Sacred groves have existed from time immemorial all over the world as patches of densely wooded areas, harbouring unique flora and fauna with perennial water sources in the vicinity. Many sacred groves have been preserved as sust ainable resources, ensuring the basic capital intact and hence considered valuable gene pool and the first major effort to recognize and conserve biodiversity. In India, they are known from the Himalayas, Northeast India, and highlands of Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Locally they are known variously as “Ka Law Kyntang”/“Ka Law
Adong”/“Ka Law Lyngdoh” in Meghalaya, “Than” in Assam, „Oran‟/“Vani”/“Kenkri” in Rajasthan, “Devrai”/“Deviahate” in Maharastra, “Sarana” in Central India, “Nandavana” and “Kovilkadu” in Tamil Nadu, “Devarkadu”/“Kan”/“Sidharavanam” in Karnataka, “Kavu” in Andhra Pradesh, and “Kavu”/ “Sarpakkavu”/“Nagavanam” in Kerala. In the first document on sacred groves, Brandis (1897) states that “Very little has been published regarding sacred groves in India, but they are, or rather were very numerous… These, as a rule are not touched by the axe, except when wood is wanted for repair of religious buildings”. Gadgil and Vartak (1975) observed that in many parts of India, sacred groves represent surviving examples of climax vegetation and are disappearing under the influence of modernization. In the words of Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, the sacred groves, “Unlike a botanical garden, where a wide range of trees and plants are collected and cultivated for the purpose of our education and enjoyment, the sacred groves are one method of expressing the gratitude of human families to the trees which sustain and support life under a given agro -ecological condition.” The age-old system of having a temple, a tank and associated sacred grove explains the ancient method of water harvesting and sharing in villages of Kerala. As an ecosystem, they help in soil and water conservation, besides preserving the biological wealt h. They are the
treasure house of rare and endangered species of animals and abode of many medicinal, endemic, endangered and economically important plants. The ponds and streams adjoining the groves are perennial sources of water. Many animals and birds resort to them for their water requirements during summer. The nutrients generated in the groves find their way into the adjoining agro ecosystems like paddy fields, coconut, tapioca and rubber plantations (Ramachandran et al., 1991). They provide a co untry-wide network of protected areas, wherein the inherent diversity of flora and fauna are preserved for present and future human use. While the adjacent areas were all cleared for agriculture, the sacred groves are maintained intact for generations to support relic vegetations and are often among the best places to study endemism (Induchoodan & Balasubramanyan, 1991). Ward & Conner (1927) reported existence of about 15,000 sacred groves in Travancore.
Mohanan (1991) identified 239 sacred groves in Kerala. Induchoodan and Balasubramanian (1991) made a study on the endemic plants of three sacred groves. Induchoodan (1998) identified 364 important sacred groves in Kerala with floristic wealth of over 722 species. A number of studies have been conducted on the floristic diversity of Sacred Groves throughout the Western Ghats (Gadgil & Vartak, 1975, 1976 & 1981; Unnikrishnan, 1995; Chandran & Gadgil, 1993a & b). Chand Basha (1998) has given an account on the distribution and conservation values of sacred groves in Kerala. A detailed survey of sacred groves in Kozhikode district shows that there are 65 sacred groves and listed 83 Naga Kottas in the district (Unnikrishnan Nambeesan, 1999).
Sacred Groves are important, not only because they ar e sacred, but values of far reaching importance are implicit in them. The scientific economical social and spiritual values implicit...