Tag Archive: sacred groves


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By Sharon St Joan

 

To read parts one and two first, click here.

 

 

Always fascinated by plants and trees, Amirthalingam has thought deeply about them. “The plant can observe. It can’t talk but it can observe. Whenever there are natural calamities, it knows. It has an indication of what is happening. Sometimes plants shed their leaves when they are upset. Some have premonitions of disasters like earthquakes. If you keep on looking at a tree, you might learn a lot.

 

“Like dogs that cry and run just before a flood or an earthquake, the tree senses impending disaster. We may not notice their behavior at the time, but afterwards, we may look back and realize that they knew.”

 

He remarked that he knows this from studying trees and from observing them and the animals. He noted that plants suffer when the natural world around them is disturbed – or if they are taken out of the soil and transplanted. The condition of the soil is also a factor in the response of the tree.

 

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People often take a vow to plant a tree. At a sacred grove run by the Meenakshi Temple near Madurai, one of the first sacred groves restored by CPREEC (the C.P.R. Environmental and Educational Centre), people can plant a tree that matches their own constellation. (In Indian astrology, each person belongs to a constellation.) Amirthalingam provided the list of trees that match the constellations from a book, Kumaraswami Desikar, written as a guide to choosing plants to go with the architecture of buildings. He felt that people would more willingly give for a tree to be planted if they felt a connection, and hoped to receive a blessing, from their own constellation.

 

Every temple in India has a sacred tree. In fact, the tree came first before the temple. Amirthalingam described the way this happens. In the countryside, there will be “a self-created lingam” under a tree. A lingam is a symbol that represents Shiva. It may be a natural stone, i.e. “self-created” rather than man-made. When a lingam stands under a sacred tree, it will be worshipped by the devas, that is the gods or the shining spirits, and also by the local people. Perhaps after several centuries, a king will come along. Seeing that this is a sacred site, he will want to build a temple there. As kings tend to do, he will clear the forest, but he will not harm the sacred tree, which will remain standing beside the temple, as the sacred temple tree. These trees are still found all over India, next to every temple. When the tree becomes extremely old and dies, the dead tree is kept respectfully and still worshipped, and a new young living tree of the same species will be planted in its place.

 

 

 

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These are a few of the temples and their sacred trees: A bamboo tree at Tirunelveli Temple; a kadamba tree at the Madurai Temple; a thillai (mangrove) plant at Chidambaram; a banyan tree at Tiruvaalangaadu; a panai (Indian palm tree) at Tirupanandhal; a punnai (Alexandrian laurel) at Kapaliswarar Temple.

 

Now M. Amirthalingam is working on environmental history, collecting information all the way from 3500 BCE until today, on floods, famines, earthquakes, epidemics, and other disasters.

 

Simultaneously, he is researching ecological history and the sacred sites of India. This is for a series of books, the Ecological Traditions of India, published by CPREEC. He has just completed the eleventh and twelfth books of the series, on Gujarat and West Bengal. He does two states at a time.

 

He noted that, “You have to be dedicated to the subject you are working on. That is what is important – that and having good relations with other people in your field – academicians and scientists.”

 

In all his inspired work for the C.P.R. Centre for Environmental Education, as a brilliant botanist and scientist, M. Amirthalingam remains a poet at heart, sharing his wisdom and his depth of understanding of the natural world.

 

To visit the website of CPREEC, click here.  

 

Top photo: Forrest and Kim Star / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licenses under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported license. / Calophyllum inophyllum  in Hawaii.

 

Second photo: Bernard Gagnon / Wikipedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported 2.5 Generic 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

 

Third photo: Sharon St Joan / M. Amirthalingam at the 2011 Conference on Sacred Groves, C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

terracotta horses

Terracotta horses

Five miles south of the city Tiruvannamalai, which lies southwest of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, can be found the Sacred Grove of Pavupattu.  An oasis of peace and beautiful trees, it was the first of 52 sacred groves restored by CPREEC (C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre)

Twenty-five years ago, the grove came to the attention of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Director of CPREEC; she and one of CPREEC’S officers, Mr. Selvapandiyan, went to visit the grove and found it very rundown.  Over the course of many months, Mr. Selvapandiyan, who was the manager of the restoration project, spent his time first interviewing local elders in the nearby village of Pavupattu, to determine which were the trees that had once grown naturally in the grove.  Then he set about doing the work of restoration.

