How religious worship is boosting conservation in India
“Wherever the sacred groves are in good condition, people enjoy an adequate supply of water throughout the year, enabling them to sustain themselves,” says TV Ramachandra, coordinator at the Center for Ecological Sciences. from Bengaluru. “Farmers earn 124,000 rupees ($1,650, £1,272) per acre per year, which amounts to 32,000 rupees ($425, £328) per year due to deforestation.”
While traditional beliefs hold sacred groves, developments have sprung up around many sacred sites during the last years.
The Manil Ayyappa Sacred Grove once spanned 25 hectares (62 acres) in 2000, but now covers only two hectares (five acres). The remaining land was turned into a town. “They built big temples and now a lot of people come to pray and because of that the trees are gone and a lot of rubbish is thrown away,” says Baddam Nookaraju, a worshiper at a sacred grove in Andhra Pradesh.
There have also been questions around commercializing the sites and building larger temples, Ramachandra says. “Previously there was a link between conservation and tradition, and idols were worshiped to minimize damage to the sacred groves, but now the very essence of conservation the sacred groves have been lost due to commercialization,” he said.
Battrahalli considers the biggest threat to the groves to be deforestation for agriculture, fuel, infrastructure development and poaching.
“Many people from neighboring villages come to cut firewood and there is always a danger of poaching – we cannot always stand guard,” says Nanjappa Gowda, who lives in a village in Kodagu.
Nanditha Krishna, an environmentalist and president of the CP Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation in Chennai, says sacred groves are key to protecting local biodiversity in India. But she points out that we cannot rely solely on sacred groves, as these only provide fragments of habitat.
“Forest fragmentation threatens plant species and community composition,” she says. “There is a danger of degradation at the edges and inside the patches due to fragmentation.”
“Sacred groves are useful as they can play a vital role in achieving India’s climate goals. If every village had a few hectares of sacred grove, it would definitely improve local life. [environment]“, says Krishna. “They are not a complete solution, but a partial solution. [one] to protect our biodiversity and also crucial to combat climate change.”
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