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| Last Updated:: 06/01/2017

Sacred groves of Chhattisgarh

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred groves are considered to be the abode of deities and ancestral spirits. Some level of restriction in the form of taboos is placed on the entry and on extractive uses of biomass resources. The sacred groves, in the rural landscape perform several ecological functions; they provide a range of benefits and services to the community. The occurrence of sacred groves can be observed in areas of high ecological significance where they protect watersheds, critical habitats and often house rare and endangered species.

 

 

Jashpur and Sarguja districts are located in Chhattisgarh state. Both the districts are forest and tribal dominated districts. The physiographic of the area consists of hills and undulating plateau.

 

 

Sacred groves in Jashpur and Sarguja district are known as Sarna and Mandar. These groves have been protected by the local tribal communities from time immemorial on the strength of traditional beliefs. They are believed to be the abode of the local deity, holy and ancestral spirits.

 

 

 

General features of the sacred groves

 

 

 

Generally, the sacred groves are present in almost every village in Sarguja and Jaspur district. Sometimes the village can have more than one grove or a village may not have a sacred grove, in which case, a few villages share a grove. This may be due to increase in population leading to fragmentation of nucleus villages. Many sacred groves have old, giant trees of girth ranging from less than one meter to two meters and above. The sacred groves can be easily identified in the rural landscape as an island of forests.

 

 

The tribal communities living in the area believe that nature is sacred and needs to be worshipped. Nature and natural phenomena occupy the central place in their rituals and festivals. Tributes and prayers are offered for good rain, good harvest and good health. Interestingly, the community rituals are often synchronized with blossoming of flowers of forest trees and different agricultural operations. These rituals reveal the intimate sense of harmony that exists between nature and tribal communities. The ritual celebrations of social occasions including song and dance are generally a communal activity.

 

 

The tribal communities believe that the deity along with various other spirits resides in the Sarna and they protect the community from evil forces, epidemics and calamities. These deities and spirits are greatly feared and it is believed that if they are displeased they can bring sorrow to individuals and the community. To pacify them appropriate rituals and sacrifices are offered by individuals as well as the communities. Some deities are also believed to be malevolent. If the deities are provoked by breaching or disobeying the taboo in the Sarna, it is believed that the implication could be mild to dangerous depending on the action of provocation.

 

 

 

 

Types of sacred groves

 

 

 

Phool Sarna

 

 

This Sarna, as the name signifies, harbours flower-bearing plants and trees. Sal trees are found to be the predominant species. If a village does not have a Sarhul Sarna then the Sarhul ritual is performed in this grove. The deity associated with this sacred grove is “Sarna Mata”, a female deity. She is benevolent in nature but punishes those who cause harm to the Sarna. This Sarna is mostly used for recreational purposes such as play ground for children and marriage ceremony. Phool Sarna is found in the village dominated by Rowatia community. No taboos are associated with this Sarna.

 

 

 

Sarhul Sarna

 

 

 

The deity associated with this Sarna is Chala Pachao or Sarna Burhia which is a female deity. The nature of this deity is benevolent and rituals related to agricultural production are associated and carried out in this grove. The Sarhul festival is celebrated in this Sarna in the month of March-April, when the Sal trees are in full blossom. The Sarna is also used for recreational purposes like community dancing and celebration of marriages. No taboos or prohibition for their use are associated with this grove.

 

 

 

Kadamara Sarna

 

 

 

In the Kadamara Sarna”, “Andhari Pat” is the principal deity, which is malevolent in nature. The deity provides a protective function to the society. The rituals are held in this grove for the deity whenever the village is under a threat of any calamity/epidemic or any other similar problem. Care is taken not to displease the deity by either causing harm to the vegetation in the Sarna or any other similar activities which are considered harmful. Women and children are strictly prohibited from entering the Sarna. Earlier collection of dry wood and Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFPs) in the Sarna was taboo. But presently, owing to a decline in forest in the surrounding area, NTFPs collection from the Sarna are relaxed but by appropriately satisfying the deity through some offerings.

 

 

 

Mahadani Sarna

 

 

 

The principal deity of the Sarna is “Mahadania”, malevolent in nature and believed to protect the village from all calamities. This is located at a distance of 1 km to 3 km from the village and generally near the forest boundary. This Sarna is used for selective purposes. Earlier, there was restriction on access to Sarna except during rituals because of the malevolent nature. Extraction of biomass and collection of NTFP in this Sarna was prohibited. In recent times, NTFP collection is being allowed. Women and children are prohibited from entering this grove.

