Maximum 322 sacred
groves are recorded from Semiliguda block of Koraput
district and from 192 groves, dead wood and several
non-timber forest produces are gathered (Malhotra et
The sacred groves have multifarious values for more than one reason. People strongly believed that the grove is the abode of deities who looks after the welfare and well being of the local people. The utility and importance of sacred groves can broadly be summarized and grouped in the following two headings:
i) Ecological and
ii) Socio-cultural importance
Ecological and Environmental Importance: Groves protected through religious beliefs play catalytic role in ecological and environmental management tuned to the region. Ecologists and environmentalists believe that groves are repository of gene pools and act as reservoir of biological diversity because these are protected since olden days and act as 'climax forest', which harbour variety of flora. Such island of climax vegetation amidst a degraded landscape can be seen in many parts of Koraput and Kalahandi districts.
Groves harbour variety of wild animals. Poachers do not dare to enter in these protected areas, therefore, it acts as a reservoir of wild life. These relict forests are paradigm of repository of wild germ plasm of the area, which could be exported to and used in afforestation programmes of damaged sites.
Socio-cultural importance: The groves play a number of socio-cultural functions, which are not easily discernible. Villagers feel that village would be protected by the deity against famine and epidemic diseases. The ritual significance helps in curbing mental agonies and anxieties and gives a moral confidence to the people. It psychologically prepares them to encounter the nature and natural calamities and disasters with a greater confidence and courage. The rituals connected with the groves also provide chance to the people to spare few moments from their busy daily routine to be devoted to religious purposes. The groves also play a catalytic role in the social dynamics at both intra and inter village level stability.
Some tribes who have beliefs on scared groves : The tribal people of Orissa worship nature and believe that nature is to be kept satisfied if it is to provides all their needs. The sun, the earth, hills, rivers, streams, rain, forests and trees etc are objects of common worship.
Pauri- Bhuyan , Kandhs Santals, Oraons and Mundas and sarna dharma (sacred groves)
The concept of Sarna dharma originates from the common traditional religious institution of"sacred grove" found in the tribal village, which is regarded as the seat of one or more than one important village level deities including the village tutelary designated differently among various Mundari and Dravidian speaking tribes of Chhotanagpur and surrounding regions, comprising a large contiguous tribal belt covering parts of the states of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh . Literally, the term Sarna is a Mundari word meaning the "Sacred grove" and he term Dharma is an Indo-Aryan linguistic term, ordinarily meaning "religion". A tree in a Sarna may not be damaged or felled without the leave of the Pahan (Village Priest) who however, would first offer a sacrifice in the Sarna where the trees stand.
Noted ethnographer Dr. S.C Roy observed that every Oraon (one of the tribes) village has the super natural institution of Sarna of grove of sal trees dedicated to their mighty tutelary deity "Chhala Pacchho"(or the old lady of the grove) who is also known by other names such as Sarna burhia and Jhakra burhia. "Chala Panchho" the chief deity of Sarna ordinarily resides in the sacred Chala-Kuti the holy compartment inside the house of the village Pahan. During the annual Sarhul festival she represented by the Sarna-sup is led in a procession by the Pahan accompanied by the villager to the Sarna.
The Munda, an important Kolarian speaking one of the major tribes of Orissa who are also the immediate neighbours of Oraons, share the common holy institution of Sarna with the latter, though there are difference in their nature of religious beliefs, rituals as well as orientations. The Munda pantheon is composed of their supreme deity, Sing Bonga (The Sun god) at the apex, the nature gods, ancestral sprits, village deities. These deities or gods save the village from diseases and calamities and bring prosperity. In a Munda village, according to Dr. Sachidananda "Sarna" and "Jayar" is a protected place I situated between thickly grown trees, which are forbidden to be cut.
The concept and
practice of Sarna extends to another major and
important Mundari speaking tribe the Santal, living
in the same habitat and eco-cultural region as those
of the Oraon and Munda. This holy institution in a
Santal village is called Jaherthan in shortcut
Jahera (Holy grove). The Santals believe that
deities residing in the Holy grove do welfare for
the Santal villages.
Most tribes believe that the sun god is the creator and master of the universe and call it by many names. The Juangs and Bhuyans call it "Dharam Devta", the Kohla and Santals " Sing Bonga'. Other tribes worship other deities from nature as the creators of the Universe. The worships of the earth is common. Called the "Basumata" by Santals, Bhuyans and Juangs "Dharani" by Kandhs : "Basuki thakurani" by Kolhas, the worship of the earth goddess acquires special significance, since rituals of worship, for a good harvest starts every cultivation.
