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The Tiger Swami
"I have discovered the Tiger Swami's address. Let us visit him
suggestion came from Chandi, one of my high school friends. I was
eager to meet the saint who, in his premonastic life, had caught
and fought tigers with his naked hands. A boyish enthusiasm over
such remarkable feats was strong within me.
The next day
dawned wintry cold, but Chandi and I sallied forth gaily. After
much vain hunting in Bhowanipur, outside Calcutta, we arrived at
the right house. The door held two iron rings, which I sounded piercingly.
Notwithstanding the clamor, a servant approached with leisurely
gait. His ironical smile implied that visitors, despite their noise,
were powerless to disturb the calmness of a saint's home.
silent rebuke, my companion and I were thankful to be invited into
the parlor. Our long wait there caused uncomfortable misgivings.
India's unwritten law for the truth seeker is patience; a master
may purposely make a test of one's eagerness to meet him. This psychological
ruse is freely employed in the West by doctors and dentists!
summoned by the servant, Chandi and I entered a sleeping apartment.
The famous Sohong1 Swami was seated
on his bed. The sight of his tremendous body affected us strangely.
With bulging eyes, we stood speechless. We had never before seen
such a chest or such football-like biceps. On an immense neck, the
swami's fierce yet calm face was adorned with flowing locks, beard
and moustache. A hint of dovelike and tigerlike qualities shone
in his dark eyes. He was unclothed, save for a tiger skin about
his muscular waist.
voices, my friend and I greeted the monk, expressing our admiration
for his prowess in the extraordinary feline arena.
not tell us, please, how it is possible to subdue with bare fists
the most ferocious of jungle beasts, the royal Bengals?"
it is nothing to me to fight tigers. I could do it today if necessary."
He gave a childlike laugh. "You look upon tigers as tigers;
I know them as pussycats."
I think I could impress my subconsciousness with the thought that
tigers are pussycats, but could I make tigers believe it?"
strength also is necessary! One cannot expect victory from a baby
who imagines a tiger to be a house cat! Powerful hands are my sufficient
He asked us
to follow him to the patio, where he struck the edge of a wall.
A brick crashed to the floor; the sky peered boldly through the
gaping lost tooth of the wall. I fairly staggered in astonishment;
he who can remove mortared bricks from a solid wall with one blow,
I thought, must surely be able to displace the teeth of tigers!
of men have physical power such as mine, but still lack in cool
confidence. Those who are bodily but not mentally stalwart may find
themselves fainting at mere sight of a wild beast bounding freely
in the jungle. The tiger in its natural ferocity and habitat is
vastly different from the opium-fed circus animal!
man with herculean strength has nonetheless been terrorized into
abject helplessness before the onslaught of a royal Bengal. Thus
the tiger has converted the man, in his own mind, to a state as
nerveless as the pussycat's. It is possible for a man, owning a
fairly strong body and an immensely strong determination, to turn
the tables on the tiger, and force it to a conviction of pussycat
defenselessness. How often I have done just that!"
I was quite
willing to believe that the titan before me was able to perform
the tiger-pussycat metamorphosis. He seemed in a didactic mood;
Chandi and I listened respectfully.
the wielder of muscles. The force of a hammer blow depends on the
energy applied; the power expressed by a man's bodily instrument
depends on his aggressive will and courage. The body is literally
manufactured and sustained by mind. Through pressure of instincts
from past lives, strengths or weaknesses percolate gradually into
human consciousness. They express as habits, which in turn ossify
into a desirable or an undesirable body. Outward frailty has mental
origin; in a vicious circle, the habit-bound body thwarts the mind.
If the master allows himself to be commanded by a servant, the latter
becomes autocratic; the mind is similarly enslaved by submitting
to bodily dictation."
