Villagers worship a rare fresh water turtle in Orissa

Rajesh Kumar Behera in Kendrapara (Orissa)


Since last Thursday the inhabitants of Khadipala village and its nearby villages under Pattamundai block of Kendrapara district are worshipping a rare fresh water turtle as the carapace of the turtle is marked with the eyes of the Lord Jagannath . The rustic and gullible villagers considering the turtle as the incarnation of Lord Jagannath have been worshipping the turtle.

According to sources, one Ramesh Patra, an inhabitant of Khadipala ,caught  the turtle from a nearby river and brought to his home. Later he discovered  the spotted marks which is in the turtle carapace got the similarity with  the eyes of the Lord Jagannath .As a result taking into account that the turtle is a rare one and it might the incarnation of Lord Jagannath ,the villagers  started worshipping the turtle.

”This rare turtle is an Indian Soft shell Turtle (Aspideretes gangeticus) This turtle is one of the most critically endangered species of fresh water turtles in the country. . ‘This species has legendary status among the people of Orissa”, informed a senior officer of Bhitarkanika National park.

Many residents were seen in making queue  to take a glimpse of the rare turtle and to get an opportunity to  worship the turtle believing that with the worship of rare turtle, in whose carapace two black spot alike the eyes of Lord Jagannath is marked, would  bring good fortune.

As the turtle is considered to be the second incarnation of the powerful god Vishnu in the Hindu religion. After a great flood, which occurs every four billion years and dissolves the earth, Vishnu transforms himself into a great turtle. On his back, he carries a vessel in which the gods and demons mix the elements necessary to re-create the globe. After a thousand years, when the earth has been reborn, the turtle remains in place, and on his back stands a large elephant, which support the planet.

‘This is one of those mythical species that people always talked about but no one ever saw, so it’s hugely significant that we found this lone turtle in the wild .It gives a ray of  hope for a species that is on the verge of extinction.’ , added forest official sources of Bhitarkanika.

Soft-shelled Turtle is distinctive in appearance, having flat, smooth, soft, and rubbery rounded shells that are usually similar to pancake. Its back is olive, dark green or gray and the plastron is white or pink in color. It has webbed feet, long necks and elongated proboscis-like snouts bearing the nostrils at the tip. Females are considerably larger than the males.

Soft-shell Turtles are swift-moving carnivorous reptiles. The species lives in slow-flowing rivers or ponds with sand or mud bottom. Sometimes the turtle lies buried in mud or sand and occasionally emerge to bask in the sun. The tissues in the pharynx help the reptile to extract oxygen for respiration from the water. It is aggressive when captured and is capable of biting viciously.

To protect itself from predators, it spends 95 per cent of its life hidden in sand or mud with only its eyes and nose showing.It is Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (2).

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