International Journal of Ecology

International Journal of Ecology / 2017 / Article

Research Article | Open Access

Volume 2017 |Article ID 3828609 |

Sushma Singh, Mudasir Youssouf, Zubair A. Malik, Rainer W. Bussmann, "Sacred Groves: Myths, Beliefs, and Biodiversity Conservation—A Case Study from Western Himalaya, India", International Journal of Ecology, vol. 2017, Article ID 3828609, 12 pages, 2017.

Sacred Groves: Myths, Beliefs, and Biodiversity Conservation—A Case Study from Western Himalaya, India

Academic Editor: Béla Tóthmérész
Received20 Jul 2017
Accepted07 Sep 2017
Published31 Oct 2017


Religious and traditional beliefs, cultural mores, and practices play a crucial role in the conservation of environment and biodiversity. The present paper describes a case study of two sacred groves in Western Himalaya. Sacred groves (SGs) are patches of land that are communally protected with religious zeal. A preliminary survey was conducted in these SGs to study their role in biodiversity conservation. The data collected included the general information regarding the SGs and the associated deity, nearest human habitation, access to them, and their floral and faunal diversity. Ethnomedicinal property of plants was collected from the indigenous communities. Many taboos are associated with both the SGs, which help in managing resources well through ritual representation. Different festivals are organized, where the local communities reaffirm their commitment to the forest and the deity. Sacred groves, in general, are a valuable tool of biodiversity conservation. But people’s changing attitudes, erosion of traditional beliefs, and human impact have caused degradation of sacred groves over the years. Their conservation would not be possible without the active participation of the local people. By improving their living standards and by giving benefits of conservation to them, long-term conservation goals in these SGs can be achieved.

1. Introduction

Conservation of nature and natural resources has been an important part of cultural ethos, especially in remote rural and indigenous communities in many parts of the world, including India. These communities consider themselves connected with their biophysical environment in a web of spiritual relationship. These rural communities consider specific plants, animals, or even rivers and mountains as their ancestors and protect them. In India, nature worship dates back to the pre-Vedic period (5000 B.C.) and is based on the proposition that all creations of nature have to be protected. The forefathers of these communities were fully aware of the importance and significance of natural resources and the necessity of their conservation for the sustenance of future generations. They lived in harmony with nature and thereby played an important role in conservation of biodiversity [1]. One of the important traditions of nature reverence is to conserve those patches of forest that have been dedicated to a god or goddess or ancestral spirits as “sacred groves. According to Hughes and Chandran [2], sacred groves (SGs) are defined as “segments of landscape containing vegetation, life forms and geographical features, delimited and protected by human societies under the belief that to keep them in a relatively undisturbed state is expression of an important relationship of humans with the divine or with nature. In short, SGs are the relic forest segments preserved in the name of religion and culture. These groves are mostly associated with temples and are also culturally important. They manifest the spiritual and ecological ethos of rural indigenous communities. Various cultural and religious festivals are often arranged by local people within these patches, which they call “Mela. As a way of conservation of nature, SGs have proven to be a well-tried and tested method over thousands of years [3].

Mostly found in Africa and Asia, SGs also exist in Europe and the Americas. Around 100000 to 150000 sacred groves have been reported from India [4]. In India, SGs are especially present in the Himalayan region, Western and Eastern Ghats, Coastal Region, Central Indian Plateau, and Western Desert.

The SGs play an important role in 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. They are, therefore, of central importance as far as the ecological conservation and policy regarding conservation and management of forest at state and national levels are concerned [5]. Sacred groves serve as a home for birds and mammals, and hence they indirectly help in the conservation of biodiversity [3]. There are several studies carried out by various researchers on this subject, highlighting significant role and potential of the SGs [1, 5, 6]. The present paper presents a case study of two SGs of Western (Garhwal) Himalaya and the aim of the study was to document (i) the floral and faunal diversity of these SGs and (ii) the myths, beliefs, and taboos related to biodiversity conservation in these SGs.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. Study Area

The present paper describes a case study of two sacred groves from the Western Himalaya. The study was carried out in Uttarakhand, also known as Dev Bhumi (abode or home of gods). Uttarakhand is very rich in biodiversity and there are many SGs for the conservation of this biodiversity. SGs like Chipla Kedar, Tarkeshwar, Hariyali Devi, Binsar, Kot, Kalimath, Goldev, Tapovan, Chandrabadani, Tungnath, and Triyuginarayan are some of the important SGs of Dev Bhumi. The present study was carried out in two SGs, Hariyali Devi and Tungnath, both of which are located in Rudraprayag district (Figure 1 and Table 1).

