Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi

Sacred Groves

Sacred Groves

By Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi

“Our roots are deep in the woods,

Among the mosses, close to springs,

Our spirits soar high in the sky,

Among the birds and butterflies” – Madhav Gadgil

IndiaWilds March 2021 Newsletter PDF –

IndiaWilds Newsletter-March-2021 (4.2 MB, 23 downloads)

 Sacred groves are a piece of natural vegetation that is protected by various communities due to religious reasons. Local communities take responsibility to protect and nurture the area. Sacred grove can be forest of single native plant or variety of native plants of that region.

India is a home to very diverse yet strong religious practices, and this has helped in retaining many sacred groves today. Even during the British rule, India had lot of forest cover and had lot of sacred groves in different parts of the country. It is believed that Sacred groves keep our body, mind and spirit healthy. As a result people lived a wonderful life.

Traditionally the sacred groves were a repository for various Ayurvedic medicines, fruits, deadwood and honey. People led a sustainable lifestyle. Our ancestors intelligently imbibed those practices as part our daily chores. Every household knew the uses of herbs needed for basic illnesses. Herbs were daily used in food for healthy life. Diets changed based on location and seasons.

Religious beliefs associated with Sacred Groves:

Indian sacred groves are often associated with temples, monasteries, shrines or with burial grounds. Our ancestors were very innovative in their ways to protect nature and enlighten us to live a meaningful life. We offered our prayers in temples located within sacred groves. People believe that they attain mukti (salvation) in the sacred grove burial grounds. Historically, sacred groves find their mentions in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts.

Numerous nature spirits and guardians are associated with Hindu, Jain and Budhist deities. Such nature spirits are known as yakshas, Nagas (serpent guardians) and guardian tutelary deities (like ayyanar and amman). There is countless folklore on forest spirits, guardians and nagas which we Indians have grown up hearing during our childhood.

Planting and nurturing of trees has been a highly evolved practice in ancient India. People believe that if you plant native saplings and look after them, you not only clear your bad karma (past bad deeds) but also your ancestors karma. Your entire lineage will attain Moksh. So people without realising the scientific benefits used to plant trees.

The groves are often associated with ponds and streams, and meet water requirements of local communities. Trees hold the top soil from being washed out and eroded. They help in percolation of the water into the soil. Trees give moisture to the air which results in rainfall.

Vrukshayurveda, the science of plant life, indicates how mystical beliefs and conservation of ecology was inter-connected. It is believed that if one plants kisirini, dadimi, rambha, priyala, and panasa, one experiences no affliction for seven births; that a person who has knowingly or unknowingly planted Ambu is respected as a recluse even while staying in the house. Every native plant has something to offer to the person who plants it in terms of fruit, shade, fodder, timber and medicinal properties. Only when a person lives with and observes the plants and trees,  he/she is able to learn the beneficial properties. Tribals observe usage of plants, roots, orchids etc by birds and animals and realise their properties. Vanda an orchid that grows on trees is consumed by Crested Serpent Eagle. Scientists have found that it has anti venom properties. Even today many people flock to tribal healers who give medicines based  on the bark, roots and other parts of plants and trees in forest which helps cure cancer and other deadly diseases.

Nakshatravana were routine activity for ashrams headed by highly qualified gurus. The Hindu tradition considers forests to be of three types –  Tapovan, Mahavan and Sreevan. Tapovan are forests associated with penance (tapas), and are inhabited by saints and Rishis. Mahavan refers to the grand natural forests. Tapovan and Mahavan are considered to be a Raksha(sanctuary) for flora and fauna as ordinary human beings are not allowed to enter in these forests. Sreevan, which means, “forests of prosperity” consists of dense forests are open for normal humans with rules. Panchavati, or a cluster of five tree species are said to represent the five elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. If we take a pause to observe our incredible diversity of flora species then slowly we are likely to gain knowledge and then everything will make sense.

Sacred groves are scattered all over our country, and are referred by different names in different parts of India. Eg. Kovil Kadu in Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, Gumpa Forest in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, Sarna in Jharkhand and Chatisgarh and so on. Sacred groves occur in a variety of places – from scrub forest in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan maintained by the Bishnois, to rain forest in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, Odisha in East as well as in North East states.

Shipin is the largest deodar grove in Himachal and contains trees that are hundreds of years old. It is believed by people that the energy in sacred grove is higher than a normal jungle and perceptive individuals can feel it. So  being in sacred groves for sometime can help relax and rejuvenate a person.

