Significance of Sacred Groves IGRMS

    Since the early days of human settlement, people lived amidst nature. Surrounding forest provided them food and shelter. As domestication of plants and animals was mastered, people become sedentary with cultivable land, water bodies and villages, yet forest continued to occupy important position in their life. Trees, hills, ponds or springs become deeply associated with the supernatural perception of the people. Trees, stones, caves or streams were assigned divinity were Gods/Goddess or spirits of their own dead persons resided. With complexity of society the belief system also grew complicated and the entire location with its vegetation and animal wealth become divine or sacred. Along with increase in population demand for cultivable land increased and forest areas were heavily utilized. But some patches were left untouched with profound sanctity, where they offered worship or performed rituals for well being. These protected patches of forestland are recognized as ‘sacred grove’. Such protected vegetation areas have survived centuries of destructive processes, mainly through ‘taboo’ and curative belief of the people. Sacred groves are found all over the world in various forms. Till now many such forests patches are believed to be sacred as place of Spiritual Success of Ancient Sages ("tapovana").

    Social anthropologists and ecologists have taken profound interest in studying ‘sacred groves’ in India. Out of Indian States, Kerla and Maharastra have yielded high number of sacred groves. Orissa is estimated to have 10,000 number of such protected groves. Ecologically, the sacred groves have allowed many floral species to survive and also many endangered faunal specimens, for example occasionally pangolins (Scaly anteater), now extinct in India, have been found in West Bengal.

    In the inaccessible areas, mostly dominated by tribal communities, large patches of forest are protected as sacred grove. But in areas inhabited by non-tribal communities subscribing to other religious faiths the size of sacred groves are limited, sometimes to a few acres or even less. One can find a single tree, very ancient, standing alone at the outskirts of village, where the local people offer worship or tie pieces of cloth to fulfil their desire. These are remnants of sacred grove. Under the feudal system, the villagers and the lords maintained such groves. Now in democratic nation, the areas are sometimes under forest or revenue or irrigation departments taking the administrative and legal loopholes, unscrupulous people have destroyed the surrounding eco-system to such extent, that many sacred tanks and groves are decaying. Also village politics play negative role for survival of such groves.

    In the plains, where the villages have undergone modernizing, the sacred groves are most threatened. These places are revered by some specific communities and avoided by other as haunted groves. Previously these natural vegetation areas provided medicinal plants to the village medicine man.

    National Museum of Man (Indira Gandhi Rastriya Manav Sangrahalay) located at Bhopal, organized an assessment of sacred groves, in India involving scholars, Prof. KC Malhotra, a noted anthropologist lead the team. The Manav Sangrahalay (IGRMS) has developed an open-air enclave of various endangered medicinal plants of the country. Apart from cities, those exhibitions have been to interior areas, with an aim to increase awareness among the people who can preserve the pristine forest patches as part of their environment and cultural heritage.

    The present report in The Tribal Tribune has reproduced photographs collected by the research wing of IGRMS for better comprehension of the readers.