At our entreaty,
the impressive swami consented to tell us something of his own life.
ambition was to fight tigers. My will was mighty, but my body was
of surprise broke from me. It appeared incredible that this man,
now "with Atlantean shoulders, fit to bear," could ever
have known weakness.
by indomitable persistency in thoughts of health and strength that
I overcame my handicap. I have every reason to extol the compelling
mental vigor which I found to be the real subduer of royal Bengals."
think, revered swami, that I could ever fight tigers?" This
was the first, and the last, time that the bizarre ambition ever
visited my mind!
He was smiling. "But there are many kinds of tigers; some roam
in jungles of human desires. No spiritual benefit accrues by knocking
beasts unconscious. Rather be victor over the inner prowlers."
hear, sir, how you changed from a tamer of wild tigers to a tamer
of wild passions?"
The Tiger Swami
fell into silence. Remoteness came into his gaze, summoning visions
of bygone years. I discerned his slight mental struggle to decide
whether to grant my request. Finally he smiled in acquiescence.
fame reached a zenith, it brought the intoxication of pride. I decided
not only to fight tigers but to display them in various tricks.
My ambition was to force savage beasts to behave like domesticated
ones. I began to perform my feats publicly, with gratifying success.
my father entered my room in pensive mood.
I have words of warning. I would save you from coming ills, produced
by the grinding wheels of cause and effect.'
a fatalist, Father? Should superstition be allowed to discolor the
powerful waters or my activities?'
no fatalist, son. But I believe in the just law of retribution,
as taught in the holy scriptures. There is resentment against you
in the jungle family; sometime it may act to your cost.'
you astonish me! You well know what tigers are --- beautiful but merciless!
Even immediately after an enormous meal of some hapless creature,
a tiger is fired with fresh lust at sight of new prey. It may be
a joyous gazelle, frisking over the jungle grass. Capturing it and
biting an opening in the soft throat, the malevolent beast tastes
only a little of the mutely crying blood, and goes its wanton way.
are the most contemptible of the jungle breed! Who knows? my blows
may inject some slight sanity of consideration into their thick
heads. I am headmaster in a forest finishing school, to teach them
Father, think of me as tiger tamer and never as tiger killer. How
could my good actions bring ill upon me? I beg you not to impose
any command that I change my way of life.'"
Chandi and I
were all attention, understanding the past dilemma. In India a child
does not lightly disobey his parents' wishes.
silence Father listened to my explanation. He followed it with a
disclosure which he uttered gravely.
you compel me to relate an ominous prediction from the lips of a
saint. He approached me yesterday as I sat on the veranda in my
friend, I come with a message for your belligerent son. Let him
cease his savage activities. Otherwise, his next tiger-encounter
shall result in his severe wounds, followed by six months of deathly
sickness. He shall then forsake his former ways and become a monk."'
did not impress me. I considered that Father had been the credulous
victim of a deluded fanatic."
The Tiger Swami
made this confession with an impatient gesture, as though at some
stupidity. Grimly silent for a long time, he seemed oblivious of
our presence. When he took up the dangling thread of his narrative,
it was suddenly, with subdued voice.
after Father's warning, I visited the capital city of Cooch Behar.
The picturesque territory was new to me, and I expected a restful
change. As usual everywhere, a curious crowd followed me on the
streets. I would catch bits of whispered comment:
is the man who fights wild tigers.'
he legs, or tree-trunks?'
at his face! He must be an incarnation of the king of tigers himself!'
how village urchins function like final editions of a newspaper!
