‘Areas of land or water having special religioussignificance to inhabitants and communities’ (Oviedo and Jeanrenaud, 2007,Upreti et al., 2017).
‘Sacred’ hasdifferent meanings to different communities, at the basic level it denotesrespect and ‘set aside’ for purposes of the religious belief. These aretraditionally managed community forests and they often represent the relicclimax vegetation of the region. Named differently in different parts of India viz.,Law lyngdhoh in Meghalaya (Upadhyay etal., , 2003), Kovil kadu in Kanyakumari (Ramanujam and Praveen 2003), Devbhumi in Uttarakhand (Bisht and Ghildiyal, 2007, Singh 2011), Kavu in Kerala,Sarna and Deorai in Madhya Pradesh (Sinha, 1995), Oran in Rajasthan, Jaherthanand Garamthan in West Bengal, Deovan in Himachal, Ummanglai in Manipur, etc.
,these groves are mainly found in areas dominated by tribal’s and managed bylocal people for various reasons. The existence of such undisturbed pockets ismostly due to certain taboos, strong beliefs, supplemented by mystic folklores(Gadgil and Vartak, 1975 Singh 2011). Sacred forests are part of a broader setof cultural values that different social groups, beliefs or value systems,traditions attach to places and which ‘fulfil humankind’s need to understand,and connect in meaningful ways, to the environment of its origin and to nature'(Putney, 2005). The term ‘sacred natural sites’ implies that these forests arein some way holy, consecrated, and so connected with belief systems. Sacrednatural sites are just one of many domains where religions or belief systemsinteract with nature. The first scholar to document sacred groves of the Statewas D. Brandis, the first Inspector General of Forests, who wrote aboutoccurrence of sacred groves in 1897 (Rao, 1996).
There are important elements to take intoaccount regarding indigenous or traditional spirituality. In 2007 therecognition of the political status of indigenous peoples provided by UNDRIP(the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) has significantlyincreased awareness of the deeper dimensions of oppression and of resilience(UNDRIP, 2007). The first report on the sacred sites is the Census report ofTravancore of 1891 in which Ward and Conner (1927) reported about 15,000 sacredgroves in Travancore. Historical records, legends and the folk songs,particularly certain devotional songs like “Thottampattu” sung in praise of LordAyyappan throw light on sacred groves of ancient Kerala.
Thottampattu” believedto have been composed during 500-600 AD, names 108 major “Ayyappan Kavus” andmention about numerous “Ayyappan Kavus” distributed all over Kerala. Mostpeople believe that we have an obligation to avoid the extinction of speciesand races and the destruction of ecosystems caused by our own actions (WWF,2005). A symbiotic relationship exists between cultural and biologicaldiversity.
This relationship is an important factor for ensuring sustainablehuman development. Nature provides light, food, water, and air through livingprocess of creative renewal. This awareness of life in nature as a preconditionfor human survival led to the worship of air, light, food, and water. Differentsituations and histories gave rise to a large diversity of spiritualities amongindigenous peoples, which is largely made up of a body of beliefs, values, andpractices intimately connected to nature. At a landscape level, anthropologistshave long recognized the sacred status that cultures have given to nature notonly in specific sacred sites (e.
g. Frazer, 1890) but also in larger areas ofcultural significance and entire landscapes. Many sacred natural sites havebeen well protected over long duration and have seen low levels of disturbance.Sacred sites also represent ancient and profound cultural values. After the2003 Congress, IUCN’s Specialist Group on the Cultural and Spiritual Values ofProtected Areas (CSVPA) that had formed in 1998 continued the work onguidelines for the management of sacred sites (Wild and McLeod, 2008). CSVPAhas since advanced a significant amount of work on sacred sites and speciesincluding this volume, Mallarach and Papayannis, 2007. The urge for theprotection of sacred natural sites have also been recognized by the Conventionon Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The CBD in 2004 developed the Akwe Kon voluntary guidelines for the conduct ofenvironmental, cultural, and social impact assessments regarding proposeddevelopments that may affect sacred forests and on lands and waterstraditionally used by indigenous and local inhabitants (Secretariat of theConvention on Biological Diversity, 2004). At the political level, as describedbefore, the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights ofIndigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is an important benchmark. Article 12(twelve) inparticular provides significant political advantage for developing policies forthe protection and recognition of sacred natural sites at the national level.It states:Indigenous peoples have the rightto practice, manifest, develop and teach their religious and spiritualtraditions, ceremonies and customs; the right to maintain, protect, and haveaccess in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the useand control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation oftheir human remains. (UNDRIP, 2008)TraditionalAfrican religions often viewed land and its resources as communal property thatbelonged not only to the living but also to their ancestors and to futuregenerations (Omari, 1990).
In other cases, the relationship between people andthe land was a matter of spiritual concern, and such religions have been called”profoundly ecological” (Schoffeleers, 1978). Studies of sacred forests andother sacred sites throughout Africa shows that spiritual beliefs and religiouscan sometimes be the motivation for conservation of natural resources(Schoffeleers, 1978; Omari, 1990; DormAdzobuetal., 1991; Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1995).In north eastern India about133 species of native plants are presently foundonly in sacred groves, presumably having been extirpated from unprotected areas(Khan et al., 1997). Traditionalconservation practices in the form of nature worship have played an importantrole in protection and conservation of Indian biodiversity (Bhagwat and Rutte2006). In the Kodagu district of Karnataka, local communities havetraditionally protected forests patches, which are dedicated to the localdeity.