Sacred grove – complete detail – updated. Tradition of sacred groves in India. Importance of sacred groves. Sacred Grove – A fine example of community based nature conservation without any external support. In India, as in other countries of the world, many communities practice different forms of worship of nature.
There is vast diversity among India’s sacred groves. Some contain only a few trees, while others are hundreds of acres in size. The sacred groves have been preserved over generations in India. The concept of sacred groves in India has its roots in antiquity, even before the Vedic age.
Sacred Grove – A fine example of community based nature conservation without any external support. Sacred groves are age-old traditional nature conservation practices adopted by the communities all over the world. The tradition of protecting Peepal, Gular and Bargad trees is found in many states of India. People do not harm sacred groves mainly because of socio-religious traditions and fear of the deity, believing that who soever harms sacred grove may be harmed by the presiding deity. Resources that are traditionally obtained from flora and fauna located in sacred groves include fodder, fruits, dry fallen wood, seeds, soil fertilizer and ayurvedic and general medicines.
The sacred groves have been preserved over generations in India. The concept of sacred groves in India has its roots in antiquity, even before the Vedic age. Vedic peoples of pre-historic times assimilated new environmental values incorporating into their value system, the concept of the “sacred grove‟ from the original inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent. Being part of the post-Vedic Hindu ritualism, sacredness attached to species is perhaps more recent.
There is vast diversity among India’s sacred groves. Some contain only a few trees, while others are hundreds of acres in size. Sometimes groves overlap with larger forested areas, while others exist as islands in open plains or desert. Even their names vary from region to region. Most sacred groves in India are associated with the almost 39,000 endogenous groups within the Hindu caste system and other major religions such as Buddhism and Islam, along with other religious communities and traditional tribal groups. In many groves, villagers perform annual rituals and ceremonies to appease the presiding deity and ensure the well-being of the community. In some groves all forms of resource extraction are strictly prohibited, while in others people may collect material such as fallen branches and leaves from the forest floor or fruits from the trees. The Western Ghats – a mountain range that runs along India’s west coast, through the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala – is one of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots”. Its ecosystems include tropical wet forest, mountain evergreens, moist deciduous forest and scrub grassland.
In India, as in other countries of the world, many communities practice different forms of worship of nature. One such significant tradition of nature worship was that of providing protection to patches of forests designated as sacred groves dedicated to deities or ancestral spirits. Sacred groves were dedicated by local communities to their deities. Such a grove may consist of a multi-species, multi-tier primary forest or a cluster of trees, depending on the history of the vegetation. These groves were protected by local communities, usually through customary taboos and sanctions with cultural and ecological implications. Thus, sacred groves are segments of landscape containing vegetation and other forms of life and geographical features that are delimited and protected by human societies to keep them in a relatively undisturbed state. The sacred groves were reported earlier from the Himalayas, North-east India, highlands of Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Earlier workers have studied floristic and ethno botanical aspects of sacred groves and provided detailed scientific account of the sacred groves in India.
Distributed throughout India, the current level of protection and conservation of sacred groves is hampered by erosion in traditional, religious beliefs and cultural values, but these traditional methods of social fencing of these ecosystem types as conservation patches are being rediscovered at present by the environmentally conscious communities. Though there are many reports on general aspects of the sacred groves, the ecological value of the species within them and the ecosystem functions are yet to be fully studied in many landscapes. The sacred grove is a representative of the relic climax vegetation, which existed once upon a time and is now destroyed through a variety of anthropogenic perturbations. In the present day India, the tradition of sacred groves is reported from most parts of the country, though it is difficult to make a guess regarding the total number of sacred groves in the country. But in view of the known presence and pattern of distribution of sacred groves in Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal for which detailed inventories are not available, we strongly feel that the number of Sacred groves in India is likely to be between 100,000 and 150,000. 14 – 16 The total area of sacred groves in India would be about 33,000 ha which comes to 0.01 percent of the total area of the country. But the actual area of the 4,415 sacred groves reported so far cover more than 42,000 ha. Hence, it may not be possible to come up with a reasonable estimate based on the present reports.
The sacred groves have been preserved over generations. These groves are located in a variety of habitats ranging from resource rich forested landscape, such as Western Ghats and North-East to the extremely resource poor desert conditions in western and central India. Sacred groves help to define the cultural identity of the communities that revere and protect them. Sacred groves are also closely linked to the politics and economies of their communities, and their legal status and management vary among regions and individual villages. Some groves are associated with and managed by separate caste groups within a community, some by a village as a whole, and some by neighboring districts within a larger geographical area. India is one of the world’s top 12 mega diversity countries with rich variety of biological community. Sacred groves are one of the first instances of traditional conservation. These protected forest patches dedicated to gods and goddesses, survived the axe of development because of the conservation ethics coupled with taboos and traditions. Sacred groves are a very ancient and widespread phenomenon in the old world cultures. References about sacred groves have been made in Greek and Sanskrit classics. The traditional Hindu society recognizes individual species as objects of worship, based on accumulated empirical knowledge and their identified value for one reason or the other.