Published in 1894, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling remains a popular children’s tale, even in the 21st century. Originally published as a series of stories which took place in forests of Central India, The Jungle Book, through its many adaptations across various mediums, has managed to bring the Indian forests to life in front of its viewers.
The tales of the Original Jungle Book are fables, which use anthropomorphic animals to convey moral, political and social lessons. The most popular amongst these jungle tales are the stories of Mowgli – the man-cub raised by a pack of wolves. The story of Mowgli is based in the forests of Central India, in a place called Seoni in Madhya Pradesh. The Seoni region is ten kilometers from Pench National Park — a tiger reserve also known as Mowgli’s forest.
A happy go lucky man-cub, Mowgli is also friends with Bagheera and Bhalu – a melanistic (black) leopard and an Indian sloth bear, respectively – who act as his guides in the journey.
Even though Bhalu in The Jungle Book is shown as a huge 600+ pound bear, sloth bears in India rarely exceed 300 pounds. Therefore, it can be assumed that Bhalu is a Himalayan brown bear who for some reason strayed way south of its range. Rudyard Kipling has said that in writing The Jungle Book, he has used ‘nearly everything he knew or heard or dreamed about the Indian jungle,’ so the stories are not based solely around Seoni or in Central India but rather the entire forests of India.
Most of the action in these stories take place around the river valleys of Central India. Kipling has used his love and experience of Indian forests to bring these forests alive in his stories, basing them across locations that are not only reminiscent of the Indian forest but also the Indian countryside. Throughout the story, Kipling also breathes life into various denizens of the forest apart from the main protagonists, with many of them serving as heroes, villains and side actors in the stories.
Elephants are used as the conscience keepers and guardians of the forests. Even SherKhan, the fierce Bengal tiger, is fearful of the righteous wrath of the Haathi. As Indians worship the elephant god Ganesha, such a characterization of elephants is obvious.
SherKhan and his cronies (jackals/hyenas and langurs) are the main villains of this story. Jackals have been known to form commensal relationships with tigers, rarely fearing the mighty ‘King of the Jungle.’ This behavior forms the basis of relations between SherKhan and Tabaqui depicted in the story. (Even though Tabaqui is at times described as a striped hyena, this behavior is that of a jackal.)
Since 1894, there have been numerous adaptations of the popular Mowgli story in print and television under the name The Jungle Book; however, people often forget that the Original Jungle Book contained numerous stories other than that of the famous Mowgli.
Perhaps the most popular adaptation of The Jungle Book in India was the Japanese anime, Jungle Book Shōnen Mowgli, which was produced in Tokyo. Walt Disney Pictures have recently released another live-action, CGI adaptation of The Jungle Book –was released in India on April 8, 2016.
Warner Bros. is developing another live-action version under the name Jungle Book: Origins. Hopefully, both of these adaptations will manage to bring the wonders of Indian forests on the big screen seamlessly.
Some of the action in The Jungle Book also takes place in an abandoned temple in the forest. Forests all over India invariably have some abandoned temples and ruins. The animals of the forest in The Jungle Book are often shown to be afraid of these temples, as they are places abandoned even by the selfish humans. However, in reality, animals, especially tigers and langurs, enjoy these ruins, spending loads of time here. Tigresses are known to use such ruins as cozy and safe denning places.
In this story of the man-cub lost in the wild, many of the threats facing the Indian forests in 19th-century British India are brought to light effectively. Unfortunately, for India’s wild – 120 years after the publication of The Jungle Book – many of these threats are even more relevant today.
As the greedy consumer-driven world continues devouring what’s left of nature’s bounty, stories like The Jungle Book, which have made generations fall in love with nature, are more important than ever before.