The sacred grooves are the trees which are considered as socially, culturally, medicinally or religiously important. The common examples of sacred grooves are Ficus Religiosa (Peepal) tree and Ficus benghalensis (Banyan) tree. They are known as sacred groves because there are small shrines or temples inside them honouring local deities. They are pockets of forests where people are forbidden to cut the trees or disturb the animals for fear of angering the resident gods. They can only collect honey, twigs, medicinal herbs and litter.

Sacred groves are found in every state of India though they are known by different names. There are more than 20,000 sacred groves with the most – 5000-found in Himachal Pradesh. Some are small, occupying a few hectares, while others, like the Hariyali grove in Uttarakhand and the Deodar grove near Shimla, are spread over hundreds of hectares.

In Maharashtra they are called devarahi, in Karnataka, devarakaadu, in Rajasthan oran, in Himachal, devbhumi, in Kerala kaavu and kovil kaadu in Tamil Nadu.

The groves are extremely important because they are biodiversity hotspots. Not only do they contain hundreds of rare and valuable plants and trees, some of which are used in traditional medicines, but also different species of insects, birds and mammals. The trees help anchor the fertile topsoil and the litter provides valuable humus that local farmers cart away to replenish their fields. Ponds and streams run through these sacred groves helping to raise the water table.

Sacred groves have reduced in number and size over the years. In some groves, the trees have been cut to increase the space for religious activities – the shrines now attract too many pilgrims. Others have been taken over for cultivation. Unless local people become more involved in protecting and restoring them, sacred groves, and with them a treasure trove of ecosystems, will soon be gone forever.

Picture Credit : Google 

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