SiteAltitude (m asl)Geographic coordinates

Hariyali Devi (HD)1500–2800N30°19′48.18′′; E 79°00′24.77′′
Tungnath (TN)3000–4000N30°29′13.07′′; E 79°13′16.16′′

Hariyali Devi is located above Kodima village at an altitude of 1400 m in Rudraprayag. The temple contains a bejeweled idol of Ma Hariyali Devi astride a lion. The temple houses chiefly three idols, namely, Ma Hariyali Devi, Kshatrapal, and Heet Devi. The temple is open throughout the year but it is more festive at the time of Janmashtami, Navratri, and Deepawali.

Tungnath lies in the upper catchment of the Alaknanda River and the Mandakini River, two major tributaries of the Ganges at an altitude of about 2800–3300 m. Tungnath temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is the highest Shiva shrine among the Panch Kedar, 3 km uphill form Chopta.

2.2. Geology, Soil, and Climate

The rocks of study area are mainly mylonitized gneisses, augen gneisses, schists, and granites constituting Munsiyari Formation [8]. The weathering bedrocks, which provide the bulk of the loose material in these mountains, are crystalline and metamorphic, with sedimentary deposits of Paleozoic age [9]. The soil texture is sandy loam, light grey to brown in color and acidic in nature, with a pH range between 4 and 5 [10].

Four distinct seasons are observed in the study area: short summer (May-June), Monsoon (July–mid-September), autumn (mid-September-October), and long winter (November–April). The snow cover lasts for about 4-5 months and melts during April–May, which marks the arrival of favorable conditions for plant growth. The growth period lasts for about 5–7 months only [10].

2.3. Sampling Procedures (Methodology)

To study the role of the SGs in biodiversity conservation mentioned in Table 1, a preliminary survey was conducted in these areas. Information about these SGs was collected by consulting the elderly people of the villages, governmental and nongovernmental agencies, after receiving prior informed consent, and literature sources (books and scientific journal articles). The data collected included the general information regarding the SGs and the associated deity, nearest human habitation, access to them, and their floral and faunal diversity. Information regarding the ethnomedicinal property of different plants was also collected from the surrounding indigenous communities.

3. Results and Discussion

3.1. Biodiversity of Hariyali Devi Sacred Grove

Hariyali Devi SG is rich in floral and faunal diversity (Tables 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6). A total of 80, 12, 9, and 7 species of plants, mammals, birds, and butterflies, respectively, were recorded from this SG (Tables 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6). The 80 plant species represented 75 genera and 44 families with different economic values. Rosaceae, with the highest number of species (8), was found to be the dominant family. The number of species varied in different life forms like herbs (37), shrubs (23), and trees (20). Most of the plant species in the SG had one or other ethnomedicinal importance (Tables 2, 3, and 4). The predominant vegetation is represented by Quercus semecarpifolia (kharsu), Quercus leucotrichophora (banj), Rhododendron arboreum (burans), and Lyonia ovalifolia (anyar).

