Goa, with its beaches of silvery sands and blue sea, has been projected as the ‘Rome of the East’, and is a major tourist destination. Yet, very few are aware that besides its beaches, Goa has the imposing and pleasing green Sahyadri. Like other parts of India, Goa too has a rich and varied cultural heritage. Goans are nature worshippers and extend protection to various forms of nature just like any other culture of India. The Gavda, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangar-Gouli tribals of Goa worship various forms of nature. They have a sacred cow, sacred goat, sacred banyan tree, sacred hill, sacred stone, sacred ponds and also sacred groves. By considering them sacred, they have protected them.
Sacred groves are indeed very old sanctuaries where not only the living but also the non-living are afforded protection through the grace of any one traditional deity or spirit. In Goa, there are instances where the biological wealth of some sacred groves receives total protection on account of their association with some deity. Once various taboos are associated the groves, they are completely or almost completely safeguarded from human interference. These holy forests may range in size from a clump of trees to as much as ten hectors in area. Though a grove may be small in size, it does not make it any less significant. Sometimes one comes across some old and magnificent specimens of trees and climbers in even the smaller groves. In some areas, these groves constitute a haven for flora and fauna, which would otherwise have become extinct. Though they have disappeared from locality but can still be found in the sacred groves. Today, unplanned developmental activities are responsible for massive deforestation and sacred forests have come to be the only remnants of the original forest. Many rare plant species can be found in these groves. In the Devachirai of Derode, Sattari magnificient specimens of the Dhup tree (Canarium Strictum) are well preserved by the local community.
The ’protection’ tradition originally forbade any interference with the biota of the grove in any way whatsoever, and not even the leaf litter could be touched. Grazing or hunting was not allowed within the grove and hence they represented a sample of vegetation in its climax state. In view of the protection and optimum growth condition prevailing in the sacred groves some arboreal species exhibit their grandeur and become a fascinating sight. Earlier, human beings relied on sacred groves for the supply of various medicinal plants, shrubs and creepers. In order to pluck these plants they had to perform some rituals to please the forest God. Even today, in the remotest parts of Goa, locals who are still far away from any rural health services, go to these sacred groves for herbal medicines.
In many villages, locals believe that the forest Goa or spirit would get offended if the trees are cut, flowers or fruits are plucked or if the animals inside the sacred forest are harassed or killed. That is why these groves are not molested and are well preserved. The sacred groves are traditional institutions, deeply involved in the conservation of not only few individual species in isolation but also the ecosystems at large.
By Rajendra P Kerkar
The Navhind Times, Panorama
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Posted By : Rajendra P Kerkar, Goa on 16/05/2007