I had gone to Navratri dances the night before. When I woke up on Sunday morning that very feeling of captivating energy, deep intensity and mystic spiritualism experienced during the Garba was still with me, and I have taken it along with me during the excursion at the sacred groves.
The sacred groves are segments of relic forest or landscape containing vegetation, life forms and geographical features, preserved in the name of religion and culture. Often going hand in hand with with the concept of a “presiding deity”—mainly Hindu gods—they are communally safeguarded and they have a significant religious connotation for the protection of the community.
In India, around 14,000 sacred groves exist. They are rich of biodiversity and harbor of rare, endangered endemic species of plants and animals. If it is true that sacred groves are crucial in the conservation of such a flourishing biodiversity— ensuring smooth ecosystem services such as clean environment, that is, air, soil, and water conservation, flora and fauna conservation, carbon sequestration, temperature control, and conservation of traditional knowledge—it is also undeniable that human commitment to the preservation of such ecosystem is pivotal. Religious and traditional beliefs, cultural mores, and practices contribute to the conservation of environment and biodiversity and, in the wake of this, people’s changing attitudes, erosion of traditional beliefs, and human impact have caused degradation of sacred groves over the years.
After two hours on the bus and almost one hour walking, the beauty of the first sacred grove barges in front of us, unexpected. Nested in green, unsoiled, wild clearings, this small forest hosts various ancient trees (like the lizard trees or the majestic Toree) and luxuriant plants surrounded by peculiar species of insects and marvelous dragon flies. In the nearby glade—scattered by picturesque scarecrows and dotted by mole’s holes—and outside his simple house, we meet one member of the local community. Dark skin, mysterious eyes and stealthy step, he is the guardian of the ancient grove. Together with a close by community of around 200 people—whose primary “business-oriented” activities consist in the collection of honey and bamboo—he preserves, conserves and protects the sacred grove, ancient heritage of spiritual ethos.
Around 30 km further a second, majestic ancient grove stands out. It is a forest ecosystem, treasure of biodiversity and wildlife. While walking around listening to the sounds of nature, my mind flew back in time, to one of first school trip of my life. Back when, we visited a prosperous woodland very close to the prehistoric petroglyph, the Rock Drawings in Valcamonica. I was 8 years old. This man-made markings on natural stone is apparently barren of spiritual significance, being its meaning rooted in historical, prehistorical roots. However, I still remember the shivers on my skin while treading on the dry leafs of the woodlands nearby, an ear lent to the whispers of nature.
Exploring the sacred grove made me feel the same way. Spirituality might be an ambiguous term, but it is what captures the intensity these moments, when past and present, nature and god, memories and rationality overlap, merged together by the energy of nature.
October 2018, Pune, India.