Botanical name Vernacular nameFamilyEthnomedicinal property

Ilex dipyrena Wall.KandaraAquifoliaceaeAgriculture implements, fuel, fodder
Alnus nepalensis D.DonUteesBetulaceaeFuel, soil binder
Betula alnoides Buch.-Ham. ex D.DonBhuja patraBetulaceaeWood, fodder, medicine (rheumatism)
Benthamidia capitata (Wall.) H. HaraBhamoraCornaceaeEdible (fruit), wood/tiber
Cupressus torulosa D.Don ex Lamb.SuraiCupressaceaeWood, medicine (cough, cold, and bronchitis)
Lyonia ovalifolia (Wall.) DrudeAnyarEricaceaeFuel, medicine (wounds and boils)
Rhododendron arboreum Sm. BuransEricaceaeFuel, edible flowers, medicinal (headache, diarrhea, and dysentery)
Quercus floribunda Lind. ex A. CamusTilonjFagaceaeTimber, fodder, fuel
Quercus leucotrichophora A. CamusBanjFagaceaeTimber, fodder, fuel
Quercus semecarpifolia Sm.KharsuFagaceaeFuel/timber and fodder
Aesculus indica (Wall. ex Cambess.) Hook.PangarHippocastanaceaeFuel, fodder, medicine (rheumatism)
Juglans regia L.AkhrotJuglandaceaeEdible fruit, dye, medicine (antiseptic, astringent)
Lindera pulcherrima (Nees) Hook. f.CheriLauraceaeWood/fuel, manure
Persea gamblei (King ex Hook. f.) Kosterm.KauwlaLauraceaeAgricultural implements/fuel
Myrica esculenta Buch.-Ham. ex D.DonKaphalMyricaceaeEdible fruit, medicine (cough, fever, and asthma)
Abies spectabilis (D.Don) Spach.MorindaPinaceaeTimber/fuel, medicine (fever and antiseptic)
Picea smithiana (Wall.) Boiss.Rai, sprucePinaceaeWood/timber, medicine (cuts and sores)
Pinus wallichiana A. B Jacks.KailPinaceaeFuel, paint, medicine (antiseptic)
Prunus cornuta (Wall. ex Royle) Steud.JammaRosaceaeFuel, fodder, medicine (antipyretic)
Pyrus pashia Buch-Ham. ex D.DonMehalRosaceaeFuel, fodder, edible, medicine (diabetes)

Botanical nameVernacular nameFamilyEthnomedicinal property

Hedera nepalensis (K. Koch)LaguliAraliaceaeMedicinal (expectorant, whooping cough)
Berberis asiatica Roxb.KilmoraBerberidaceaeFuel/fodder and medicinal (ophthalmic, conjunctivitis, and gastritis)
Sarcococca saligna (D.Don) Mull. Arg.PiruliBuxaceaeSticks, soil binder, medicinal (joint pains and fever)
Abelia triflora R. Br.GogtiCaprifolaceaeWalking sticks, fodder
Lonicera quinquelocularis Hard.TaknoiCaprifolaceaeEdible, walking sticks
Viburnum cordifolium Wall. ex DC.Bhatnoi, guyaCaprifolaceaeEdible fruits, medicinal (against menorrhagia-excessive menstruation)
Elaeagnus parvifolia Wall. ex RoyleGiwain, kanalElaeagnaceaeMedicine (treatment of bloody dysentery, cardiac tonic, cough, treatment of afflictions of lungs, cancer treatment), edible fruits, fodder
Indigofera heterantha Wall. ex BrandisSakinaFabaceaeMedicinal (burns, skin diseases, and ulcers), fodder, edible
Desmodium elegans DC.ChamaliFagaceaeMedicine (antipyretic, vomiting)
Deutzia compacta Craib.MhujvarHydrangeaceaeMedicinal (diuretic)
Elsholtzia fruticosa (D.Don) RehderPothiLamiaceaeMedicinal (abdominal pain and nausea)
Zanthoxylum armatum DC.TimurRutaceaeMedicinal (toothache)
Myrsine africana L.ChupraMyricaceaeMedicinal (anthelmintic, antispasmodic, skin infections)
Boenninghausenia albiflora (Hook.) Rchb. ex Meisn.PishumarRutaceaeMedicinal (treatment of malaria, headache, treatment of scabies)
Rhamnus virgatus Roxb.ChentuliRhamnaceaeFuel, medicinal (eczema and ringworms)
Rosa brunonii Lindl.KunjaRosaceaeMedicinal (cuts, wounds, and sprains), soil binder
Rosa sericea Lindl.DhurkunjaRosaceaeFodder, edible fruit rich in vitamin C
Rubus foliolosus D.DonKala hisarRosaceaeEdible fruits, medicinal (dysentery and whooping cough)
Spiraea bella SimsKujiRosaceaeMedicinal (wash sores and wounds), brooms
Leptodermis lanceolata Wall.PaderaRubiaceaeMedicinal (migraines), fodder
Randia tetrasperma (Wall. ex Roxb.) Benth. & Hook. f. ex BrandisKamoliRubiaceaeFuel, walking sticks, medicinal (astringent, diuretic, and diarrhea)
Skimmia anquetilia Tayl. & Airy ShawNairpattiRutaceaeAgricultural use, sticks, medicinal (treatment of headache and smallpox)
Debregeasia longifolia (Burm. F.)Wedd.TusaraUrticaceaeFodder, used for making ropes, medicine (treatment of scabies)

