The sacred groves of India

All our needs — food, water, shelter, clothes, medicines, and even modern equipment — have their origin in nature. There is no doubt that in the past few years we have over utilised our natura

Published: 07th March 2012 11:29 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:31 PM   |  A+A-

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All our needs — food, water, shelter, clothes, medicines, and even modern equipment — have their origin in nature. There is no doubt that in the past few years we have over utilised our natural wealth. And we are facing the consequences on an everyday basis. Conservation of our natural resources has become a critical issue as far as survival of the living world is concerned. Many countries have taken steps to protect their resources. India, too, has strict rules and regulations.

In ancient India, when the ‘Ministry of Law and Justice’ didn’t exist, these natural resources were preserved through strict rules (sometimes strange beliefs). Almost every village had a sacrosanct patch of forest dedicated to a deity, which was left untouched by villagers. Even today, these forests are protected by the religious sentiments of people and are found throughout India. The degree of sanctity of the sacred forests may vary from one grove to another. The Garo and Khasi tribes of northeast India completely prohibit any human interference in their sacred groves. Even dry foliage and fallen fruit are not touched. The Gonds of central India prohibit the cutting of a tree but allow fallen parts to be used. This fact is now recognised by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which has already documented Sacred Groves (SG) all over the country which possibly hold some of the last treasures of biodiversity.

These SGs can be classified as  traditional SGs (place where the village deity resides), temple groves and groves around burial or cremation grounds. Sacred groves act as a gene pool which means that they are important repositories of floral and faunal diversity that has been conserved by local communities in a sustainable manner. They are often the last refuge of endemic species in a  region. The groves are often associated with ponds, streams or springs, which help meet the requirements of the local people. The vegetative cover helps to recharge the aquifers. It improves the soil stability of the area and prevents soil erosion. So when you conserve a sacred grove you are conserving biodiversity, helping aquifers to recharge and conserving soil.

These sacred groves still exist in almost all states of India. The highest number of SGs is in Himachal Pradesh (nearly 5,000) and the lowest in Uttarakhand (around 22). Kerala has around 2,000 of them. A sacred grove is identified by local names according to each state. In Maharashtra, it is called Devrai, Sarana in Jharkhand, Sarpa Kavu in Kerala and Koil Kadu in Tamil Nadu. But few are preserved properly. Many are on the verge of vanishing forever. There are several threats to them like the disappearance of traditional belief systems, rapid urbanisation, invasion by exotic weeds, pressure due to increasing livestock and fuel wood collection. Many groves are suffering due to ‘Sanskritisation’ or the transformation of the primitive forms of nature worship into formal temple worship.

Even though you are staying in the city you can help in conservation. One has to respect nature and use its resources carefully. Ultimately, it depends on us whether we wish to conserve nature’s wealth or go on using it until we run out.

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