The devastating land sliding, flooding of unprecedented scale that happened recently in the Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Utterakhand is an ecological lesson on the consequences of developmental activities in sensitive eco-zones resulting in the destruction of environment and loss of property and life.

This is becoming repetitive in those states and other states through which the Himalayan Rivers are flowing. The river changing the course and consequential loss in Bihar is well documented. These losses through flooding in monsoon time is though not new, the scale of destruction is certainly new and linked to the so called development activity in the form of construction of dams, building of hotels and other concrete structures for attracting the tourists and many more.

All this happened as the states, ignoring their uniqueness, joined the rat race of development and exploitation of natural resources. The state administrations forgot the need for conservation and protecting the sensitive ecosystems.

This is being done by educated, engineering specialists and none of them had time and inclination to care the centuries old customs practiced in India and how the belief systems developed over generations protected the nature. “Nature can meet all the needs of humans but not the greed” is the famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi.

As long as man remained attached to the customs of his forefathers humanity lived in peace. Not only the area currently devastated but all over the country, there was the custom of maintaining sacred groves. Each village designated an area as a sacred grove, where they believe their village deity resides to protect them from the natural calamities. This believe was evolved with passing of time and basing on their experiences, thus such sacred groves are proven protectors of nature and people dependent on the natural ecosystems.

The names of those groves may varied from one language to other and the area but everywhere the way people of that area respected and maintained those groves was the same. Our forefathers learnt the way to conserve the nature and understood the need to conserve the nature and respected the laws of the nature and it was those practices which were in practice in many areas that retained India in the top 10 forest-rich nations list of the world.

Sacred groves are the natural habitats bordering or within the area of human habitation protected by the local community on religious belief. Experts concur that as many as a lakh sacred groves must have been there in India though only 14,000 are documented. These sacred groves are the reservoirs of rare fauna and fauna. The existence of sacred groves are often associated with temples, monasteries, shrines, pilgrimage sites and are referred in all Indian origin religions, Hindu, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

The existence and significance of such groves find their mention in the religious texts and in the ancient Ayurveda treatise Vrukshayurveda and Kalidasa classical literature. Regional language literatures have more documented information on the sacred groves of their areas and benefits derived from them. The rules of sacred groves remained unquestioned for centuries, since Indians valued the customs handed over from one generation to the next generation. The sacred grove is considered as the place where the presiding deity of the village resides. Custom says that one can enter the grove but can’t disturb the sanctity of the grove.

All followed the rule of not chopping the wood, in the sacred not killing the animals or birds there in as they feared the curse of the God of the grove. One can collect the dead wood, fallen fruit or dry branches, leaves etc., but no living thing be touched there.

It is out of the experience these groves were protected as they realised they realised that groves helps in reducing the soil erosion, prevents the desertification, and maintain the ground water level and these groves generally associated with a water sources like ponds, streams and help in meeting the water requirements of the community.

The recharging of aquifers also occur because of these sacred groves. Tribal communities, whom the Left historians wish to project as members outside the mainstream Hinduism, even now had sacred groves and the beliefs are associated with groves, hence vehemently oppose any disturbance to their sacred groves. Tribal opposition to the mining activity is opposed by tribal people in Jharkhand because they know that their lives are linked to the sacred groves. They protecting them at all costs, as traditional Hindus used to do in earlier decades.

Whatever be the modernity which were supposedly injected into Tribal people, their belief systems remained strongly undisturbed in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh states. There are instances of Tribal communities vehemently opposing the mining activity in their areas due to their love and respect to the sacred groves. Datobera village in East Singhbum district the tribals worship a huge stone as their protective God and when stone mining was proposed in that hillock they opposed as it will disturb their God.

For a contractor or for a mining baron the nature is meant for exploitations and for making profits. But for the tribal or natives, nature is the mother which sustained them for generations. The Bastar area of Chhattisgarh the presiding deity is Danteswari and there are many sacred groves (locally referred as Deva Gudis) with which local tribes are associated with.

The life of tribes there is associated with the worship of the local deities on every occasion including sowing and harvesting. Each tribe maintains an instruments of music of their own and blowing them, led by their tribe priest the entire community goes in procession and perform rituals and then initiate their programs. The Hindu pilgrimage places are all in sacred groves, conceptually, of a higher level and broader in area. All shrines whether it is Chardhams of Himalayan hilly area or the Balalji of Tirumala hill, and Sabarimala hills located in the south, are the holy places located at the centre of sacred groves.

Thus those hills got protected, through devotion, from exploitation and flora and fauna associated with those groves. That was the wonderful concept developed, for the protection of nature, by our rishis. As the greed took over, and traditional beliefs were pushed away during the foreign invaders and colonial rulers, the destruction of these sacred groves happened and is continued.

There were resistance movements opposing the destruction of nature in the name of development. The Chipko movement in the Ghadwal area under the leadership of environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna is one which received the international attention then. The urbanisation and bad planning coupled with excessive focus on tourism led to the destruction of the sacred groves.

The tribal communities in Himachal Pradesh and local communities in Uttarakhand remained as mute spectators or some enterprising among them joined the exploitative group of contractors, thus destroying their own habitats.

The sacred grove areas got shrunk. With the sacred groves gone, the water retention capacity of the soil was reduced, with removal of the top soil became fast. The erosion of top soil made the trees vulnerable as massive volume of soil is run down by the seasonal rains.

The unsettled soil was easily eroded and landslides became the norm. And the consequences are there to see for all. It is time to revive not only sacred groves concept to maintain the sustainability of the ecosystems but also to delve into other native practices, traditions which helped our country to maintain the respect for the nature and derived the benefits for our sustinence.

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the newspaper.)


Central Chronicle is daily English Newspaper of Chhattisgarh. Central Chronicle has own website it is first news website in Chhattisgarh.

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