With what speed do the even-later speech-bulletins of the women
circulate from house to house! Within a few hours, the whole city
was in a state of excitement over my presence.
relaxing quietly in the evening, when I heard the hoofbeats of galloping
horses. They stopped in front of my dwelling place. In came a number
of tall, turbaned policemen.
taken aback. 'All things are possible unto these creatures of human
law,' I thought. 'I wonder if they are going to take me to task
about matters utterly unknown to me.' But the officers bowed with
Sir, we are sent to welcome you on behalf of the Prince of Cooch
Behar. He is pleased to invite you to his palace tomorrow morning.'
awhile on the prospect. For some obscure reason I felt sharp regret
at this interruption in my quiet trip. But the suppliant manner
of the policemen moved me; I agreed to go.
bewildered the next day to be obsequiously escorted from my door
into a magnificent coach drawn by four horses. A servant held an
ornate umbrella to protect me from the scorching sunlight. I enjoyed
the pleasant ride through the city and its woodland outskirts. The
royal scion himself was at the palace door to welcome me. He proffered
his own gold-brocaded seat, smilingly placing himself in a chair
of simpler design.
politeness is certainly going to cost me something!' I thought in
mounting astonishment. The prince's motive emerged after a few casual
is filled with the rumor that you can fight wild tigers with nothing
more than your naked hands. Is it a fact?'
scarcely believe it! You are a Calcutta Bengali, nurtured on the
white rice of city folk. Be frank, please; have you not been fighting
only spineless, opium-fed animals?' His voice was loud and sarcastic,
tinged with provincial accent.
vouchsafed no reply to his insulting question.
challenge you to fight my newly-caught tiger, Raja Begum.2 If you can successfully resist him, bind him with a chain, and leave
his cage in a conscious state, you shall have this royal Bengal!
Several thousand rupees and many other gifts shall also be bestowed.
If you refuse to meet him in combat, I shall blazon your name throughout
the state as an impostor!'
words struck me like a volley of bullets. I shot an angry acceptance.
Half risen from the chair in his excitement, the prince sank back
with a sadistic smile. I was reminded of the Roman emperors who
delighted in setting Christians in bestial arenas.
will be set for a week hence. I regret that I cannot give you permission
to view the tiger in advance.'
the prince feared I might seek to hypnotize the beast, or secretly
feed him opium, I know not!
the palace, noting with amusement that the royal umbrella and panoplied
coach were now missing.
week I methodically prepared my mind and body for the coming ordeal.
Through my servant I learned of fantastic tales. The saint's direful
prediction to my father had somehow got abroad, enlarging as it
ran. Many simple villagers believed that an evil spirit, cursed
by the gods, had reincarnated as a tiger which took various demoniac
forms at night, but remained a striped animal during the day. This
demon-tiger was supposed to be the one sent to humble me.
imaginative version was that animal prayers to Tiger Heaven had
achieved a response in the shape of Raja Begum. He was to be the
instrument to punish me --- the audacious biped, so insulting to the
entire tiger species! A furless, fangless man daring to challenge
a claw-armed, sturdy-limbed tiger! The concentrated venom of all
humiliated tigers --- the villagers declared --- had gathered momentum sufficient
to operate hidden laws and bring about the fall of the proud tiger
further apprized me that the prince was in his element as manager
of the bout between man and beast. He had supervised the erection
of a storm-proof pavilion, designed to accommodate thousands. Its
center held Raja Begum in an enormous iron cage, surrounded by an
outer safety room. The captive emitted a ceaseless series of blood-curdling
roars. He was fed sparingly, to kindle a wrathful appetite. Perhaps
the prince expected me to be the meal of reward!
from the city and suburbs bought tickets eagerly in response to
the beat of drums announcing the unique contest. The day of battle
saw hundreds turned away for lack of seats. Many men broke through
the tent openings, or crowded any space below the galleries."
As the Tiger
Swami's story approached a climax, my excitement mounted with it;
Chandi also was raptly mute.
piercing sound-explosions from Raja Begum, and the hubbub of the
somewhat terrified crowd, I quietly made my appearance. Scantily
clad around the waist, I was otherwise unprotected by clothing.
I opened the bolt on the door of the safety room and calmly locked
it behind me. The tiger sensed blood. Leaping with a thunderous
crash on his bars, he sent forth a fearsome welcome. The audience
was hushed with pitiful fear; I seemed a meek lamb before the raging
"In a trice
I was within the cage; but as I slammed the door, Raja Begum was
headlong upon me. My right hand was desperately torn. Human blood,
the greatest treat a tiger can know, fell in appalling streams.
