Bagheera (Hindi: बघीरा / Baghīrā) is a black panther (black Indian leopard) who is a fictional character in Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli stories in The Jungle Book (coll. 1894) and The Second Jungle Book (coll. 1895). The word Hindi: बाघ / bāgha means “tiger” in Hindi.
“Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody dared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down.”
Born in captivity in the menagerie of the Rajah of Oodeypore, India, Bagheera begins to plan for his freedom after his mother dies. Once he is mature and strong enough, he breaks the lock on his cage and escapes into the jungle, where his ferocity and cunning win him the respect of all its other inhabitants, except Shere Khan the tiger (likely out of his arrogance)
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. Bagheera reveals all this to Mowgli later. None but Mowgli ever learn that Bagheera once wore a collar and chain, explaining the cat’s special insight concerning Men.
When Father Wolf and Mother Wolf of the Seeonee (Seoni) wolf pack adopt the human “cub” Mowgli and the pack demands that the new cub should be spoken for, Bagheera buys Mowgli’s life with a freshly killed bull and helps to raise him as one of the pack. Because his life has been bought by a bull, Mowgli is forbidden to eat cattle (coincidentally, just as the Hindu villagers of the region are also forbidden).
Bagheera shares in many of Mowgli’s adventures as he grows, but eventually the time comes when the man-cub becomes a man and has to return to human society. Bagheera frees Mowgli of his debt to the wolf pack by killing another bull, and Mowgli returns to his adopted human mother Messua.
Bagheera is one of Mowgli’s mentors and best friends. He, Baloo and Kaa sing for Mowgli “The Outsong” of the jungle.
In some film and television series adaptations of the Jungle Book Bagheera is a leopard, in some appearances he is a black leopard also known as a panther.
In the animated Soviet version, Adventures of Mowgli, Bagheera is portrayed as a female. This may be related to the fact that the Russian word for “panther” is a feminine noun, and a name ending with ‘a’ is considered to be a female name in the Russian language (a male panther would have been named Bagheer). An episode shows she has three cubs, one black and two yellow with rosette patterns. Bagheera is portrayed as friendly, loyal, trustworthy, and protective, yet somewhat cunning and tricky.
In Disney’s adaptation, Bagheera the panther is, as in the book, male, and voiced by Sebastian Cabot (who previously voiced Sir Ector from The Sword in the Stone). The panther is portrayed as an intelligent, mature, and logical character, quite similar to the Bagheera in the novel, except that in the novel, Bagheera spoiled Mowgli more. In the film, it is Bagheera and not the wolves who first finds Mowgli, a young village child, and he is the one who takes him back to the village
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. During the movie, Bagheera often lectures Baloo, for he knows that as long as Shere Khan is in the jungle, the jungle is not safe for Mowgli despite all of Baloo’s attempts to protect him. Bagheera is also the narrator of the movie’s story.
Bagheera is also one of the major characters left out of the TaleSpin series which used several Jungle Book characters. However, many of Shere Khan’s employees and military personnel are black panthers very similar in appearance to Bagheera.
In the prequel cartoon series, he is often made fun of by his friends, especially the bully Shere Khan. He is also called “Baggy” as Baloo did in their adulthood. Like Shere Khan, he too has a British accent in the 1967 film, but has an American accent in this series.
In the second film, he reappears as the mature Bagheera. He, with the help of Colonel Hathi’s troops tries to prevent Baloo from reaching the man village. When the villagers try to find Mowgli, he suspects that Baloo has brought him back (he is right). Baloo hides Mowgli from Shere Khan
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, making Bagheera believe that he is not with him. After Shere Khan is trapped, Mowgli meets him again and Mowgli introduces Bagheera to Shanti the girl who’s Mowgli’s best friend at the village. Near the end of the film, Mowgli’s younger adoptive brother Ranjan is shown playing with Bagheera’s tail. At first Bagheera is scared, but later enjoys playing with him, while Mowgli, Shanti, and Baloo sing the reprise of The Bare Necessities.
In some Disney comics drawn in Italy, Bagheera is depicted as a female non-anthropomorphic animal movie star, loosely based on her animated movie appearance. Originally all black, she has white body parts. She enjoys signing autographs for her fans and eating pistachio-flavored pet food, being vegetarian.
