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Conservation of Sacred Groves

Context

India’s sacred groves are being gradually altered due to ever-expanding human populations, pollution and removal of biomass; effective conservation is the need of the hour to maintain their functional values

Relevance

GS-III: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

Dimensions of the Article

  • What are Sacred Groves?
  • Historical References
  • Regulation and Activities inside Sacred Groves
  • Threat to Sacred Groves
  • Total Groves in India
  • What lies ahead?

What are Sacred Grooves?

  • Sacred groves of India are forest fragments of varying sizes, which are communally protected, and which usually have a significant religious connotation for the protecting community.
  • It usually consists of a dense cover of vegetation including climbers, herbs, shrubs and trees, with the presence of a village deity and is mostly situated near a perennial water source.
  • Sacred groves are considered to be symbols of the primitive practice of nature worship and support nature conservation to a great extent.
  • The introduction of the protected area category community reserves under the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002 has introduced legislation for providing government protection to community-held lands, which could include sacred groves.

Historical references

  • Indian sacred groves are often associated with temples, monasteries, shrines, pilgrimage sites, or with burial grounds.
  • Historically, sacred groves find their mentions in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts, from sacred tree groves in Hinduism to sacred deer parks in Buddhism for example.
  • Sacred groves may be loosely used to refer to natural habitat protected on religious grounds.
  • Other historical references to sacred groves can be obtained in Vrukshayurveda an ancient treatise, ancient classics such as Kalidasa’s Vikramuurvashiiya.
  • There has been a growing interest in creating green patches such as Nakshatravana

Regulation of activities in Sacred Grooves

  • Hunting and logging are usually strictly prohibited within these patches.
  • Other forms of forest usage like honey collection and deadwood collection are sometimes allowed on a sustainable basis.
  • NGOs work with local villagers to protect such groves.
  • Traditionally, and in some cases even today, members of the community take turns to protect the grove.

Threats to such grooves

  • Threats to the groves include urbanization, and over-exploitation of resources.
  • While many of the groves are looked upon as abode of Hindu deities, in the recent past a number of them have been partially cleared for construction of shrines and temples.

Total grooves in India

  • Around 14,000 sacred groves have been reported from all over India, which act as reservoirs of rare fauna, and more often rare flora, amid rural and even urban settings.
  • Experts believe that the total number of sacred groves could be as high as 100,000.
  • They are called by different names in different states:
  1. Sarna in Bihar
  2. Dev Van in Himachal Pradesh
  3. Devarakadu in Karnataka
  4. Kavu in Kerala
  5. Dev in Madhya Pradesh
  6. Devarahati or Devarai in Maharashtra
  7. Lai Umang in Maharashtra
  8. Law Kyntang or Asong Khosi in Meghalaya
  9. Oran in Rajasthan
  10. Kovil Kadu or Sarpa Kavu in Tamil Nadu

What lies ahead?

  • The groves have great research value in in situ conservation of rare, endangered and threatened plant species.
  • It is high time that public awareness is created about the importance of these sacred groves, developmental activities are banned and the felling of trees or removal of any other vegetation is completely stopped.
  • This is possible only by way of enacting a special law for the protection and management of sacred groves.
  • As the management practices and other rituals vary from state to state, the concerned state governments may promulgate such an act as suitable for the state.
  • The idea should be to protect certain rare, endangered and threatened plant species in the era of global warming and climate change.

Source – Down to Earth

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October 2022
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