Botanical nameVernacular nameFamilyEthnomedicinal property

Barleria cristata L.Kala bansaAcanthaceaeMedicinal (anemia, toothache), soil binder
Peristrophe paniculata (Forssk.) BrummittKaknadoAcanthaceaeMedicinal (used against TB)
Achyranthes aspera L.LatjiriAmaranthaceaeMedicinal (malarial fever and muscular sprains)
Heracleum lanatum Michx.KakriyaApiaceaeMedicinal (nervine and tonic), edible
Pimpinella diversifolia DC.TeroiApiaceaeMedicinal (respiratory diseases)
Arisaema intermedium BlumeMeen/magmungariAraceaeMedicinal (burns)
Arisaema jacquemontii BlumeKhapryaAraceaeMedicinal (antidote of poisonous mushrooms and snake bite, cough, kidney, skin diseases)
Impatiens sulcata Wall.ChaulAraliaceaeMedicinal (antirheumatic and burns), edible
Ageratum conyzoides L.GundryaAsteraceaeMedicinal (anti-inflammatory, antibacterial)
Anaphalis triplinervis (Sims) C. B. ClarkeBuglaAsteraceaeMedicinal (cuts and wounds, antiseptic)
Cynoglossum glochidiatum Wall. ex Benth.LichkuraBoraginaceaeMedicinal (dyspepsia and digestive disorder), vegetable
Silene edgeworthii BocquetBakroylaCaryophyllaceaeMedicinal (eye infections)
Stellaria media (L.) Vill. BadyaluCaryophyllaceaeMedicinal (antirheumatic, anti-inflammatory), vegetable, fodder
Bryophyllum pinnatum (Lam.) Oken.Bish-khapuraCrassulaceaeMedicinal (burns, wounds, and swellings)
Dipsacus inermis Wall.PhuleeDipsacaceaeMedicinal (leucoderma and contusions), edible fruits
Lathyrus aphaca L.KurphailFabaceaeFodder
Swertia angustifolia Buch.-Ham. ex. D.DonChirataGentianaceaeMedicinal (febrifuge)
Geranium nepalense SweetPhoriGeraniaceaeMedicinal (diarrhea, ulcers, and wounds), tennin
Hypericum elodeoides ChoisyBasantiHypericaceaeMedicinal (antidepressant, sedative, rheumatism)
Micromeria biflora (Buch.-Ham. ex D.Don) Benth.GorakhopanLamiaceaeMedicinal (carminative)
Origanum vulgare L. Ban tulsiLamiaceaeMedicinal (antispasmodic, carminative), vegetable
Prunella vulgaris L. Self-healLamiaceaeMedicinal (wound healing, expectorant, antiseptic)
Salvia lanata Roxb.GhanyajharLamiaceaeVegetable and bee-forage source
Oxalis corniculata DC.BhilmoroOxalidaceaeMedicinal (headache, indigestion, and diarrhea), vegetable
Peperomia tetraphylla Hook. & Arn.TirpiryaPiperaceaeMedicinal (treatment of convulsions, skin diseases, cough, asthma, kidney disorders)
Rumex hastatus D.DonAlmoruPolygonaceaeMedicinal (astringent)
Rumex nepalensis Spreng.KhaturaPolygonaceaeMedicinal (purgative), vegetable
Anemone obtusiloba D.DonKanchphoolRanunculaceaeMedicinal (nervine and sedative)
Thalictrum javanicum BlumeMamiriRanunculaceaeMedicinal (febrifuge, antirheumatic, and antigout)
Fragaria nubicola (Hook. f.) Lindl. ex LacaitaGand-kaphalRosaceaeMedicinal (earache)
Potentilla fulgens Wall. ex Hook.BajardantuRosaceaeMedicinal (antidiarrheal, toothache), edible
Galium aparine L. KhuskusaRubiaceaeMedicinal (diuretic and anti-inflammatory)
Solanum erietinum D.DonBan-tambakhuSolanaceaeMedicinal (vaginal discharges, inflammation), edible fruits
Solanum nigrum L.BanbhatujaSolanaceaeMedicinal (cough, cold, diuretic)
Selinum vaginatum C. B. ClarkButkeshiSpigeliaceaeMedicinal (nervine, sedative, and analgesic)
Girardinia diversifolia (Link) FriisBhainsyaUrticaceaeMedicinal (fever, headache, and swollen joints), fibers, ropes
Hedychium spicatum Buch.-Ham. ex Sm.BanhaldiZingiberaceaeMedicinal (analgesic, anti-inflammatory)

