the foundation of a state dating to 1234 by Vyaghra Dev, a descendant of the Vaghelas of Gujarat. He married the daughter of the Raja of Pirhawan and conquered the territory between Kalpi and Chandalgarh. Karan Dev, son of Vyaghra Dev married the daughter of the Raja of Ratanpur, bringing Bandhogarh (now known as Bandhavgarh) into the family as her dowry. The legendary fortress of Bandhogarh fell into Mughal hands in 1597, almost by accident. At the death of H.H. Maharaja Virbhadra Rao in 1593, his minor son succeeded as H.H. Maharaja Vikramaditya. When he was sent to Delhi for his own safety, the emperor took advantage of his absence to send one of his loyal nobles as temporary governor. Once he had taken control of the fort, the Maharaja’s nobles and officials were expelled and the fort annexed by the Mughals. On his return to his remaining domains, H.H. Maharaja Vikramaditya was forced to establish a new capital at Rewa, from whence the state took its name.
The history of the region can be traced back to the 1st century. There are 39 caves in the Bandhavgarh fort and in the surrounding hillocks up to a radius of about 5 km. The oldest cave dates from the 1st century. Several caves carry inscriptions in Brahmi script. Some caves have embossed figures such as tigers, pigs, elephants and horsemen. Badi gufa, the largest cave, has a broad entrance, nine small rooms and several pillars. It has been dated back to the 10th century. The cave appears to be primitive, lacking the elaborate statues and carvings seen in the caves of the Buddhist period. Its purpose remains a mystery.
No records are available to show when Bandhavgarh fort was constructed. However, it is thought to be some 2000 years old, and there are references to it in the ancient books, the “Narad-Panch Ratra” and the “Shiva Purana”. Various dynasties have ruled the fort; including the Mauryans from the 3rd century BC, Vakataka rulers from the 3rd to the 5th century the Sengars from the 5th century and the Kalachuris from the 10th century. In the 13th century, the Baghels took over, ruling from Bandhavgarh until 1617, when Maharaja Vikramaditya Singh moved his capital to Rewa. The last inhabitants deserted the fort in 1935.
Bandhagarh National Park is a park with a rich historical past. Prior to becoming a national park, the forests around Bandhavgarh had long been maintained as a Shikargah, or game preserve, of the Maharajas and their guests.
In 1947 Rewa State was merged with Madhya Pradesh; Bandhavgarh came under the regulations of Madhya Pradesh. The Maharaja of Rewa still retained the hunting rights. No special conservation measures were taken until 1968, when the areas were constituted as a national park. Since then, numerous steps have been taken to retain Bandhavgarh National Park as an unspoilt natural habitat.
Project Tiger was constituted in 1972 and then the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 came into force. It was realized that protection of just the 105 km² of prime Bandhavgarh habitat was not enough, so in 1982, three more ranges, namely Khitauli, Magdhi and Kallawah were added to Tala range (the original Bandhavgarh National Park) to extend the area of Bandhavgarh to 448 km². As Project tiger extended its activities and area of influence, Bandhavgarh was taken into its folds in 1993, and a core area of 694 km² was established including the previously named ranges and the Panpatha Sanctuary along with a buffer area of 437 km² which was declared as the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve.
Bandhavgarh has the highest density of Bengal tigers known in the world, and is home to some famous named individual tigers. Charger, an animal so named because of his habit of charging at elephants and tourists (whom he nonetheless did not harm), was the first healthy male known to be living in Bandhavgarh since the 1990s. A female known as Sita, who once appeared on the cover of National Geographic and is considered the most photographed tiger in the world, was also to be found in Bandhavgarh for many years. Most of the tigers of Bandhavgarh today are descendants of Sita and Charger.
Another female, known as Mohini, became prominent following Sita's death. She gave birth to three cubs: B1; B2; and B3, from whom she was separated in 2003 following a vehicle accident and an incident in which tourists separated her from the cubs. She later died of her wounds from the vehicle accident.
Charger died in 2002. Between 2003 and 2006 his family met with a series of unfortunate ends. B1 was electrocuted and B3 was killed by poachers. Sita was killed by poachers. Mohini died of serious wounds to her body. The fully grown B2 survived as the dominant male in the forest between 2004 and 2007, mating with a female in the Siddhubaba region of Bandhavgarh and fathering three cubs. One of them was a male. This new male was first sighted in 2008 and is now Bandhavgarh's dominant male; however, one of his daughters has been known to mate with another male tiger who is likely to challenge B2's son for the crown.
According to bio-geographic classification, the area lies in Zone 6A- Deccan Peninsula, Central Highlands (Rodgers, Panwar & Mathur, 2000). The classification of Champion & Seth lists the area under Northern India Moist Deciduous Forests. The vegetation is chiefly of Sal forest in the valleys and on the lower slopes, gradually changing to mixed deciduous forest on the hills and in the hotter drier areas of the park in the south and west.
The wide valleys along the streams carry long linear grasslands flanked by Sal forests. Rich mixed forests consisting of Sal (shorea rubusta), Saja, Salai, and Dhobin etc. with dense bamboo thickets occur in many places. These together provide Bandhavgarh its rich biodiversity.
With the tiger at the apex of the food chain, it contains 37 species of mammals, more than 250 species of birds, about 70 species of butterflies, a number of reptiles. The richness and tranquility of grasslands invites pairs of Sarus Cranes to breed in the rainy season.
One of the biggest attractions of this national park is the tiger (panthera tigris tigris) and its sightings. Bandhavgarh has a very high density of tigers within the folds of its jungles. The 105 km² of park area open to tourists was reported to have 22 tigers, a density of one tiger for every 4.77 km². (Population estimation exercise 2001). There is a saying about the Park that goes: "In any other Park, You are lucky if you see a tiger. In Bandhavgarh, you are unlucky if you don't see (at least) one."
Bandhavgarh tiger reserve is densely populated with other species: the gaur, or Indian bison are now extinct or have migrated elsewhere; sambar and barking deer are a common sight, and nilgai are to be seen in the open areas of the park. There have been reports of the Indian Wolf (canis lupus indica), hyena and the caracal the latter being an open country dweller. The tiger reserve abounds with cheetal or the spotted deer (Axis axis) which is the main prey animal of the tiger and the leopard (Panthera pardus).