A profane proposal

  • 30/12/2003

A profane proposal The sacred does sell. A community in Mawphlang, Meghalaya is showing the way. It has put up a toll barrier on the road leading to the Ka Law Kyntang or sacred grove. You pay a minor but valuable sum to enter the grove. Close by in Makarwat, which falls in the Maharam kingship in West Khasi hills Meghalaya, the syiem (king) presides over a purposeful gathering of villagers. They are trying to document the medicinal wealth of their sacred groves. Elsewhere in Ahupe village, Pune district, Maharashtra, another group tries to make an inventory of the resources inside the remaining patches of groves in the area. This exercise is repeated today at a few other sacred groves in India. The sacred is rationalised, re-understood and then repackaged as an all-together new reason to protect the grove.

But first question first: do we need to protect sacred groves at all? As an opening gambit, let us place the reasons into two boxes: a conservation box and a social box.

From the early studies of ecologists like Madhav Gadgil and V D Vartak to the analysis of floristic diversity in Meghalaya's groves by the North East Hill University, Shillong, there is remarkable unanimity amongst scholars (but see box: Not so rich or beautiful) on the biodiversity value of these sacred landscapes. Preserving the groves makes ecological sense. Consider the forests patches in Yalong and Raliang sacred groves in Jainitia Hills, Meghalaya. Here, mere 1 hectare (ha) plots contain 123 woody species. Sacred groves recorded in Kerala are similarly rich: they cover just about 0.05 per cent of the state's land area, but contain more than 800 species of angiosperms