Scientific nameCommon nameFamilyIUCN status

Aonyx cinereaAsian small-clawed otterMustelidaeVulnerable
Capricornis sumatraensisSerowBovidaeVulnerable
Cervus unicolorSambar (jado)CervidaeVulnerable
Felis bengalensisLeopard catFelidaeLeast concern
Felis chausJungle catFelidaeLeast concern
Hemitragus jemlahicus Himalayan tahrBovidaeNear threatened
Martes flavigulaHimalayan marten (khursyala)MustelidaeLeast concern
Panthera pardusAfrican leopardFelidaeVulnerable
Panthera unciaLeopard (guldar)FelidaeEndangered
Rattus nitidusHimalayan field ratMuridaeLeast concern
Sus scrofaWild boarSuidaeLeast concern
Ursus arctosBrown bearUrsidaeLeast concern

Scientific nameCommon nameFamilyIUCN status

Columba eversmanni Yellow-eyed pigeonColumbidaeVulnerable
Columba rupestris Hill pigeonColumbidaeLeast concern
Dicrurus macrocercusBlack drongoDicruridaeLeast concern
Gallus gallusRed junglefowlPhasianidaeLeast concern
Streptopelia orientalisOriental turtle doveColumbidaeLeast concern
Pycnonotus leucogenys Himalayan bulbulPycnonotidaeLeast concern
Turdoides striata Jungle babblerLeiothrichidaeLeast concern
Dendricitta vagabunda Rufous treepieCorvidaeLeast concern
Urocissa flavirostris Yellow-billed blue magpieCorvidaeLeast concern

Acraea issoria Yellow costerNymphalidaeLeast concern
Argynnis kamala Common silverstripeNymphalidaeLeast concern
Delias belladonna horsfieldiHill jezebelPapilionidaeLeast concern
Kallima inachus huegeliiOrange oakleafLycaenidaeLeast concern
Polyura dolon Stately nawabLycaenidaeLeast concern
Pseudergolis wedahTabbyNymphalidaeLeast concern
Ypthima sakra Himalayan five-ringLycaenidaeLeast concern

Hariyali Devi forest harbors many sacred animal and butterfly species (Tables 5 and 6). Capricornis sumatraensis, Cervus unicolor, and Felis bengalensis are some common mammalian species. In addition to these, some reptile species were recorded from this SG.

3.2. Biodiversity of Tungnath Sacred Grove

Apart from being a sacred grove, Tungnath is also a part of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and hence is an important region as far as the conservation of biodiversity is concerned. Tungnath is a home to many rare, threatened, and endangered medicinal plants like Picrorhiza kurroa and Nardostachys jatamansi (Tables 7 and 8). A total of 27 plant species were reported from this SG, which include 8 trees, 10 herbs, and 9 shrubs. Some endangered animals like musk deer, black bear, and so forth are also found there in good numbers (Table 9). Many rare and threatened birds and reptiles are also found there (Table 10).

Botanical nameVernacular nameFamilyEthnomedicinal property

Acer caesium Wall. ex BrandisIndian mapleAceraceaeFuel, medicinal (for muscular swelling)
Ilex dipyrena Wall.Himalayan hollyAquifoliaceaeFuel, fodder, agricultural implements
Betula utilis D.DonBhojpatraBetulaceaeMedicinal (diuretic, skin infections)
Euonymus tingens Wall.Spindle tree (kasuree)CelastraceaeFuel, also used as dyes
Rhododendron arboreum Sm.BuransEricaceaeFuel, flowers for squash
Quercus semecarpifolia Sm.KharsuFagaceaeFuel, fodder, and timber
Prunus cornuta (Wall. ex Royle) Steud.Himalayan bird cherryRosaceaeFuel and fodder
Taxus wallichiana Zucc.Himalayan yewTaxaceaeMedicinal (anticancerous), fuel, timber

