Lesser-Known Facts About Sacred Groves

Sacred Groves is a term given to forests in the developing world that are considered sacred by rural communities. The rural communities then protect these forests as a part of their religious beliefs. This beautiful practice which persists in many areas worldwide, has led to the preservation of rich areas of untouched forest land. There are many other interesting facets and facts related to sacred groves around the world. 

Nine Unique Facts About Sacred Groves

  1. Unusual for a developed nation, one historical estimate has found 2500 sacred groves in Estonia, of which the largest cover up to 100 hectares. In fact, Estonian sacred groves and the indigenous customs associated with them hold an important part of the national identity of Estonians.
  2. In the Indian state of Meghalaya, every sacred forest has an altar to offer prayers. In fact, many other sacred forests in the country have deities associated with them. Some of them include Goddess Durga, Nagaraja (Serpent King), Chithrakoodam, Yakshi and Muthappan. The customs and rituals for the worship of deities differ from region to region.
  3. In Japan, Sacred Groves are located all over the country and have existed since ancient times. Shrines are also very common inside these sacred groves and exist together in symbiotic harmony. The Kamigamo shrine and the Shimogamo shrine in Japan, which form part of a larger sacred grove complex, were designated as World Heritage sites in 1994. 
  4. In India, some claims suggest that sacred groves are pre-Vedic in origin, with some dating their origin up to 3500 years old. 
  5. The existence of sacred groves isn’t just a modern phenomenon. There is evidence suggesting that sacred groves existed since the 1st century A.D. Ancient Greece and Rome were a hotbed of sacred groves.
  6. In Ghana, the most famous sacred grove is called Buoyem Sacred Grove. Numerous other sacred groves are present in the Techiman Municipal District and nearby districts of the Brong Ahafo region, with one, in particular, providing refuge for 20,000 fruit bats.
  7. In Nigeria, local mythology makes mention of sacred groves and the Osun Osogbo sacred grove is considered one of the last virgin forests in the country. The forest is dedicated to the fertility goddess in Yoruba mythology and is home to various shrines and sculptures. The Nigerian grove was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.
  8. In Nepal, one sacred grove at Lumbini is also considered a Buddhist pilgrimage site and was declared a world heritage site in 1997. According to Buddhist belief, Lumbini is also the place where Gautam Buddha was born in 623 BCE. 
  9. Sacred groves have been immortalised in popular fiction like Lord of the Rings and A Song Of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, which feature woods called godswoods, used as a place of worship. Sacred groves are also found in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts.

Sacred Groves Deserve Our Reverence

Human encroachment and land exploitation pose a major threat to the survival of beautiful untouched sacred forests worldwide. In the Indian state of Kerela, one 2015 Legislative Assembly report found a reduction in the number of sacred groves in the state from 10,000 in 1956 to only around 1200. While environmental preservation laws and laws created explicitly for the protection of sacred groves exist in India and other jurisdictions globally, it is individual effort and advocacy that can truly make a long-lasting impact.

Community participation in conservation efforts and educating locals about the importance of these groves are some measures that can help in their preservation for future generations. In the absence of timely initiative by civic-minded citizens, sacred groves in Asia and Africa will face a quick extinction like their European counterparts.

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