Mr. Selvapandiyan recalls that at the time, there was a severe drought in the area, which meant that there was no water available.  They had to bring in water from outside in trucks, to use for planting all the trees and also as drinking water for the work crews.  It was very hot work in the warm months of southern India.

Mr. Selvapandian, CPREEC, Manager of the Sacred Grove Project

Mr. Selvapandiyan, CPREEC, Manager of the Sacred Grove Project

All the trees that can be seen now planted on the acres of the grove, are green and wonderfully healthy.  Just a few of the larger trees had existed earlier. In the twenty-five years since Pavupattu was restored, the people of the nearby village of the same name have faithfully taken care of the grove. It is clean and well-kept, with no trash or litter, a lovely, serene place, home to a few dozen resident monkeys – and to the huge votive statues that the people have had made to offer to the deities of the grove.  There are small temple structures, and standing on platforms, or sometimes grinning from behind trees, are the remarkable folk statues, especially of huge white horses, and sometimes the figures of guardian spirits in human form – all constructed of painted terracotta, one of the unique folk arts of Tamil Nadu.

One of the terracotta guardian spirits beside a tree.

One of the terracotta guardian spirits beside a tree.

Throughout India, there are sacred groves – in the hundreds of thousands, though sadly, the majority have fallen into disrepair over the centuries.  Some have disappeared entirely, swallowed up into shopping malls or other developed land, or perhaps simply lying idle, as waste land, occasionally visited by a few devotees who worship the remnants of a sacred site.  A few have been maintained over hundreds or thousands of years.

These are the original spiritual sites of the local people of India. They are groves of trees because the trees themselves are especially sacred, and they are also home to the guardian spirits and the deities who live on the sacred land among the trees.  Wherever the groves have been preserved intact, it is entirely due to the devotion and tenacity of the local village people, who have protected their groves against all the onslaughts of modern development.

In the past, every Indian village had a sacred grove, which was the heart of the spiritual life of the people.  The trees could never be cut down, the animals and birds could not be disturbed. Sometimes it was even forbidden to gather dead fallen branches for firewood.  The land was sacred and could not be used for mundane purposes.  Where they still exist, the sacred groves are wonderful repositories of the animals, birds, and plant life of the area.  Some species can now only be found in the sacred groves.

 

A tree and a tank, or a pool.

A tree and a tank, or a pool.

 

CPREEC, with each of the 52 groves they have restored, has taken great pains to study the area and to learn from the local people the exact species of trees that used to grow there so that they can be replanted, restoring the grove precisely to its original state.  CPREEC provides the funding for the work and carries out the project, hiring local people to do the work.  After three years of renovation and support by CPREEC, each grove is turned over to the village, and the local people undertake to preserve and maintain the sacred grove which has traditionally always been theirs.

Preserving and restoring these beautiful and peaceful places of greenery and sacred trees, habitat for many kinds of birds and wildlife, is profoundly significant.  First of all, for that grove and for the plants, animals, people, and the spirits who live there. And, on another level, what could be more important than restoring and maintaining a small part of the planet earth?  Each grove stands like a shining beacon, a reminder that, despite hardships and challenges, the earth and all her living children are alive and watched over from above.

Photos: © Sharon St Joan, 2013

To visit the website of CPREEC  (C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre), click here.

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By Bushavali Natarajan

(reposted from the blog My Travelogue)

 

I’m pretty sure, you’ve heard of the movie ‘Life of Pi’. It won Oscars in 2013. A major portion of this movie was shot here in India, especially in and around Pondicherry aka Puducherry. One of the shooting locations was a sacred grove in the quaint little village called Sivaranthagam, which has a huuuuuge banyan tree!

 

Recently I came to know of the location of this tree through The Hindu newspaper and set out to this place. Its located en route to Villupuram from Pondicherry. So my first destination was Pondy and from there I took a local bus to a little town called Villianur. Enquiring here revealed to me that there’s a once a day town bus to Keezhur that went via Sivaranthagam which I felt was pointless to wait for. Autos are aplenty here. I took one and thank God, the driver knew of this sacred grove pretty well.