Botanical nameVernacular nameFamilyEthnomedicinal property

Selinum candolle Edgew.MuurApiaceaeMedicinal (analgesic, cough, fever)
Silene conoidea L.Chota takla, thumriyaCaryophyllaceaeMedicinal (eye infections, treatment of ophthalmia)
Morina longifolia Wall.Kathi, kathoj, sakinaCaprifoliaceaeMedicinal (wounds and incense, burns, and boils)
Polygonatum verticillatum (L.) All.Mitha dudhiyaAsparagaceaeMedicinal (used in treatment of emaciation, senility, gastric diseases)
Corydalis govaniana Wall.InderajattaPapaveraceaeMedicinal (fever, liver diseases, and eye infections)
Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.DhubPoaceaeMedicinal (cuts, wounds, piles, inflammation, skin diseases)
Rubus nepalensis (Hook. f.) KuntzeHisarRosaceaeMedicinal (cuts and wounds)
Picrorhiza kurroa Royle ex BenthKutkiScrophulariaceaeMedicinal (fever, hepatitis, chronic dysentery)
Nardostachys jatamansi (D.Don.) DC.JattamaansiValerianaceaeMedicinal (tranquilizer, sedative, high blood pressure, used in dysmenorrhoea for pain relief and smooth menstrual flow)

Berberis aristata DC.KingorBerberidaceaeMedicinal (used in ophthalmia, conjunctivitis, ulcers)
Juniperus indica Bertol.GuugalCupressaceaeMedicinal (cough, cold, and fever)
Rhododendron anthopogon D.DonTaalisri, buransEricaceaeMedicinal (against respiratory diseases)
Rhododendron campanulatum D.Don.Chimal/buransEricaceaeMedicinal (chronic rheumatism and sciatica)
Rhododendron lepidotum Wall. ex. G.DonBuransEricaceaeMedicinal (respiratory and digestive ailments)
Clematis buchananiana DC.BelkanguRanunculaceaeMedicinal (skin ailments, sinus inflammation, wounds)
Cotoneaster acuminatus Lindl.RuinsRosaceaeMedicinal (diarrhea and dysentery)
Cotoneaster microphyllus Wall. ex Lindl.RuinsRosaceaeAnti-inflammatory, cuts, and wounds
Leptodermis lanceolata Wall.Koo-basyaRubiaceaeMedicinal (migraines)

Scientific nameCommon nameFamilyIUCN status

Canis aureus JackalCanidaeLeast concern
Capricornis sumatraensis SerowBovidaeVulnerable
Hemitragus jemlahicusHimalayan tahrBovidaeNear threatened
Macaca mulatta Rhesus macaqueCercopithecidaeLeast concern
Moschus chrysogaster Alpine musk deerMoschidaeEndangered
Ochotona roylei Himalayan mouse-hareOchotonidaeLeast concern
Panthera pardus Common leopardFelidaeVulnerable
Presbytis entellus Common langurCercopithecidaeLeast concern
Pseudois nayaur BharalBovidaeLeast concern
Pteropus giganteus Indian flying foxPteropodidaeLeast concern
Ursus thibetanus Himalayan black bearUrsidaeVulnerable

Scientific nameCommon nameFamilyIUCN status

Aquila nipalensisSteppe eagleAccipitridaeEndangered
Gypaetus barbatus Bearded vultureAccipitridaeNear threatened
Lophophorus impejanus Himalayan monalPhasianidaeLeast concern
Megalaima viridis White-cheeked barbetMegalaimidaeLeast concern
Neophron percnopterusEgyptian VultureMegalaimidaeLeast concern
Pucrasia macrolopha KoklassPhasianidaeLeast concern
Tragopan melanocephalus Western tragopanPhasianidaeVulnerable
Zoothera monticola Greater long-billed thrushTurdidaeLeast concern

Calotes versicolor Indian garden lizardAgamidaeNot evaluated
Hemidactylus brookiiSpotted Indian geckoGekkonidaeLeast concern
Naja naja Spectacled cobraElapidaeNear threatened
Orthriophis hodgsoni Himalayan trinket snakeColubridaeNot evaluated
Scincella himalayanum Himalayan ground skinkScincidaeLeast concern
3.3. Taboos as a Means of Plant and Animal Conservation

Taboos are the unwritten, orally transmitted traditional and social rules that regulate human behaviour [11]. In rural areas of India like Garhwal (Uttarakhand), there are a number of plants, animals, and even lakes and rivers that are considered sacred and hence no felling or exploitation is being carried out. As a result of this consecration, different species of trees and animals that are economically important or threatened in other areas are preserved and can form a genetic reservoir and serve as a guide against extinction of these species [12]. For example, Dodital and Devariya Tal, two lakes in Uttarkashi and Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand, are considered sacred, so fishing is completely restricted. There is a taboo that if fishing is done in these lakes, the fisherman will suffer from leprosy [13]. Therefore, the religious belief serves as an instrument of protection of rare and threatened species. Religious beliefs, tradition, and culture are the products of logical internalization of human experience and learning. These practices help in managing resources well through religious or ritual representation.

