At a time when we see ecological disasters happening at an alarming rate, there are communities which are preserving nature and ecology through their traditional belief systems. Various communities in India follow nature-worship based on the premise that all creations of nature have to be protected.

Sacred groves  are forest stretches or natural habitats of varying sizes, which are usually protected by the local communities and form a significant part of the India’s floral and faunal diversity. These groves are generally associated with temples, monasteries or shrines and are considered sacrosanct. The areas under these forests are often dedicated to a local deity and hence the local communities take the responsibility and ownership of protecting these areas. Religious and spiritual beliefs ensure that these forests remain protected. Because of these beliefs and traditions, the culture and customs of certain indigenous groups are also preserved.

Sacred groves are the repositories of rare and endangered species. These groves also represent an age old tradition of environmental conservation and serve as the natural treasure houses of biodiversity and houses a large number of endangered and rare species.

North East India is home to different tribes and their diverse culture. Various tribes and sub tribes of Northeast India have preserved forest patches and trees due to their belief in nature-worship.

Mawphlang Sacred Grove, Meghalaya

Mawphlang is a village in Meghalaya which is home to one of the most revered sacred groves of the region. The Mawphlang Sacred Forest has its roots in the religious belief where forests are regarded as sacred. The local tribes believe it to be the home of the local deity, Labasa and have been preserving this forest for thousands of years. The tribal people of the region have a firm belief that Labasa protects this forest and their community from any mishap. The deity is said to take on the form of leopard or tiger, and protect the village.

The Mawphlang Sacred grove has one rule: ‘NOTHING is allowed to be taken out of this Sacred Grove. Not even a leaf, stone or a dead log’. Removing even the tiniest leaf from the forest means disrespect to the deity. It is said that whoever attempts to break this rule is punished with illness, that can even be fatal.

Every sacred forest has the presence of a ‘sacred alter’ , some in the form of a monolith, covered on all sides by massive stones which serve as the space for animal sacrifice, a kind of Thanksgiving.

The sacred groves in Meghalaya are locally known as ‘Law Kyntang’, ‘Law Niam’ or ‘Law Lyngdoh’ in the Khasi hills, ‘Khloo Blai’ in the Jaintia hills, and ‘Asheng Khosi’ in the Garo hills.

Conservation of Nature in Manipur

The people of Manipur also follow ancestral worship and animism in the form of deity worship. The beliefs associated with the Sylvan deities (Umang Lais) are practiced. The practice of pleasing of deities is performed every year by the Meiteis, to gain their favor.  Meities have had a long tradition of preserving the ecosystem by associating groves/plants/animals with cultural and religious practices.

Indigenous cultural and rituals practices of the local people in sacred groves serve as a tool for conserving biodiversity. The social boundaries help to conserve the entire forest patch and help in conservation of rare and endemic species. These groves are also store houses of valuable medicinal and other plants.

These groves are locally known as Gamkhap and Mauhak (sacred bamboo reserves).

Sacred Forests in Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh is a homeland of various ethnic tribes. Most of the tribes have been protecting and conserving sacred groves based on their religious culture, beliefs and taboos. Sacred groves form a integral part of Arunachal Pradesh’s floral and faunal diversity.

There are several Gompa Forest Areas(GFAs) and are usually attached to the Buddhist monasteries and managed by Lama and Monpa tribes. These sacred groves are dedicated to local deities such as Ubro or Ubram and Thouw-gew. No interference is allowed in these sacred groves and complete prohibition is maintained even for collection of dead or living trees or plants. Tradition has it that failing to adhering to the local traditions lead to bad omen and specific rituals need to be performed by priests. Collection of dead or living trees or plants or its parts etc. can be done only by priests who are locally known as Nyibu during the celebration of Myoko festival.

Sacred groves of the state are of immense ecological significance for not only the state but for neighboring states like Assam. These groves are often associated with water streams which also help meet the water requirements of the local people.

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