 

The present structure of the temple

The present structure of the temple

 

By the way, what does Sacred Grove mean? Sacred Groves are little groves or woods or mini forests that belong to a temple or have a religious significance. So what’s the religious significance here? Yup, there a mini temple below the huge banyan tree. The temple is called Ponni Amman Temple. The original temple has been here since the past few decades. However the present structure was built in 1994.

 

Puravi - terracotta Votive figures of Horses

Puravi – terracotta Votive figures of Horses

 

More than the temple, the tree is what totally took me by awe. More than the tree, it was the tree’s caretaker who took me by awe all the more. She is Maheshwari! Fondly called Amma!!! She is simple, clad in a saffron shirt and skirt and her matted locks wrapped as a bun atop her crown!

 

Maheshwari with her daughter-in-law and grandson

Maheshwari with her daughter-in-law and grandson

 

She came here when her son was a toddler and this tree and temple have been her home ever since. The donations by the devotees are the only source of livelihood for her. When she arrived here decades ago, the tree was little too, like her son. She nurtured the tree. Nurtured is a simple word to say. What she did was PHENOMENAL.

 

It’s a banyan tree and the essential characteristic of the tree is the aerial prop roots. The roots emanate from the branches and grow towards the ground. What she did was to wrap each aerial root with soil and manure, in a bag, in rainy days and help them grow soon. Once it hits the ground, she dug pits and planted them, again with soil and manure and placed a few heavy stones upon them, so they don’t spring back.

 

Once the roots hold on to the soil and ground, she removes the rocks! She ties up the roots that are closer to the stem, along with the main stem. She applies wet mud between them, so they hold on well!!! She has been doing this for decades and has planted several hundreds and maybe thousands of roots!

 

When she came here the tree was hardly 3 metres circumference at the stem. Today its 36 metres!!! The area the entire banyan tree covers – I have no idea!!! Its huge, covering several grounds of land! The number of birds, insects, snakes surviving because of this tree – may be millions!!!

 

How minuscule she is beside the tree

How minuscule she is beside the tree

 

There are quite a lot of ant hills within and around the tree. Many times abandoned ant hills become homes of snakes. She says there are 3 big snakes inside the main stem of the banyan tree which come out at night! There are several smaller ones too!!!

 

Today her son is a strong young man and does manual labour in the nearby town and is married. They have a little 10 year old boy. Her son’s family lives in the nearby town to facilitate his work and the kid’s schooling. But she has made the tree her home… She has built a little house beside the temple and that’s her home. When I went there, the daughter in law and grandson were there, thanks to the summer school holidays!

 

I really didn’t feel like leaving the place. I could stay there all day long – the chirps of the birds, hustle of the leaves, 2 awesome stray dogs that she takes care of, a few cocks & hens, cooling breeze, significantly lower temperature than the outside world!!! She was such a loving lady who almost hugged me when I was leaving! I never wanted to leave!!!!!

 

Do visit the temple. No matter what’s your religion, the tree and the lady are worth the visit! And as I always say, give to her generously. If you do not want to give in cash, give to her in kind like grains, spices etc. It’s not just for the temple. It’s for her. It’s for the tree. It’s for Mother Earth. It’s for the Rain. It’s for the several millions of living things that depend on that tree!!!

 

 

TO GET THERE:

From Pondicherry: 18 km via Villianur, Vadamangalam, Ariyur towards Keezhur.

From Villupuram: 25 km via Kolianur, Valavanur, Ariyur towards Keezhur.

From Villianur: 9 km via Ariyur towards Keezhur.

You’re in the right track if you spot Sri Venkateshwara Medical College & Hospital when you come from Pondy and you’ve overshot when you come from Villupuram.

Several town buses are available from Pondy to Villianur.

A few buses are available from Villianur that goes to Keezhur via Sivaranthakam, but its pointless to wait for it unless you know its timings. Even if you know, returning from there would get difficult. Best way is to hire an auto for a round trip. Ask the auto driver for Ponni Amman Koil at Sivaranthagam. They will all know it!

 

Dedicated to my mom!

 

To read this in the original with all the other photos, click here

 

To read other posts on Bhushavali’s blog, My Travelogue, click here.