Trees have a very special role in the ethos of the people in Uttarakhand. Species of trees are worshipped as (1) manifestation of gods, (2) representatives of particular stars and planets, and (3) symbols of the natural elements (energy, water, land, and air), each of which has its own independent and rational meanings [12]. For example, in Garhwal Himalaya, Ficus religiosa is considered to be sacred. There are many instances where communities control the excess use of resource by confining the approach to resources and enforcing compliance through religious belief, rituals, and social convention which at last result in biodiversity conservation in such communities. The roles of religious and cultural beliefs in protecting trees have been observed by other researchers also [1, 12]. Species such as sacred fig (Ficus religiosa), mountain lion (Felis concolor), and southern pocket gopher (Thomomys umbrinus emotus) are protected by Hindus’ taboo all across the Indian subcontinent [13]. In the present study also, we reported some taboos associated with Hariyali Devi and Tungnath sacred groves. According to villagers, these taboos need to be followed by all. These include the following:(a)Women are strictly prohibited from entering the sacred forest due to the belief that they are impure.(b)Fetching/collection of fodder and fuelwood and the movement of women and Shudras (scheduled castes) have been strictly prohibited in this grove since the Mahabharata period. A temple of the goddess Hariyali Devi is located in this forest patch.(c)Use of tools in any form (knife, sickle, etc.) on the plants and animals will be a step to hurt the sentiments of Devi (goddess). The forest fairies in turn are angered and their wrath can make person mad or deformed and also can lead to disaster in the family of offender.(d)For a person who starts his journey, if a snake comes across his way, then he has to stop the journey and has to restart only after worshipping the god after an interval of a week.(e)One week before pilgrimage, the villagers stop eating onion, garlic, egg, and meat.(f)Anything that is made up of leather is prohibited in the temple and grove.(g)Killing/hunting of animals and plucking/uprooting of plants are strictly forbidden in the SGs.

3.4. Myths Associated with the Hariyali Devi and Tungnath SGs

According to Hindu Mythology, when Devi Mahamaya was conceived in the form of Devaki’s seventh child, the cruel brother of Devaki, Kansa threw Devi Mahamaya aggressively on the ground. Immediately multiple body parts of Devi got scattered all over the earth. The hand fell at Hariyali Devi. Since then, it has become a revered place as Siddha Peeth. The temple is open for all seasons but it is more celebratory at the time of Janmashtami, Navratri, and Deepawali. The myth which prevails according to the Bhagwat Puran is the following: Yogmaya was the sister of Lord Krishna, and she replaced him in the cell of his parents during his birth. When Kansa threw her against the wall, she turned into lightning and came to Hariyali Parvat to make her abode. Since then, the adjoining forest is known as “Hariyali” and is worshipped by people.

The Tungnath temple is the highest Hindu shrine and is believed to be 1000 years old. It has a rich legend linked to the Pandavas, Heroes of Mahabharata epic. According to Hindu Mythology, Vyas Rishi advised the Pandavas that since they were culpable of slaying their own relatives (Kauravas, their cousins) during the Mahabharata war, their act could be pardoned only by Lord Shiva. Consequently, the Pandavas went in search of Shiva who was convinced of the guilt of Pandavas. In order to keep away from them, Shiva took the form of a bull and went into hiding in an underground safe haven of Guptakashi, where Pandavas chased him. But later Shiva’s body in the form of bull’s body parts rematerialized at five different locations that represent the “Panch Kedar,” where Pandavas built temples of Lord Shiva at each location to worship and venerate, seeking his pardon and blessings. Each location is identified with a part of his body; Tungnath is identified as a place where his “Bahu (hands)” were seen. Legend also states that Lord Ram, the chief icon on the Ramayana epic, meditated at the Chandrashila peak, which is close to Tungnath.

