If I tell you, of my visit to a place in India, where I did not follow signboards, but a trail of chattering birds to reach my destination,
Where a pathway, covered in lush green leaves invited me to walk barefoot. A canopy of trees eclipsed the sun to veil my whereabouts, and I inhaled to the purest air.
Where my eyes witnessed the most unspoiled form of nature and the gurgle of a youthful stream invited me to drink from it.
Where honey oozed from the hives on drooping tree barks and butterflies flocked on hues of flowers.
And I saw trees of wisdom…that bespoke abundant knowledge for the well being of the earth! I realized I was in a Sacred Grove, nestled in the western ghats of India.
Wait. A Sacred Grove? Probably the last time we heard sacred being popular was probably an entertainment flick… game…err not so sacred.
What are Sacred Groves?
Historically, some of you may have heard the word ‘sacred grove’ being mentioned in ancient greek, sanskrit, buddhist literature, or even in the holy bible where Abraham plants a grove in Beersheba and calls there the name of God.
Some of you may be surprised to know that sacred groves are found in almost all states of India and are named in local languages, that means you might also find one your state of residence- It’s just that you didn’t know about it!
Certain patches of primeval forests are being protected by peasants as abodes of deities. These “Ecosystem People” have always relied on natural resources that they worship and conserve. The pristine nature here not only helps in conserving: soil, flora, fauna but India’s Forest Rights Act, 2006 grants community’s rights to manage nearby forest. It is so, that deeply held spiritual beliefs ensure no tree is felled nor a creature harmed.
Sacred Groves are Nature’s Clinics. They heal the environment and support natural recharge of watersheds, air cleansing, replenishment of top layers of soil, contributing to a healthy climate by providing nesting grounds to threatened bird species and attracting a lot of bee population that activates pollination(and bees play an important role in ensuring crop yield and food security)
They act as a gene pool for various species of medicinal plants and are also conservators of wildlife. Watershed management in sacred groves protects the local peasants during dry season.
Well. I would certainly love to call sacred groves as Treasure Chest’s concealed amidst the woods..!
Unfolding the ‘Sacred Aspect’
We live in an age where untouchability, superstition, taboo, and religious rituals are shunned by many, but you may be surprised to know that these are the tenets of existing sacred groves.
The sacred groves, being considered pious are worshipped, and the villagers are forbidden from the cutting of plants, killing birds or causing harm to the forest.
Usage of any kind of tool is strictly prohibited in a sacred grove as doing so, is believed to invite bad luck and troubles to the community. Wood gathering and collection of minor forest produce, however, is allowed.
For example, The Sarpa Kavu’s in kerala are traditional natural sacred spaces meant for snakes.
The Deity of a sacred grove could be a god, a demon, an animal, or a goddess.
Specific families among the villagers are entrusted with the safekeeping of the sacred groves who perform rituals and keep offerings to the deity. They take a vow to guard the grove and remain ever faithful to their commitment to conservation.
The Garo and Khasi tribes of Meghalaya are a fine example of fierce protection of sacred groves by the local tribes.
For sacred groves to survive, these superstitions, taboo, and religious beliefs have to live on along with conservation efforts at all levels.
The Phenomena of ‘ vanishing species ‘
Old scriptures, Greek and Sanskrit leave a mention of sacred grove, but anthropocentric culture has ruined them in Asia, Africa and Europe. It is not only, in line with Western culture of human free wilderness ranges, it was based on intricate relationship with nature, imbibing traditional ecological knowledge and in turn taking care of the Sacred groves.
Sacred groves were killed during the colonial times in India, and since then the sizes of sacred groves reduced from hectares of forest land to small green patches.Also, important species of plants and animals surviving in the groves have vanished due to anthropogenic factors.
While ecologists find a way out of the SLOSS (Single large or several small) conservation sites debated in forestry, In the long run, management of groves can be effective by taking efforts in physical consolidation of groves, identifying the degraded grove and taking restorative measures while accelerating awareness levels amongst people.
#Must-Visit Sacred Groves in India:
To witness a harmonious co-existence between humans and nature and to experience a spiritual connection with nature be sure to visit:
• Mawphalang Sacred Grove- Meghalaya
• Bhimashankar Sacred grove- Maharashtra
• Kammadam Kavu- Kerala
• Shippin, Shimla- Himachal Pradesh