The tigers (Panthera tigris), which are essentially an Asian animal not found outside the Euro-Asian landmass, are defined by three distinct mitochondrial nucleotide sites and 12 unique micro satellite alleles. The pattern of genetic variation in these cats corresponds to the thesis that they came to India approximately 12,000 years ago after being forced to spread southwards in search of suitable habitat as successive phases of Ice Ages made northern Asia inhospitable. This recent history of tigers in the Indian subcontinent is consistent with the absence of fossil records from India prior to the late Pleistocene (approximately 11,000 years ago) and the absence of tigers in Sri Lanka, which separated from the Indian landmass due to rise in sea levels in the early Holocene (Holocene started approximately 11,500 years BP or before present). However, a recent study of two independent fossil finds from Sri Lanka, one dated to approximately 16,500 years ago, tentatively classifies them as being a tiger.
The Bengal tiger has been India’s national symbol since about 2500 BCE (Before the Common/Current/Christian Era; an alternative to Before Christ, abbreviated BC) when it was displayed on the Pashupati seal of the Indus Valley Civilisation (2900BC-1900BC). On the seal, the tiger, being the largest, represents the Yogi Shiva‘s people. Some of the seals of that time contain figures of which the front half is a woman and the hind half a tiger. One seal shows the naked figure of a woman, upside down with her legs apart and two tigers standing to one side. Later the animal became the royal symbol of the Chola Empire from 300 CE to 1279 CE and is now designated as the official animal of India. Tipu Sultan, who ruled the Mysore state in late 18th century (India), was also a great admirer of tiger. He was obsessed with the animal to the extent that he adorned almost everything with the tiger symbols. Even his banner carried the legend, ‘The tiger is God’. In India tiger has also found a place of prestige even in Vedic literatures. It has been celebrated in Hindu consciousness from time immemorial as the divine vehicle of the goddess of power, Durga or Shakti. In modern India too it has been given place of pride by Reserve Bank of India, which has chosen it as its emblem. Even the currency notes are carrying its portrait.
As the time passed, its image as symbol of power seems to have transcended the earlier boundaries and the cat appeared over and over again in mosaics, murals, carvings and other artistic works, cultures, religious and administrative records of various nations and societies from North Africa and Mediterranean Europe in the west to China in the east. In India tiger has not only become subject of myths and legends, but has also been given special place by various kingdoms, big or small.