 

 

 

 

Buddhadev Sarna

 

 

 

Buddhadev Sarna is reported from the Sarguja region which is dominated by Gond communities. The principal deity in the Sarna is Budhadev. The deity is male and malevolent in nature. The grove is usually located at a distance from the village. The members of other communities including women and children are restricted from entering into this Sarna.

 

 

Mandar

 

 

Mandar is a type of sacred grove reported from Balarampur and Ramanujgunj region of Sarguja district. This type of sacred grove is mainly found in the village inhabited by the Khairwar community. The forest type existing in such groves is of mixed species unlike in Sarna where Sal tree is the dominant species. The deity to which the grove is dedicated is “Gohel”, a male deity. One Mandar in Kanakpur village of Ramanujgunj region is dedicated to the snake. This particular grove has a cluster of old trees of Dhavara (Annogeissus latifolia) preserved in the grove.

 

 

 

Samat Sarna

 

 

 

 

This Sarna has archaeological remains of the 8th century consisting of a temple of Lord Shiva and others. The indigenous communities have brought the remains within their fold of Little Tradition. Mythologically, they claim it to be the place where a war was fought between two brothers (mythological deities) Samat Nath and Tanginath. Annually all the villagers carry out rituals in the month of Baisakh (April). Due to its archaeological importance, this Sarna is an important tourist destination of the region.

 

 

 

Samlai Devi sarna

 

 

 

 

Samlai Devi Sarna is situated at a distance of two kilometres north of Lundra village. A temple has been constructed for the deity in the sacred grove area. Annually a ritual is conducted in the month of October wherein all the villagers participate in the ceremony.

 

 

The sacred grove provides numerous kinds of services to the local community that benefits their present and future well being. The tangible benefits received by the community from the sacred groves are: NTFPs (medicinal plants, fruits, mushroom etc) for health and livelihood. The Baiga, local healers “Ojha” including the “Nag Ojha” collect medicinal herbs from the groves and adjacent forests to treat the local community suffering from various diseases. The Nag Ojha treats the patients attacked by snake bite and sometime collects herbs from the groves.

 

 

Non-tangible benefits include psychological strength, ethnic identity, water recharge, erosion control, soil fertility, landscape aesthetics etc. The nutrients released from the decomposed vegetation like Sal leaf litter provides good manure, thus improving the soil fertility of the surrounding agricultural fields. The sacred groves situated in the undulating terrain help in checking soil erosion and controls run off thus improving the infiltration and water recharge. The older trees and lower strata associated vegetation in the sacred groves help in sequestering carbon.

 

 

Festivals and rituals are part of the life of the tribal community. Sacred groves provide an important site for various rituals and ceremonies, thus providing social bonding and identity to the local community. This helps in maintaining harmony in social life. The different rituals reflect the link of economic and religious activities of the tribes. Thus, they offer a social, psychological security to the people. Tributes and prayers are conducted to get the blessings of the deity for peace and prosperity. The super natural powers are pleased by offering sacrifices such as goats and fowl and blessings are obtained for the well being of individuals as well as the community. Festivals are also celebrated to invoke blessings at the time of hardship. The rituals are conducted for the productive function to bring good rainfall and good harvest. The Sarhul Sarna fulfils this function. The mode of production system of the region is linked with the Sarna culture. The agriculture activities are initiated only after celebration of Sarhul festival in the Sarhul Sarna. In this particular festival the deities of the grove is worshipped to bring good harvest in the coming season. The whole village participates in the Sarhul festival.

 

 

Apart from the rituals and festivals during Sarhul festival, collective decisions regarding agricultural activity are taken. The deity also is worshipped regularly at different stages of agriculture activities such ploughing, transplanting, harvesting, and offering of the first produce of the harvest. The important agriculture related festivals are Sarhul, Kadleta, Hariyali and Nawakhani. The tributes and prayers are also offered to deities for protective function i.e. protecting the village from calamities such as epidemics, external threats and protecting the livestock from diseases; agricultural crops from disease and attack of pests. The deities and spirits of Kadamara, Mahadani, Buddhadev and Mandar provide the protection to the village community and clans.

 

 

Sometimes sacred groves such as Mahadani sarana are used for conducting village panchayat. It is believed that the judgment delivered in the grove will be fair and the deity of the grove would punish the judge if he showed any partiality.