The Winged Leopard
The graceful leopard, hidden dragon and fleet-footed horse – were the three main candidates chosen for the heraldic symbol of the new Republic of Tatarstan in 1992. The current winged leopard could have easily had snake-rooster traits, instead of the current feline grace and agility, or even could have been digging at the earth with its hooves. From the outset, there was a controversial dispute over choosing the symbolism of a black serpent with wings. At that time, the first President of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, proposed the adoption of the symbol of a horse - the coat of arms was almost approved, but the scientific testimony convinced deputies to side with the snow leopard at the very last moment.
One may ask: “Why did they choose the symbol of the leopard, if leopards never lived on the territory of Tatarstan?” The answer to that question is within the legend of the ancient tribes of Barsils, who supposedly came to the region from the Altai or Ural mountains. It was then that the common for all Turkic tribes symbol of agility began to appear on the shields of the ancient peoples of the Volga and be displayed on everyday objects, such as locks. In the 7th century A.D., the Volga Bulgars used a winged leopard as the patron saint of their state, a symbol of wealth, fertility, generosity and holiness. The seven wing feathers of the leopard symbolize his patronage of the seven heavens and the Earth. It brings together several historical lines: the pagan past of the Bulgarian tribes, Islam and Orthodox Christianity, all have peacefully coexisted in Tatarstan for hundreds of years – and both of these religions speak in their dogmas of the seven heavenly strongholds.
The leopard symbol also appears in the symbol of the state. It can be seen on the great seal of Ivan the Terrible as a “beast with a raised front paw." The walking leopard with a raised front paw was also found on the back of the throne of Tsar Mikhail Romanov. A slightly different example of the Bulgarian coat of arms can be found in Moscow Title Book of 1672 -"a silver lamb with the red banner, separated by the silver crest is walking in the green field; a shaft of gold". Historians have quite a prosaic explanation for this: most likely, the authors were inspired by the image of not the best quality, and the winged leopard in their interpretation turned into its full antithesis - a lamb.
The proud and agile animals became so firmly enjoined with the ornaments and heraldry of Kazan residents, that predatory cats began to appear on not only ancient shields and armor. One of the surviving images is the one of winged snow leopards perched on a roof of the guest house, which is currently the Museum of Natural History of Tatarstan, or inside Ushkova House.
Leopards from the past have been transferred to the present, as they gracefully adorn facades of modern buildings and are incorporated into the design of urban areas, right down to the green flower beds with the image of a winged cat, the feline character of the Universiade 2013, and the existing snow leopards living in the Kazan Zoo.
In addition to the heraldic description of the winged symbol of the Republic, which represents the welfare, peace and prosperity throughout the region, the leopard best characterizes modern Tatarstan. The kittens of the predator are born just as alike as they are different, but the parents loves and protects them on the same level, which represents a peaceful co-existence of two different peoples, cultures and religions on the territory of Tatarstan. Leopards are caring and gentle with the ones of their kind, but ruthless and deadly to others, who dared to threaten them – for this purpose, leopards have sharp fangs and claws. Tatarstan white leopard deftly and gracefully climbs ever higher, leading the Republic upward to the new snowy heights.