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
Pune, 3rd March 2021: Sacred groves are a piece of natural vegetation that is protected by various communities due to religious reasons. Local communities take responsibility to protect and nurture the area. It could be only a few trees or an entire forest.
Traditionally the sacred groves were a repository for various Ayurvedic medicines, fruits, deadwood and honey. Every household knew the uses of herbs needed for basic illnesses. Herbs were daily used in food for a healthy life. Diets changed based on location and seasons. Our ancestor’ motive was to make ecological balance a way of life. But we learnt when deadly corona took over the world peace. Let us not forget that this is only the beginning of a new end. Many deadly viruses will surface after our negligence will melt the permafrost. Let’s rise and shine to give better tomorrow to future generations. Earth has never been and will never be under threat. We are.
Being home to very diverse yet strong religious practices, India contains many sacred groves. Before Mughals and British ruthless rule, our entire Bharat Khand was covered by sacred groves. One of the many benefits is the Ether content from the groves keeps our body, mind and spirit healthy. As a result, we lived a wonderful life. Our values and principles were based on a sustainable lifestyle. Our ancestors intelligently imbibed those practices as part of our daily chores. Agastya muni, one of the Sapt Rishis and Shivji’s disciple, is responsible for all the wonderful habits we have today in us, which keeps the culturally aware Indians healthy, wealthy, wise. He went to every settlement of our Bharat Khand to impart what he learnt from Mahadev Shivji. He was extremely intelligent in making all our ancestors healthy and spiritual in whatever they were doing. He empowered without changing anyone. Knowingly and unknowingly everyone did the powerful practices of Shivji and lived wonderfully well. It is time to consult your grandparents. Everything is not in written form in our rich culture.
Shipin is the largest deodar grove in Himachal and contains trees that are hundreds of years old. The energy in the sacred grove is 700 times more than a normal jungle. When we are in a jungle, we are aligned by nature. But the sacred grove is on another level, where we are in union. Being in a sacred grove for a few minutes would align your system. And yogi is what everyone should strive to be. We were fortunate to plant the first Sacred Grove of Pune City at Naval jetty, MILIT. Under the able guidance of Raghunath Dhole (The Tree man of India), we were able to plant the sacred grove. A S Bishnoi (husband) worked tirelessly with his team of workers for 25 days to fulfil this dream. He gives saplings for free. He is working towards planting 75 sacred groves in our country this year, as we will complete 75 years of independence. He is the true patriot for Bharat Mata (mother).
Meghalaya has some of the richest groves in the country, Khasi hills in Meghalaya have one grove called law kyntangs in almost every village. The popular myth dictates 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 best preserved. Our ancestors were wise to say so. We all have felt the presence of forest spirits. Fear is the best medicine to disciple humans. And the legend is true in all sense because we are witnessing the results of deforestation. In the name of modernisation and progress, the businessmen, political leaders and Indian and state services officers are giving us slow poison. They have organic food which is our age-old way of farming, but the rest of the humans are given the choice to select from the chemical infused foods. We can do amends. Create your kitchen garden.
Indian sacred groves are often associated with temples, monasteries, shrines or with burial grounds. Our ancestors were very innovative in their ways to protect nature and enlighten us to live meaningful lives. We offered our prayers in temples with sacred groves. We attained Mukti in the sacred grove burial grounds. Historically, sacred groves find their mentions in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts. Numerous nature spirits and guardians are associated with Hindu, Jain and Buddhist deities. Such nature spirits are known as Yakshas, Nāgas (serpent guardians) and guardian tutelary deities (like ayyanar and amman). There is countless folklore on forest spirits, guardians and nagas which has been part of our childhood.
Planting and nurturing trees have been a highly evolved practice in ancient India. Attaining moksh is very simple :- If you plant native saplings and look after them, you not only clear your karma but also your ancestor’ karma. Your entire lineage will attain Moksh. You can confirm it in our ancient texts. Vrukshayurveda, the science of plant life, indicates how mystical beliefs and conservation of ecology was inter-connected. For example, if one plants kisirini, dadimi, rambha, priyala, and panasa, one experiences no affliction for seven births. Who has knowingly or unknowingly planted Ambu is respected as a recluse even while staying in the house. Every native plant has something to offer to the person who plants it. Nakshtravana were routine activity for ashrams headed by highly qualified gurus. The Hindu tradition considers forests to be of three types-Tapovan, Mahavan and Sreevan. Tapovan is 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 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. Panchvati, or a cluster of five tree species represented the five elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. If we observe, everything will make sense.