 

Photos: Courtesy of Bhushavali Natarajan

 

Drums and flutes procession

A booming procession of flutes and drums marched down the central pathway of the sacred grove of Puthupet in Tamil Nadu, in southern India.  Photographers ran along beside the procession, dignitaries followed the musicians, students gathered laughing and smiling on the sidelines, village people sat beside tables of wares, with children running helter-skelter, dogs in the background slept or scrounged for a snack, a truck was parked randomly on the pathway, its cab brilliantly decorated with painted blue birds.  And over all, hung the branches of ancient trees.  Lining the pathways leading off into the Puthupet sacred grove were more beautiful old trees, draped in thick vines, that, amazingly are a thousand years old.

So began The National Conference on Sacred Groves, this past spring  —  well, the full title is “The National Conference on Conservation of Sacred Groves to Protect Biodiversity,” held February 12, 13, and 14, in Tamil Nadu, India, and organized by CPREEC, the C.P. Ramaswamy Environmental Education Centre, based in Chennai (sometimes called Madras).

Inside the meeting hall, conference attendees gathered, including speakers who had traveled from all over India to talk about their scientific work studying, researching, and preserving, the sacred groves of India. A ritual lamp was lit by Shri R. Sundararaju, Director of the Tamil Nadu Forest Service, who has done a great deal to preserve the sacred groves.

Shri R. Sundararaju and Dr. Nanditha Krishna

Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Honorary Director of CPREEC, the organization hosting the conference, described how their work restoring sacred groves had come about.

They had discovered that it was simply “not enough to talk about the environment and to train teachers.”  More was needed—a “micro-level example of a perfect environment.”  So at CPREEC, they began a search for such an example, and they found it in the sacred groves of India. “In my opinion a sacred grove is a magical place,” Dr. Krishna said.  CPREEC has restored 52 sacred groves in Tamil Nadu.  “25 villages have asked us for technical help… This is replicable at the local level.”

They have documented 13,000 sacred groves, 702 in Tamil Nadu alone.  “Nenmeli [another sacred grove that CPREEC restored] was a wasteland—50 acres are now covered in happy plants.”  Jackals and porcupines have returned.

For restoration of a sacred grove to succeed, “local people must be interested and willing… We get to know about the local plants from the elders.”

“Sacred groves comprise parts of forests, and they are protected by local spiritual tradition….Often they are the last refuge of endemic species.”

With the rapid urbanization that has taken place over the last 100 years, much of these traditions of sacred groves have been destroyed.  Trees have been felled for development; there has been widening of roads, and new roads have come up where once there were sacred groves.  The object of the Conference is to look at sacred groves as national heritage sites.

“Without the spiritual aspect of our lives, we will just have more trees cut,” Dr. Krishna concluded.  It is, however, more and more of a challenge to protect them as the population grows.  The tradition of India is that every village had its sacred grove.

Shri C. Achalender Reddy, of the Indian Forest Service, Secretary, National Biodiversity Authority, followed, speaking on the theme that “spiritual tradition and science can go together…such traditions have preserved knowledge.”  He talked about the sacred groves as repositories of genes and about the crucial importance of genes. “These gene pools in the form of sacred groves will play a major role in the coming years…Some species have been growing and have been preserved around temples.”

“It’s important that our children do not forget about their roots,” he added, “These are living laboratories for all our children to learn about nature.”  He pointed out that, “legal backing is essential to preserve the sacred groves.”

Students invited to attend the Conference

Dr. P.S. Ramakrishnan, INSA (Indian National Science Academy) Honorary Senior Scientist, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, mentioned that he had grown up in a small village in south India. “There are over 10,000 sacred groves in this country…some are rapidly deteriorating…how much do we know about these sacred groves?”  He continued, “Biologists and scientists need to do a good job…we need to learn lessons from these sacred groves.”

Shri R. Sundararaju, Indian Forest Service, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, Forest Department, Government of Tamil Nadu, who had opened the ceremony by lighting the lamp, presented some very telling examples of the unique contribution of sacred groves. Very sadly, as many as 96% to 99% of the vultures in India have succumbed to a drug that was being used to treat cattle, a drug that has now been banned.

One ingredient that has helped the vultures has been water that has been found only in certain seeds in some sacred groves.  These kinds of discoveries can be essential for the recovery of species.  Maintaining the forests of sacred groves also protects land from insect imbalances.  He stressed that the Forest Service works for the people, and their job is to protect the environment for the people. “We need to protect sacred groves as the repository of species, so that they are not lost forever.”

