Growing up in western coastal towns, Nagabana, the placement of Garadi all made me realize that the ethnic religious cult was very close to nature and revered nature. Unfortunately it is being devoured by the more powerful brahmanical cult. Interestingly Kalidasa’s Vikramuurvashiiya talks of Nakshatravana or the green patch. The legend of Urvashi also has her turning into a tree, and the kannada folklore talks of Chelvi the daughter of the sacred grove who marries the prince of the land but is destroyed by his families insensitivity.
Communally protected sacred groves are found all over India. They have religious connotation for protecting the community. These were areas where hunting and logging are prohibited. If logging is done then it has to be done with sustainability in mind and substitution. However collection of honey and deadwood is allowed.
These groves are sometimes associated with temples/monasteries/shrines or with burial grounds. Sacred groves like the Alpine Meadows protects natural habitat on religious grounds.
The districts of south Kanara and Udupi have nagabana’s dedicated to the snake god which is form of sacred grove, while the Kodavas maintain the DevaKadu and they are dedicated to Aiyappa.
The brahmanical texts refer to forests of three types. Tapovan— inhabited by the rishi’s.Mahavan the natural grand forests, both these are considered to be Raksha’s or sanctuaries and ordinary human beings are not allowed to enter these forests. Then there were Sreevana which means forest of prosperity these allowed collection of dry wood, and forest products and limited amount of timber as it did not disturb the ecosystem.
The sreevan allowed cultivation and nurturing of certain plants, recreational activities and religious activities were associated with these groves. Each village would create a grove with Panchavati or a cluster of 5 trees that represent the five primordial elements, earth, water, fire, air and space. Yet, somewhere all forests are one… they are all echoes of the first forest that gave birth to Mystery when the world began.
Vruksha-ayurveda is the science of plant life and interweaves mystic beliefs and conservation of ecology. Every forest has its own personality. I don’t mean the obvious differences, like how English woodland is different from a sahyadari’s, or the deodhars… each has its own sound , smell, rustling whispers and whisperings gossips. A voice speaks up when we enter their acres that can’t be mistaken for one you’d hear anyplace else, a voice true to those particular trees, individual rather than of their species.
The sacred groves were the repositories for medicinal herbs and plants and replenish able resources like fruits and honey. They also associate with ponds and streams, to meet water requirement of local communities. We need to recreate new sacred groves and maintain the old ones, for they are the biodiversity hotspots, with rapid urbanization, plants and animals are becoming extinct and the urban landscapes require lungs. If the day comes when our descendents can venture with wonder into any forest we will have gained back more than a perfect tree. We will have gained a new reason for hope.
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