Pune City’s First Sacred Grove
“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
Sacred groves are pieces of natural vegetation that are protected by various communities for religious and spiritual reasons. A sacred grove could simply be a few trees or an entire forest, protected and nurtured by local communities. They occur in a variety of places – from the scrub forests of Rajasthan to the rainforests of the Western Ghats. Sacred groves are often associated with ponds and streams, and help meet the water requirements of local communities. They are also repositories for various Ayurvedic medicines, fruits, deadwood, and honey.
Sacred Groves in India
Shipin, the largest deodar grove in Himachal Pradesh, is home to trees that are hundreds of years old. Some of the richest groves in India can be found in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, where they are known as law kyntang. Mangar Bani, the last surviving natural forest of Delhi is protected by Gurjars who live nearby. They are known as Kovil Kadu in Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, Gumpa Forest in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, and Sarna in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, and so on.
It is commonly believed in various cultures that the energy in a sacred grove is many times more than that in a normal jungle, and just being here for few minutes would help re-align one’s system. Popular myths in these areas dictate that anyone damaging the plants and trees of the grove will be punished by the forest spirit, and it is the firmly held belief in this myth that has helped in their preservation. In these parts, the ecological balance is a way of life, and every household knows the herbs and plants to be consumed for leading a healthy life and to ward off illnesses. This knowledge is transmitted orally from one generation to the next.
The History of Sacred Groves
The planting and nurturing of trees was a highly evolved practice in ancient India. Historically, sacred groves find mention in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist texts, with countless folklore on forest spirits, guardians, and nagas. Numerous nature spirits and guardians, known as Yakshas, Nāgas (serpent guardians), and guardian tutelary deities (like ayyanar and amman), are associated with Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist deities.
The ancient Hindu tradition speaks to this practice profoundly. It is held that if one plants native saplings and looks after them, they will not only clear their own karma but also that of their ancestors. The ancient 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 these forests. Sreevan, which means, “forests of prosperity” consists of dense forests that are open for normal humans with rules. Moreover, vrukshayurveda, the science of plant life, indicates how mystical beliefs and conservation of ecology were interconnected. For example, if one plants kisirini, dadimi, rambha, priyala, and panasa, one experiences no affliction for seven births.
Pune City’s First Sacred Grove
We were very fortunate to plant Pune City’s first Sacred Grove at Naval jetty, Military Institute of Technology, Girinagar (MILIT), under the able guidance of Mr. Raghunath Dhole (The Tree Man of India). We worked tirelessly with our team for 25 days to fulfill this dream and have planted 1213 saplings in MILIT and nearby places (Dhonje, Singhad, and Khanapur) since March ’20. We are working towards planting 75 sacred groves in our country this year, as we will complete 75 years of independence.
Tips for planting your own groves:
Sacred Grove (deorai/devrai) Plantation: A minimum plot of 100 x 100 ft or 200 x 200 ft is needed. One doesn’t need to cut the existing trees of that area, only the invasive species need to be removed.
Urban forest (ghanvan) plantation: Any piece of land of any shape or size is eligible for this. This is a dense forest that acts as a secluded habitat for birds, honey bees, butterflies, and other insects.
The final step for both kinds of plantations is to contact Mr. Raghunath Dhole for saplings and plantation guidance.
The concept of sacred groves has been an integral part of our ancestors’ lives, and the knowledge of plants has been deeply rooted in us. Over the years, however, we have started living superficially. We think we exist on conditioned air, filtered water, and packaged foods. But the COVID-19 brought everything to a standstill. The first lockdown helped many people to turn inward to realise our role in the universe and the relevance of plants in our lives. It is now up to us to keep that momentum going and restore ecological balance in our lives and the world around us.