The ways that preserving the environment are of benefit to people need to be conveyed to the public, he said.  “If this is known, there will be more support for the sacred groves.” He also called for more studies of human/wildlife conflicts, which can be a major issue in India, affecting many people’s daily lives.

As the trees in the background listened and the dogs slept, this inspiring beginning of the Sacred Groves Conference came to the close of the first day.

The two days to follow were to be technical sessions (technical, but fascinating all the same) to take place back in Chennai at the C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar Foundation.

Photos: Sharon St Joan,

Top photo: Drum and flute procession at Puthupet

Second photo: Shri R. Sundararaju, Dr. Nanditha Krishna

Third photo: Some of the students who were invited

 

To visit the website of CPREEC, click here.

http://cpreec.org/

A view of Sittanavasal

At the Sittanavasal site there is a sacred grove, one of over 50 sacred groves restored by CPREEC (C.P. Ramaswami Environmental Education Centre) in the past few years.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Honorary Director of CPREEC, who was instrumental in restoring this grove, as well as the others, recalls that when CPREEC first arrived in the mid-nineties to have a look at the Sittanavasal site, the area surrounding the great rock was a barren spot where nothing grew.  Over the centuries all the trees and other vegetation had been destroyed; land once sacred had fallen into disrepair and been forgotten.

The CPREEC program to restore the sacred groves in southern India has several interrelated purposes—a major goal is to protect the environment and the natural wilderness of India, by maintaining the groves that still exist and by restoring those that have been destroyed.

As is the case for the rest of the world,  forests and wilderness areas in India have been under assault, especially the last couple of centuries.  Farming has taken its toll, as have industrial development, economic development, and the tourist industry.  On land once called sacred, one may find anything from city blocks, to heaps of trash, to a factory, a shopping center or a hotel; sometimes one finds nothing at all—just an empty stretch of land with no trees or plants. In a surprising number of cases though, the village people have preserved their sacred groves and have not allowed their destruction.  It is the reverence for the land as a sacred place that serves as an incentive for the people living there to restore the natural environment.  For all the thousands of villages in India, each one once had a sacred grove.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna

CPREEC works together with the village people in each location.  They will assume responsibility for restoring the sacred grove, and in exchange the people there will agree to maintain it, not allowing it to fall into disrepair again.  This also means not allowing it to be used in ways that will harm the native plants and the habitat of the animals living there.  Everything that is a part of nature will be preserved and protected.  The accepted guidelines for each grove may differ.  In some groves, dry branches may be collected to use as firewood; in other groves, even this is prohibited.

At the foot of the great rock of Sittanavasal, nothing was growing by the 1990’s but grass.  There were no trees, vines, or flowering plants. It was a wasteland.  The professional people of CPREEC—botanists and environmental experts arrived.  They did extensive interviews with the village elders and researched the local area to determine exactly which plants were native to that particular location.  After all, there wouldn’t be much point in planting species that didn’t belong there.  Only original native species would be used to restore the sacred grove.

Very shortly they came across an unexpected difficulty.  Something was wrong with the soil.  It was strangely acidic, and they eventually came to the realization that this was a human-caused problem, but, amazingly, not a recent one.  Around 1,500 to 2,000 years ago, when the Jains lived there, as they were painting their incredibly beautiful frescoes on the walls, they were extremely careful, as always, never to harm any animals.

Sittanavasal - another view

The binding material in many types of paint was made from animal products.  This was not at all acceptable to the Jains, since they believed in doing no harm to any animals. So they had to develop paints that contained only plant-based products.  They achieved this by using an ingredient found in a particular species of onion, and subsequently, they planted lots and lots of these onions nearby in the ground, so that they would have the wherewithal to continue to manufacture their paints.

In saving the animals from exploitation, however, they unwittingly were harming the local soil.  Of course, they had no way to know that this was happening, and it was an ironic turn of events that the Jains, in protecting nature, were accidentally and unknowingly causing harm to the environment.

Once they realized that the invasive onion species was the cause of the imbalance in the soil, CPREEC spent countless hours removing the onions from the ground (they were still growing there 2,000 years later!) so that other plants would be able to grow again.  They got up nearly all of them, the soil became fertile again, and they were able to plant trees, flowing bushes, and vines—that have since grown into beautiful plants.

While we were visiting this past February, we did come upon an unexpected occurrence, a little onion remained right there in the ground.