In the song “Bagheera” by Blues Traveler, he is depicted with blood-stained fur drinking at the bar, counseling a young man-cub about his choice to live as man or as a free creature. He remembers when he was in the midst of his decision to live with the world of Man or to return to the jungle and be free. The line says “some say if you could have seen him then, you would have noticed a tear fall from his majestic eye.”
In the comic book series Fables, Bagheera appears as one of the characters living in exile on the Farm in upstate New York. He participates in the farm uprising and, along with the other “Kipling” fables, he assists Goldilocks in tracking down Reynard the Fox. Bagheera actually succeeds in tracking down Reynard, though the Fox manages to escape from him. It is implied that Bagheera’s primary motivation for capturing the Fox is to show up Shere Khan after Khan arrogantly rejects Bagheera’s offer of help. After the uprising is defeated, a remorseful Bagheera agrees to imprisonment rather than forced labor. However, as he reveals to Mowgli, he has the memory of urinating on the deceased Shere Khan’s grave to amuse himself.
In the 1998 film The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story, Bagheera is portrayed as a female, voiced by Eartha Kitt.
A Swedish play version of The Jungle Book spoofed the confusion of Bagheera’s sex in the media by portraying him as a transvestite.
In the Hungarian play version Bagheera is yet again a female panther. Her main role is bribing the wolf pack with a bull, so they accept Mowgli as Akela’s cub, teaching Mowgli with Baloo about the Rules of the Jungle, and advising him throughout the play.
Ben Kingsley will be voicing the character in the 2016 film while Christian Bale was cast to voice the character in Warner Bros.’ The Jungle Book: Origins.
In the 1994 live-action movie, Bagheera serves a jungle animal friend to Mowgli and his pet wolf, Grey Brother. After Mowgli and Grey Brother are separated from civilization
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, Bagheera finds them the next day. Hearing Shere Khan’s roar from a distance, Bagheera signals with his tail to Mowgli to grab on to it so as to lead him out of harm’s way. It takes a while until Bagheera finally brings Mowgli and Grey Brother to a pack of Grey Indian wolves. Seeing as the child is young, friendly, helpless, harmless, and kind to a cub of their species, the wolves accept them as members of the pack, much to Bagheera’s delight.
Years later, Bagheera is seen most of the time spending time on a tree not doing much and sometimes running with a fully-grown Mowgli, Grey Brother, a new friend named Baloo the brown bear, who is saved as a cub by Mowgli on the day Mowgli is accepted into the pack, and the wolf pack.
A few days later, after Mowgli has learned the ways of men and re-entered civilization thanks to Katherine “Kitty” Brydon and Dr. Julius Plumford, Bagheera is seen being caressed and introduced to Kitty by Mowgli along with all the rest of Mowgli’s jungle animal friends. Bagheera and the other animals watch as Kitty teaches Mowgli some dancing lessons, much to their amusement.
In a later tussle against soldiers working for Captain Boone, Baloo is shot and left for dead. Bagheera is then seen running with Mowgli and the wolf pack to locate Dr. Julius Plumford to save Baloo’s life, only to find that the doctor has already left with Kitty and her father, Colonel Geoffrey Brydon, to bring Katherine to the ship to England. Mowgli goes out and follows them with the wolves and Bagheera behind. After saving Dr. Plumford from death, Bagheera is seen charging along with the wolf pack against Indian bandits. Dr. Plumford is then taken by Mowgli to save Baloo’s life.
After Mowgli is captured by evil British soldiers—Boone, Lt
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. Wilkins, and Sergeant Harley—and the remaining Indian bandits—Buldeo and Tabaqui—Bagheera is seen with the wolves keeping an eye on Mowgli, his friends, and enemies while staring at Boone and Wilkins mostly. When Wilkins asks himself why Bagheera is staring at them, Mowgli replies, “Because to him, you are food.” A reply is hinted afterwards when Bagheera sticks out his tongue to show his hunger for them. The next morning, Bagheera is seen biting through the ropes tying Mowgli to a tree, thus allowing him to escape, and then later on, to rescue the left-out injured Colonel Brydon from death.
In the final scene, after Boone’s defeat, Bagheera is seen crossing a bridge with Kitty and a triumphant Mowgli while reuniting with the British Army sent out by Colonel Brydon, who is successfully cured from his injuries by Dr. Plumford (who also manages to cure Baloo), to find them.