The groves are often associated with ponds and streams and meet the water requirements of local communities. It is now scientifically proven that water is because of trees and not vice versa. Sacred groves are scattered all over our country, and are referred to by different names in different parts of India. Eg. Kovil Kadu in Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, Gumpa Forest in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, Sarna in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and so on. Sacred groves occur in a variety of places – from the scrub forest in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan maintained by the Bishnois, to rain forest in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. 363 Bishnois of Khejarli village were killed by king’s soldiers as early as September 1730 when they were trying to peacefully protect the trees of their village by holding the tree trunk. The first Chipko movement of world history. Women, children and elders of the village were slaughtered holding the trees. Our country is full of such examples. A Gurjjar settlement appears like a human-inhabited sacred grove because they plant neem for worshipping. Mangar Bani, the last surviving natural forest of Delhi is protected by Gurjars of a nearby area. 14,000 sacred groves have been reported from all over India. Experts believe our entire country was a sacred grove inhabited by various deities and looked after by every human under the able guidance of our Rishis and tribal leaders.
Every piece of land comes with responsibility. And if the land is with Govt of India in your custody it’s all the more important for you to fulfil the responsibility even if you are in charge of that land for a month. Sarpanch has an important role to play in the Panchayati land of every village. Make sacred grove, ghanavan, herbal garden in every village. Approach your district forest officer. Make your village Panchayat land useful for every villager by planting sacred grove and herbs. Always ask yourself “what can I give” every day of your life. The concept of the sacred grove and Ghanavan (urban forest) has been part of the earth and our ancestors live.
The knowledge of plants has been deeply rooted in us. But over the years we have started living superficially. We think we exist on conditioned air, filter water, and packet foods. It is time to wake up and be enlightened. Enlightenment is attained by doing. And all the great yogis have been involved in doing something selflessly for bringing balance to our planet. Yogis are in all forms, living amongst us, living within us. It is up to each one of you to be a yogi or a burden.
Sacred Grove (deorai/devrai) Plantation: – Minimum 100 X100 ft or 200 X 200 ft (ideal) land is needed. And you don’t need to cut the existing tree of that area. You have to remove the invasive plants. The final step is to contact Raghunath Dhole for saplings and plantation guidance.
Urban forest or “Ghanvan” plantation: – Any piece of land in any shape or size is eligible for it. This is a dense forest and secluded habitat for birds, Honey bees, butterflies and other insects. And you can contact Raghunath Dhole for saplings and plantation guidance. His number-9822245645.
Lockdown effect: – Corona pandemic did a surprise check on humans. Everyone was so busy with shopping and accumulating things, the target of turning earth into a concrete jungle, as one house is not good enough to brag about in social gatherings. Suddenly humans were scared! The metropolitan people were caged in their pigeon holes. As per the capacity of an individual, they made changes in their lives. Everything came to a standstill. Responsibility saw light. Life skills became the most important part of our daily routine. The first lockdown was a turning point and it helped many people to turn inward and realised their role in the universe and at home. Some people could understand how they were wasting their time doing useless things. Those who could not be still found cribbing around you. The feeling of animals, plants, butterflies, birds can be understood by everyone quite clearly now. And after a long time, many people realised the relevance of plants in our lives. The way we have been treating them and taking things for granted has resulted in global warming.
Lockdown gave us an opportunity to contribute more than pre-corona times. A S Bishnoi planted 1213 saplings in MILIT and nearby places (Dhonje, Singhad and Khanapur) since March ’20 when everyone was indoors due to corona, he was out to fulfil our dream to give a better future to everyone. We are looking after them and every new leaf makes our daughter smile. All plants are alive and growing. We celebrate every important occasion by planting trees and share the responsibility with our daughter to look after them.
What Every Individual Can do: First, stop complaining. Start observing. Walk, cycle or run around the area you live in. Find places where you can contribute. If you want to plant, get native saplings (no invasive or hybrids). Plant the saplings and look after them. If you are attentive, you will know what to do. Remember, plants don’t survive only on water. Be there for them, they have always been there for us. Grow your vegetables and fruits. After the first monsoon shower plant, the saplings and will thrive. Lastly, remember – we don’t own anything, pyramids taught us this important lesson long ago. So, Coexist. Let us transform our country INDIA to “SACRED INDIA”. Explore the possibility. Don’t do it because I told you to. And definitely, there is no reward for it. Do it for yourself. And you will live a meaningful life. Self-help books won’t be needed. Planting and producing a child is the same. But your efforts will determine the future of the plant and the child. If you cannot nurture them, then neither plant nor produce. The future we create is every individual’s responsibility. We are doing what is needed. You can too. All you need is a will to do.
(Shakti Bishnoi is a postgraduate from the London School of Business Management. She is an experienced ornithologist and counsellor. She has reared more than 683 butterflies in their house and their journey continues. She believes in the conservation of nature by planting trees.)
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