Whenever CPREEC restores a sacred grove, they hire one of the people living there to serve as the grove’s custodian.  Rangam, the custodian of the Sittanavasal sacred grove, had accompanied us, up the steep stairway cut into the rock, so that we could see the ancient windswept site at the top—and then at the foot of the great rock, he led us along the pathway through the restored sacred grove, now lush with trees and plants which lend great beauty to the majestic rock.

Rangam, with the onion

Then Rangam came across the stray onion—right there at his feet growing in the soil.  He carefully dug it out of the ground and held it up—the offending alien onion.

(Although it is silly, I did feel a little sorry for the onion.  It will no doubt become a happy onion in heaven.)

How hard it is as humans to avoid causing harm to the earth. Even the ancient Jains, who managed far better than most of us do, could not avoid harming a bit of the planet, even as they were doing their best to protect the animals and the natural world.

1,000 year old vines at Puthupet

On February 12, 13, and 14, the National Conference on Conservation of Sacred Groves to Protect Local Biodiversity will be held in Chennai, India.

On February 12, 2011, there will be an Inauguration at 10 am at Puthupet Sacred Grove in the Villupuram District, Tamilnadu, India.  Transport for conference attendees will leave at 7:30 am  from the C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre in Chennai.

The sacred groves of India are very ancient, and have been written about in some of the oldest literature.  Small or large, from a few trees to hundreds of acres, they are sacred sites dedicated to folk gods or tree spirits.

Down through the generations, communities have protected their local sacred groves and these are repositories of nature, where plants and animals have been able to live in their original state.  It has happened over the years though that many of these groves have fallen into disrepair.  Over fifty sacred groves have been restored by CPREEC.  When they are restored, then the local people are charged with continuing to care for them and protect them, and they also make a commitment not to sacrifice animals.

Prayer cloths at Puthupet

Often the sacred groves are located near a stream, a pond, or a spring, providing water to the community.  The presence of water is part of the sacred nature of the groves.

In India, as in the rest of the world, the environment has taken a terrible toll, resulting from human “progress,”  and the protection of sacred groves is a one way of saving the environment from destruction.  Some sacred groves have been sacrificed for commercial or business purposes.  It is essential to the conservation of the environment that these sacred groves be preserved and restored.

Sacred anthill at Puthupet

The Conference will bring together the benefits of science with the age-old wisdom of cultural heritage in order to protect the groves, preserving them as an aspect of the essence of India – past and future.  It will explore ways to include the restoration of sacred groves in broader plans for environmental protection.

A sacred grove may belong to a village temple or shrine.  It has been estimated that the total number of sacred groves in India could be as high as 100,000. Over 13,000 sacred groves have been documented. Restoring and renovating them will make a remarkable impact on the natural environment of India; this will provide habitat for many species of birds and mammals and for many native plants.

As well as preserving the native species, restoring the sacred groves also reawakens in people a reverence for nature and for their most ancient traditions.  It re-connects them with their own history and culture.

A family paying their respects to Ayyanaar

An article in Wikipedia states that in Kerala and Karnataka alone, there are over 1,000 deities that are linked to the sacred groves, deities such as Aiyappa, the god of the forests.

In the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, the Bishnois, who were the world’s first environmentalists, maintain scrub forests as sacred groves.  In the north, just south of Kashmir, the state of Himachal Pradesh, which means  “region of snowy mountains” has large numbers of sacred groves, as does Kerala in the south, but there are sacred groves everywhere, throughout all of India.  Himachal Pradesh, in the Himalayas, has altitudes ranging from 1,100 feet to 20,000 feet.

Puthupet, in Tamil Nadu, is an original sacred grove that has never been destroyed, with vines that are 1,000 years old growing among the trees. It has a beautiful, mysterious atmosphere.  The spirit Ayyanaar, who is worshipped there, is a protective being who, riding with his companions, circles the village every night on his horse.  Families come to visit from a long way away to leave offerings in his honor.

In some sacred groves it is forbidden even to pick up fallen branches, because human interference is not allowed.  But in many groves, as in Puthupet, where I have visited, picking up fallen branches is fine.  I saw a little girl and her younger brother collecting firewood.

The Conference of the Sacred Groves promises to be very fascinating and invaluable to protecting the natural environment of India.

For more about the Conference on Sacred Groves, click here.


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