Sacred groves refer to a piece of natural vegetation that is protected by a certain community due to religious reasons. The area is usually dedicated to a local deity. As a result, local communities tend to take responsibility to protect and nurture the area. It could be only a few trees or an entire forest. NGOS play an important role in working with the local residents to keep these areas safe, while their motives may be mostly restricted to ecological balance.
According to these protections, hunting and deforestation in these areas are banned but other activities with a more sustainable process such as honey and deadwood collection are allowed. The introduction of Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002, provides government protection to these lands.
Being home to very diverse yet strongly practiced religions, India contains many sacred groves. A strong concentration of these groves are found in Himachal Pradesh and Kerala. Other places where one can find sacred groves are Rajasthan, Bihar, Meghalaya and Maharashtra.
Kerala: A state known for its stunning natural beauty, Kerala is home to 240 sacred groves. These areas contain more than 3000 rare species of plants. Spread over more than 20 hectares, the largest grove is in Ernakulam.
Himachal Pradesh: The state with the highest number of sacred groves, Himachal Pradesh is meticulous and extremely careful about these natural settings. Shipin is believed to be the largest deodar grove and contains trees that are thousands of years old.
Maharashtra: The groves in Maharashtra are called deorais or devrais and are concentrated in Pune, Ratnagiri, Raigad and Kolhapur. A rare variety of biodiversity prevails in these areas. The entire state contains approximately 250 groves.
Bihar: Known as sarnas, the groves in Bihar are fairly small and only consist of 2 to 20 trees. Full of creepers, shrubs and grasses, these trees are generally collected in the Chotanagpur region.
Rajasthan: These regions in Rajasthan take up various names- oraans of Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bikaner, kenkris of Ajmer, vanis of Mewar, shamlet dehsof Alwar. The largest area is covered by oraans that provide a different set of biodiversity in distinctive areas.
Meghalaya: Home to some of the richest groves in the country, Khasi hills in Meghalaya have one grove called law kyntangs in almost every village. Two of the largest ones are Mawphlang and Mausmai. The popular myth surrounding the forests dictate that anyone damaging the plants and trees of the grove will be killed by the forest spirit. This myth has kept people from destroying the area and thus, it is one of the best preserved natural areas.
Due to modernisation and urbanisation, the belief people have in religious concepts has declined, in turn reducing the belief in the sanctity of sacred groves. However, people are also more cautious of the environment and hopefully that thought balances out the care given to these lands.