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.