Food for the tribals consist of roots, leaves, flowers and fruits that they get from the forests. They therefore, not only worship the forests, but also revel in religious ceremonies and festivals connected with it. Bhinjals and Parajas call their forest god "Danger Devta" Bandas, 'Uga" and "Remngbori", Kolhas "Bura Bonga" Khandhs "Laipenu" and soon. Considering nature as their creator, sustainer and provider, the tribals have imbibed a deep love for nature that is primeval and instinctive.
The months of March-April and May-June provide occasions for festivities as fruits and flowers are harvested. Bhattaras and Koyas celebrate the first eating of mangoes after offering them to deities in the "Chaita-Parab" and "Bijja Podu' festivals respectively. Binjhals and Santals observe the first eating of Mohua flowers during the "Makulbhaja Parab" and "Baha Parab". Sal, Neem and Asan trees are considered sacred, "Zahira" by both Santals and Kolhas, because their village deities dwell in it. Rivers, streams and hills are also the objects of tribal worship. Bandas call their stream deities' "Kapur chuan" and "Doliang" and Kandhs "Gungipenu". The deity is variously called " Buru Borga" by Santals "Vinding" by the Bandas and "Bhinapenu" by the Kandhs.
Karma is a beautiful example of tree worship among the tribal people in central and eastern India. Karma festivals though it is more a tribal festival it is well within the fold of the Sambalpur folk tradition. The numerous tribes of the states namely, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal celebrate the festival. The adorable deity of Karma festival is Karamsani who is represented by a twig branch called Karma dal. This type of personification of a branch as devi is not surprising as trees have held a special place in the spiritual tradition of Ancient India. Karam Sani has been regarded as the goddess of vegetation, fertility and destiny. It may be noted here that Karam Sani can be identified with a twig branch of different trees in the same of different places. For example, in Sambalpur, a branch of Sal tree represents the deity. The Nagesia from Chhatishgarh and the Oraons, Mundas and Santals of various places worship Adina cordifolia (Kurum).
126.96.36.199 Forest dependence : Tribal dependence on forest is symbiotic. The relation between the tribals and forest is like that of fish and water says Prof. Radha Mohan. Forests are not only one of the major sources of their subsistence, but are also significantly related to their religion and mythology. The Kandhs of Ganjam claim descent from a woman, whose body parts are supposed to be made of Bel fruit, Sandalwood and Kawal mushrooms. Tribals of Kalahandi believe that their ancestors survived by drinking the juice of "Salap" tree after a catastrophe of "Ban Devta" the forest as a god to be appeased ensures the renewal of the species while working as a self-imposed law against the destruction of forest.
Tribal Culture and Biodiversity
Tribes in tribal habitats live in harmony with nature. There seems to have very positive links between tribal culture and biodiversity. Tree worship is part and parcel of tribal culture and some major tribes call their religion Saran Dharam, meaning worship of trees. Sal tree is often worshipped by the ‘Santhals’ and its leaves are must for any kind of worship. Tribal grow trees all around ‘jahira’ – their place of worship. Tribal are well acquainted with medicinal plants in forests and till today they mostly depend on these herbal medicines for treatment of any kind of ailments. All such positive links of tribal culture with biodiversity can be used as positive resources to conserve biodiversity in tribal areas ( for forest cover in tribal districts of Orissa – see Table 3.16). But there are also some aspects of tribal culture which adversely impact biodiversity – tribal annual hunt ( Sandrakarka) and podu cultivation. In the past when there was immense forest coverage and unlimited wild forest animals, these did little harm. But in the present context these aspects of tribal culture are to be restrained, may be through persuasion and awareness raising.
The symbiotic relation between the tribals and natural environment is disappearing fast due to the loss of beliefs, change in crop as well as fooding patterns. Tribals were well acquainted with medicinal plants in forests and were depending on these herbal medicines for treatment of all kind of ailments. But with rapid change in their behaviour and attitude they moved form indigenous herbal practices to modern day medicines, hence those indigenous practices as well as the list of priceless ethnomedicinal plants have lost. In addition to that, weakening of religious beliefs and the changing attitude of the communities are adversely affecting the traditional ways and means of effective conservation practices. That leads to extinction of more rare and endangered flora and fauna.
In overall, the tribal cultural traits go well with conservation of biodiversity. In fact they are the right people to work for it. The tribal love for tree and religious association with tree can positively be used for plantation and protection of forests. They can also be trained to grow medicinal herbs. Tribals do have the age old practices of water harvesting and management, which can be taken into watershed activities. Now the time has come to think over the betterment of the original inhabitants of the land, water and forests as it indirectly serve the concept of sustainable development. A special pro-tribal policy is necessary to protect and promote their livelihood system, relationship with nature, autonomy equity and culture.