A village in Chhattisgarh assembled to bid an emotional goodbye to a crocodile, who they used to worship as their protector, after the reptile died.
For residents of Bawa Mohtara village in Bemetara district, the around 130-year-old crocodile, whom they had fondly named as ''Gangaram'', was next to God.
After the reptile died in a village pond, the grief-stricken residents took out its funeral procession and did not cook food that day.
They also decided to set up a memorial on the pond's bank where it was buried, sarpanch (village head) Mohan Sahu told PTI, adding that they were also thinking of constructing a temple in its memory.
The 3.4 metre-long crocodile was found dead on Tuesday in the village pond, following which locals informed the forest department and the carcass was taken out of water, he said.
Around 500 villagers took out its funeral procession and performed the last rites. They touched the carcass to seek its blessings, he said.
"The villagers had so much affection for the reptile that many of them did not even cook food the day it died. Locals had long back named it ''Gangaram''. They used to worship it as a deity and the protector of the village," he said.
Sahu claimed that Gangaram lived in the village's main pond for over 100 years as even his late grandfather had seen it there since his childhood.
The villagers, including children, used to bathe everyday in the pond but the reptile never harmed them even when they swam close to it, he said.
"In the past, the crocodile had crawled over to some nearby villages a couple of times and we had to bring it back to the pond," the sarpanch said.
Praising the villagers' affection for the crocodile, Bemetara's sub-divisional officer of forest R K Sinha said they have set a good example of "human-animal coexistence", when people generally maintain a distance from carnivores.
"After getting information about its death, the forest personnel went there and a post mortem was conducted by veterinarians," he said.
The animal, estimated to be around 130 years old and weighing about 250 kg, died of natural causes, Sinha said.
"After the autopsy, the carcass was handed over to the villagers as they wanted to perform it final rites," he added.