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Sunday, February 21, 2010

What are Sacred Groves and why are they considered to be important?

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To make the environment sustainable, a number of measures are necessary to be taken up by the people and government across the globe. Some of these measures are- use of efficient and eco-friendly technologies, sustainable use of resources and adoption of indigenous practices like keeping of sacred groves. Here in the current article we are going to discuss about sacred groves, their meaning, importance and practices.
The word sacred means: considered to be holy or ‘connected with a god’ and the word ‘Grove’ means: a small area of land with trees of particular types grown on it. Thus by combining these two words the final dictionary meaning of the couple of words Sacred Groves is: “A small area of land with particular types of trees grown on it and that are considered to be holy by the local human community.

In other words Sacred Groves can be defined as below-

An area with particular types of trees dedicated to local deities or ancestral spirits that are protected by local communities through social traditions and taboos incorporating spiritual and ecological values are called as sacred groves.

Indian Practice of keeping Sacred Groves

The presence of sacred groves of India has been documented since the early 1800s. Sacred Groves of India comprise trees like Deodara (Cedrus deodara), considered to be the “abode of Gods” Sal (Shorea robusta), Rudraksha (Elacocarpus species), Bael (Aegle marmelos), and Ashok (Saraca asoca), and kadam (Anthocephalus kadamba), Pipal (Ficus religiosa), Neem (Azadirachta indica), Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis): native to India, Mango tree (Mangifera indica) and bushes like, Basil (Ocimum basilicum & Ocimum minimum)    (native to India and Iran) and grass like Doob or Durva (cynodon dactylon) etc.

Prosopis cineraria

Bel - beloved of Lord Shiva


The Sacred Peepal Plant 

The Sacred Basil Plant 

Sarana sthal  - the Sacred Grove


The Sacred Tree atop Udaigiri mount in BSSR where people tie up on its branches to fulfill their wishes


A Sacred Grove in Ranchi of Jharkhand State of India. Hindu ladies are seen worshiping.

In India most of the sacred groves are planted around artificially dug sacred ponds. This condition creates a system of pool and sacred grove. Many of the sacred trees are associated with individual deities for example Pipal is associated with Lord Vishnu; Bel with Shiva; and Rudraksha with an incarnation of Shiva, Lord Rudra. Small temples are also constructed at the pool-grove areas.  

Protection and Promotion of sacred Groves in India    
Sacred groves in India are widely distributed among western coast of India through the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerela. About 1,424 documented sacred groves called as devarakadus or devarkans (meaning: sacred forests) are found in Karnataka. In Kerela, about 2000 documented sacred groves are found. These are called as Kavusand. Hundreds of these sacred groves have been dedicated to snakes that protect crops by controlling insects and rodents. In the Northwest Asia and desert regions of Rajasthan state of India, Bisnoi tribes manage Orans, the sacred grove of Khejadi (Prosopis cineraria) trees. These trees stabilise sand dunes and provide a protective habitat for the Indian gazelle and blackbuck. About 13,720 sacred groves have been reported in various parts of India.  According to experts the actual number of sacred groves in India is likely to be 100,000 to 150,000.

Sacred Groves outside India

Many sacred groves are found scattered in isolated pockets in Britain, Europe, Asia and Africa. In Britain dead bodies are buried in the grounds of sacred groves and the practice is called as “Green Burials”. This practice is also adopted by United States. There are about 130 forested burial grounds in Britain.  

Importance of Sacred Groves

(i) Sacred Groves provide shelter to thousands of species of other plants and animals.

(ii) Sacred groves have great powers to heal body and spirit.

(iii) Sacred Groves are important reservoirs of biodiversity.

(iv) These are last refuse for endemic and endangered plant and animal species.

(v) These are storehouses of Medicinal plants valuable to village communities as well as modern pharmacopoeia.

(vi) Sacred Groves contain relatives of crop species that can help to improve cultivated varieties.

(vii) Sacred Groves help in keeping the water cycle in local areas.

(viii) These improve soil stability, prevent top-soil erosion and provide irrigation for agriculture in drier climates.

KeyWords: sustainable,indigenous practices,modern pharmacopoeia,ecological values, Cedrus deodara, Saraca asoca, Anthocephalus kadamba, Rudraksha , Prosopis cineraria, blackbuck

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