Where bats are guardian angels

In Nagaon district of central Assam, a group of villages worship at a cave of bats

May 28, 2018 09:24 am | Updated 09:25 am IST - Badulithaan

Holy ground: The archway of Badulithaan, the temple dedicated to bats, in Assam’s Nagaon district.

Holy ground: The archway of Badulithaan, the temple dedicated to bats, in Assam’s Nagaon district.

Bats, nocturnal and silent, scare many people. And now the Nipah virus outbreak has added to the fear, as one way the infection spreads is through the excrement of bats.

But in the another corner of the country, tribal and non-tribal residents of a group of villages revere the creatures. They worship at Baduli Kurung (bat cave) in the Bamuni hill, 17 km south of Nagaon town in central Assam, which is home to a number of colonies of both fruit- and insect-eating bats.

Local legends

There are several local legends about the cave. One says an ascetic strayed into a kingdom of women and was held captive until his disciple traced and rescued him, and punished the women by turning them into bats.

Another says residents of a village over-exploited nature, so the gods punished them by turning them into bats and their village into a labyrinth of stones. Whatever the origin, the people agree the bats watch over the hills that provide them firewood and a life-saving spring (much of the groundwater in the area is contaminated with fluoride), which flows out of the cave.

As interesting is that the folklore had been almost forgotten until just after the turn of the millennium, when Abdur Rahman was posted as the head of a government-run sericulture farm at Kondoli, a village in the area.

Reba Bora, adviser to the Badulithaan Mela Committee, says, “We did not give much thought to the legends until he fished out British-era records and told us why we need to worship this place as god’s gift to us.”

(Mr. Rahman, incidentally, was a staunch Muslim who became a maulvi after he retired.)

In 2001, locals built a small temple, Badulithaan, near the cave entrance. “A stone inside represents the god or goddess of one’s choice,” says Khoru Sing, its caretaker. “It also represents the bats, who the gods created for our good.”

In the same year, locals began hosting the three-day Badulithaan Mela, starting 24 hours after Sivaratri. So holy is the ground now that visitors are only allowed inside the cave on special occasions, and even then, must take off footwear, make no noise and carry no lights. “I am not an educated person,” says Mangra Mura, an Adivasi. “But I know the bats can never harm us. They don’t need us, we need them to protect our source of water.”

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