‘Areas forests and they often represent the relic climax

‘Areas of land or water having special religious
significance to inhabitants and communities’ (Oviedo and Jeanrenaud, 2007,
Upreti et al., 2017). ‘Sacred’ has
different meanings to different communities, at the basic level it denotes
respect and ‘set aside’ for purposes of the religious belief. These are
traditionally managed community forests and they often represent the relic
climax vegetation of the region. Named differently in different parts of India viz.,
Law lyngdhoh in Meghalaya (Upadhyay et
al., , 2003), Kovil kadu in Kanyakumari (Ramanujam and Praveen 2003), Dev
bhumi in Uttarakhand (Bisht and Ghildiyal, 2007, Singh 2011), Kavu in Kerala,
Sarna and Deorai in Madhya Pradesh (Sinha, 1995), Oran in Rajasthan, Jaherthan
and Garamthan in West Bengal, Deovan in Himachal, Ummanglai in Manipur, etc.,
these groves are mainly found in areas dominated by tribal’s and managed by
local people for various reasons. The existence of such undisturbed pockets is
mostly due to certain taboos, strong beliefs, supplemented by mystic folklores
(Gadgil and Vartak, 1975 Singh 2011). Sacred forests are part of a broader set
of 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 are
in some way holy, consecrated, and so connected with belief systems. Sacred
natural sites are just one of many domains where religions or belief systems
interact with nature. The first scholar to document sacred groves of the State
was D. Brandis, the first Inspector General of Forests, who wrote about
occurrence of sacred groves in 1897 (Rao, 1996).  There are important elements to take into
account regarding indigenous or traditional spirituality. In 2007 the
recognition of the political status of indigenous peoples provided by UNDRIP
(the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) has significantly
increased awareness of the deeper dimensions of oppression and of resilience
(UNDRIP, 2007). The first report on the sacred sites is the Census report of
Travancore of 1891 in which Ward and Conner (1927) reported about 15,000 sacred
groves in Travancore. Historical records, legends and the folk songs,
particularly certain devotional songs like “Thottampattu” sung in praise of Lord
Ayyappan throw light on sacred groves of ancient Kerala. Thottampattu” believed
to have been composed during 500-600 AD, names 108 major “Ayyappan Kavus” and
mention about numerous “Ayyappan Kavus” distributed all over Kerala. Most
people believe that we have an obligation to avoid the extinction of species
and races and the destruction of ecosystems caused by our own actions (WWF,
2005). A symbiotic relationship exists between cultural and biological
diversity. This relationship is an important factor for ensuring sustainable
human development. Nature provides light, food, water, and air through living
process of creative renewal. This awareness of life in nature as a precondition
for human survival led to the worship of air, light, food, and water. Different
situations and histories gave rise to a large diversity of spiritualities among
indigenous peoples, which is largely made up of a body of beliefs, values, and
practices intimately connected to nature. At a landscape level, anthropologists
have long recognized the sacred status that cultures have given to nature not
only in specific sacred sites (e.g. Frazer, 1890) but also in larger areas of
cultural significance and entire landscapes. Many sacred natural sites have
been well protected over long duration and have seen low levels of disturbance.
Sacred sites also represent ancient and profound cultural values. After the
2003 Congress, IUCN’s Specialist Group on the Cultural and Spiritual Values of
Protected Areas (CSVPA) that had formed in 1998 continued the work on
guidelines for the management of sacred sites (Wild and McLeod, 2008). CSVPA
has since advanced a significant amount of work on sacred sites and species
including this volume, Mallarach and Papayannis, 2007. The urge for the
protection of sacred natural sites have also been recognized by the Convention
on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The CBD in 2004 developed the Akwe Kon voluntary guidelines for the conduct of
environmental, cultural, and social impact assessments regarding proposed
developments that may affect sacred forests and on lands and waters
traditionally used by indigenous and local inhabitants (Secretariat of the
Convention on Biological Diversity, 2004). At the political level, as described
before, the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is an important benchmark. Article 12(twelve) in
particular provides significant political advantage for developing policies for
the protection and recognition of sacred natural sites at the national level.
It states:

Indigenous peoples have the right
to practice, manifest, develop and teach their religious and spiritual
traditions, ceremonies and customs; the right to maintain, protect, and have
access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use
and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of
their human remains. (UNDRIP, 2008)

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Traditional
African religions often viewed land and its resources as communal property that
belonged not only to the living but also to their ancestors and to future
generations (Omari, 1990). In other cases, the relationship between people and
the land was a matter of spiritual concern, and such religions have been called
“profoundly ecological” (Schoffeleers, 1978). Studies of sacred forests and
other sacred sites throughout Africa shows that spiritual beliefs and religious
can 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 found
only in sacred groves, presumably having been extirpated from unprotected areas
(Khan et al., 1997). Traditional
conservation practices in the form of nature worship have played an important
role in protection and conservation of Indian biodiversity (Bhagwat and Rutte
2006). In the Kodagu district of Karnataka, local communities have
traditionally protected forests patches, which are dedicated to the local
deity.