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close this bookBiodiversity in the Western Ghats: An Information Kit (IIRR, 1994, 224 p.)
close this folder9. Appreciating and conserving biodiversity
View the document9.1 Biodiversity and the media
View the document9.2 Role of non-government organizations in conservation
View the document9.3 Watershed management
View the document9.4 Energy conservation and alternatives
View the document9.5 Nature trails
View the document9.6 Sacred groves
View the document9.7 Rehabilitation of iron ore mine wasteland in Goa
View the document9.8 Reforestation to restore mining areas
View the document9.9 Mining: Social and environmental impacts
View the document9.10 Resource utilization in Uttar Kannada district
View the document9.11 Biodiversity of Dudhsagar valley

9.6 Sacred groves

Sacred groves are pockets of more or less climax vegetation preserved for religious grounds in remote areas. Scattered throughout India, these patches of vegetation are dedicated to forest gods or other deities, and are revered by the local inhabitants as the deity's sacred territory. They are repositories of plant and animal wealth that have been conserved over centuries. The groves range in size from a small group of trees to large tracts of forest. Occasionally they spread over hundreds of hectares of forest.

Sacred groves represent a traditional form of nature worship. The local people consider the forest, with all its floral and faunal diversity, as their provider, taking care of their needs and welfare. It is therefore worthy of reverence and worship. People believe that the presiding deity would be offended if any form of life-plant or animal-in the deity's dwelling place is harmed. Breaking even a dead twig in a sacred grove might result in serious illness or violent death. These patches of forest have thus been protected and conserved by successive generations of local people. They are in effect traditional nature sanctuaries where all living creatures are afforded protection.

Sacred groves

The presiding deity is often of an extremely primitive nature- for instance, an unshaped stone smeared with red paint. The deity, generally female and representing the mother goddess, lies in the open, away from any human settlement.

Undisturbed since ancient times, these groves are a haven for birds, animals and plants that might otherwise have become locally extinct. The well-preserved vegetation in the sacred groves often contrasts with the barren surroundings. A typical grove surrounds or adjoins a stream fed by a perennial spring. As trees outside the grove are cut down, the springs they protect may dry up soon after the end of the rains. The sacred grove then becomes the last refuge, not only of plants and animals, but even of life-giving water.

In the sacred grove

A visit to a sacred grove will prove interesting and educational for school students and other groups. But you should be extremely careful to protect the sanctity of the grove. Students can collect information about the types of animals and plants. For instance, they can measure the girth, height and leaf structure of trees. They can collect fruits and seeds on the ground to raise seedlings. They can find out why the grove has been protected and study how it relates to the surrounding area. But care should be taken to respect the living flora and fauna, as well as the religious beliefs that govern the area.

Distribution of sacred groves along the Western Ghats

· 350 sacred groves in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra
· 28 large sacred groves
· 790 plant species recorded
· 352 genera recorded

Distribution of sacred groves along the Western Ghats

By Dr. V. D. Vartak and Dr. M. C. Suryanarayana