The prophecy of the saint seemed about to be fulfilled.
instantly from the shock of the first serious injury I had ever
received. Banishing the sight of my gory fingers by thrusting them
beneath my waist cloth, I swung my left arm in a bone-cracking blow.
The beast reeled back, swirled around the rear of the cage, and
sprang forward convulsively. My famous fistic punishment rained
on his head.
Begum's taste of blood had acted like the maddening first sip of
wine to a dipsomaniac long-deprived. Punctuated by deafening roar,
the brute's assaults grew in fury. My inadequate defense of only
one hand left me vulnerable before claws and fangs. But I dealt
out dazing retribution. Mutually ensanguined, we struggled as to
the death. The cage was pandemonium, as blood splashed in all directions,
and blasts of pain and lethal lust came from the bestial throat.
him!' 'Kill the tiger!' Shrieks arose from the audience. So fast
did man and beast move, that a guard's bullet went amiss. I mustered
all my will force, bellowed fiercely, and landed a final concussive
blow. The tiger collapsed and lay quietly.
a pussycat!" I interjected.
The swami laughed
in hearty appreciation, then continued the engrossing tale.
was vanquished at last. His royal pride was further humbled: with
my lacerated hands, I audaciously forced open his jaws. For a dramatic
moment, I held my head within the yawning deathtrap. I looked around
for a chain. Pulling one from a pile on the floor, I bound the tiger
by his neck to the cage bars. In triumph I moved toward the door.
fiend incarnate, Raja Begum, had stamina worthy of his supposed
demoniac origin. With an incredible lunge, he snapped the chain
and leaped on my back. My shoulder fast in his jaws, I fell violently.
But in a trice I had him pinned beneath me. Under merciless blows,
the treacherous animal sank into semiconsciousness. This time I
secured him more carefully. Slowly I left the cage.
myself in a new uproar, this time one of delight. The crowd's cheer
broke as though from a single gigantic throat. Disastrously mauled,
I had yet fulfilled the three conditions of the fight --- stunning the
tiger, binding him with a chain, and leaving him without requiring
assistance for myself. In addition, I had so drastically injured
and frightened the aggressive beast that he had been content to
overlook the opportune prize of my head in his mouth!
my wounds were treated, I was honored and garlanded; hundreds of
gold pieces showered at my feet. The whole city entered a holiday
period. Endless discussions were heard on all sides about my victory
over one of the largest and most savage tigers ever seen. Raja Begum
was presented to me, as promised, but I felt no elation. A spiritual
change had entered my heart. It seemed that with my final exit from
the cage I had also closed the door on my worldly ambitions.
period followed. For six months I lay near death from blood poisoning.
As soon as I was well enough to leave Cooch Behar, I returned to
my native town.
now that my teacher is the holy man who gave the wise warning.'
I humbly made this confession to my father. 'Oh, if I could only
find him!' My longing was sincere, for one day the saint arrived
of tiger taming.' He spoke with calm assurance. 'Come with me; I
will teach you to subdue the beasts of ignorance roaming in jungles
of the human mind. You are used to an audience: let it be a galaxy
of angels, entertained by your thrilling mastery of yoga!'
initiated into the spiritual path by my saintly guru. He opened
my soul-doors, rusty and resistant with long disuse. Hand in hand,
we soon set out for my training in the Himalayas."
Chandi and I
bowed at the swami's feet, grateful for his vivid outline of a life
truly cyclonic. I felt amply repaid for the long probationary wait
in the cold parlor!
Sohong was his monastic name. He was popularly known as the "Tiger
Back to text
"Prince Princess"-so named to indicate that this beast
possessed the combined ferocity of tiger and tigress.
Back to text
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