Meghalaya: has some of the richest groves in the country, Khasi hills in Meghalaya have one grove called law kyntangs in almost every village. The popular myth dictates that anyone damaging the plants and trees of the grove will be killed by the forest spirit. This myth has kept people from destroying the area and thus, it is best preserved. Fear is the best medicine to discipline humans. Our ancestors were wise, because today we are witnessing results of deforestation. In the name of modernisation and progress, the businessmen, political leaders and Indian and state services officers are giving us slow poison. They have organic food which is our age old way of farming, but rest of the humans are given choice to select from the chemical infused foods. Of course we can do amends by creating our own kitchen garden.

History is replete with examples of people trying to protect sacred groves even at the cost of their lives. In 1973, women in Reni village of Uttarakhand hugged the trees to stop them from being cut, which later became popular as the Chipko movement and spread to other places. More than two hundred years ago, in September 1730, 363 Bishnois of khejarli village were killed by king’s soldiers when they were trying to peacefully protect the trees of their village by holding the tree trunk. Women, children and elders of the village were slaughtered.

A Gurjjar settlement appears like a human-inhabited sacred grove because they plant neem trees for worshipping. Mangar Bani, the last surviving natural forest of Delhi is protected by Gurjars of nearby area.

Planting Sacred Grove in Pune:

Military Institute of Technology (MILIT) planted the first Sacred Grove of Pune City at Naval jetty of MILIT under the able guidance of Mr Raghunath Dhole who gives saplings for free to promote tree plantations and sacred grove creations in various parts of the country. He is working towards planting 75 sacred groves in our country this year, as we will complete 75 years of independence. It was his 33rd sacred grove plantation. Till now he has planted 35 sacred groves.

Plantation of Sacred Groves in MILIT Pune

Plantation of Sacred Groves in MILIT Pune

What Every Individual Can do:

The future we create is every individual’s responsibility. Every piece of land comes with responsibility. Sarpanch has a important role to play in the panchayati land of every village. One can create sacred groves, ghanavan, herbal garden in every village by approaching the district forest officer. We can make our village panchayat land useful for every villager by planting sacred groves and herbs. And if the land is with Govt of India in your custody it’s all the more important for you to fulfil the responsibility even if you are in charge of that land for a month. Always ask yourself everyday “what can I give”. And the best every land owner can do is do tree based farming. It will sustain your life, protect our soil, solve water problems, balance the environment. After first monsoon shower plant the saplings and they will thrive. It is important to note that one shouldn’t plant invasive  species or hybrids as they have no ecological value and are detriment to the native species.

Requirements for Sacred Grove (deorai/devrai) Plantation:

Minimum 100 X100 ft or 200 X 200 ft (ideal) land is needed. And you don’t need to cut the existing tree of that area. You have to remove the invasive plants.

Urban forest or “Ghanvan” plantation:

Any piece of land in any shape or size is eligible for it. This is dense forest and secluded habitat for birds, Honey bees, butterflies and other insects.

People in ancient India lived in harmony with nature. Unfortunately over a period of time, our population has grown and we are exploiting nature at a rate which is more than its ability to regenerate. Though the deadly corona virus pandemic shook up the world and made people to contemplate for sometime, it soon has become business as usual with renewed efforts to sacrifice forests and wildlife to meet some short-term economic goals. Let us not forget that Nature is giving us a signal through climate change induced extreme weather events like cyclones, landslides, heat waves etc. The overall global ambient temperatures have been rising every month and many deadly viruses will surface after our negligence will melt permafrost. Unless we mend our ways, we have to increasingly face the vagaries of climate change and this can be the beginning of a new end. Let us rise and shine to give better tomorrow to the future generations. Earth has never been and will never be under threat. We are. So  it is important that we the people focus on actions that can help us lead a more nature friendly way of life.

Over the years we have started leading an increasingly materialistic life which is divorced from nature. We think we exist on conditioned air, filter water, and packet foods. It is time to wake up and be enlightened. Enlightenment is attained by doing. And all the great yogis have been involved in doing something selflessly for bringing the balance on our planet. Yogis are in all forms, living amongst us, living within us. It is up to each one of us to be a yogi or a burden.


Editors note:

Mr A S Bishnoi  planted 1213 saplings in MILIT and nearby places (Dhonje, Singhad and Khanapur) since March ’20. For free saplings and guidance you can contact Mr Raghunath Dhole at 9822245645.

IndiaWilds March 2021 Newsletter PDF –

IndiaWilds Newsletter-March-2021 (4.2 MB, 23 downloads)

Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi
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