3.5. Festivals (Melas) Associated with the Sacred Groves

SGs are associated with religious rites, festivals, and recreation. The organization and celebration of fairs and festivals have preserved the traditional and sociocultural heritage of Garhwal to a great extent. In Hariyali Devi and Tungnath SGs, festivals (locally called as melas) are organized during April and October every year on the occasion of Navratri, Shivratri, Holi, and so forth. At these melas (festivals), the local communities reaffirm their commitment to the forest and the deity. The heads of the communities supervise the utilization and maintenance of the SGs to ensure that there is no deviation from the village-appointed rules. Anthwal et al. [14] also reported several festivals related to SGs in Uttarakhand. Many plant species have also been associated with religious festivals, namely, Azadirachta indica (Sheela Asthami, Nimb Saptami), Ficus bengalensis (Vat Savitri), Aegle marmelos (Bilvamengal sawan ke somvaar), Musa paradisiaca (Kadii Vrat), and Ficus religiosa (Somvati Amavasya), due to popular and common beliefs [14].

3.6. Conservation of Medicinal Plants

The traditional medical systems of northern India (such as Ayurveda and Tibetan) are a component of culture developed over long time [15]. Medicinally important plants have high importance for religious activities of north Indian native communities that worshiped the plants in the form of god, goddesses, and minor deities [16]. Thus, SGs are the valuable repositories of medicinal and aromatic plants.

Most of the denizens residing in the vicinity of groves are very simple, illiterate, and poor and are almost without any access to modern medicine systems. But they do have conscientiously nourished their traditional knowledge, customs, rituals, and ceremonies with great potency. Local traditional knowledge and the practice of plant-based medicine are still widespread in the rural areas of Garhwal and these play an important role in primary health care [17]. Even the local people prefer to stick to the traditional herbal remedies, and it is due to a situation of having no alternative choices, as well as poverty and belief in the effectiveness of folklore herbal remedies [17]. The denizens living around these SGs have conserved the medicinal plants of these regions for use in a sustainable way by themselves and by their future generations. Religious beliefs and traditional customs have played an important role in this conservation. They have deep faith that if someone from outside the village uproots the medicinal plants from their village, it is treated as an evil act that may bring misery of great order to the village folks.

3.7. Present Status of the HD and TN SGs

Sacred groves, in general, are good instruments of biodiversity conservation. As already mentioned, our ancestors were aware that the natural resources that sustained them should be conserved for the future generations. But, in the course of time, science and technology developed and industries were established and expanded to meet the increasing demands of the people. People’s changing attitudes, the erosion of traditional beliefs, and human impact have caused degradation of sacred groves over the years (Figure 2). The same is true for the studied sacred groves. Various anthropogenic activities have altered the structure and function of different ecosystems all over the world [18]. One of the most noticeable effects of ecosystem perturbation has been the depletion of biodiversity [19]. Vanishing of species due to different anthropogenic disturbances like alteration of natural habitats, excessive utilization, pollution, universal climate change, and invasion of nonnative species is so fast that many precious taxa may disappear even before they are documented and identified and their scientific value is discovered [7]. Many scholars have worked on conservation of sacred groves through sociocultural practices in different parts of India [1, 12, 2026].

Lack of awareness in terms of long-term future benefits has resulted in the destruction of SGs. No legislative protection has been implemented so far in India. This has caused considerable ecological damage. Sacred groves have become the victims of deteriorating faith. Such religiously protected areas provide a comprehensive and rich ecological niche as repositories of genetic diversity [12]. The increased threats to SGs can be related to the lack of an in-built conservation effort, higher demands for NTFPs, fuel wood collection, and decrease in the religious faiths along with the reduced commitment of the present generation toward such natural sacred places.

Encroachments of SGs areas by various government departments for different developmental projects, as well as migration and immigration of people, also have contributed to the extinction of SGs. These SGs need to be protected and managed wisely as was done a few decades ago. For providing necessary protection to the SGs and maintaining their natural identity and sanctity, it is imperative that the surrounding population is taken into confidence. The surrounding village communities need to be educated and guided for sustaining the sanctity of existing groves and strengthening them. Conservation of SGs is impossible without the active participation of the local people. Conservation without compensation is only conversation [17, 27]. By improving their living standards and by giving benefits of conservation to them, long-term conservation goals in these SGs can be achieved.

4. Conclusion

India has a very high number of scared groves that play an important role in biodiversity conservation because of various myths and religious beliefs associated with them. These SGs have been conserving the biodiversity for many decades. But, nowadays, the attitude of people has changed and this along with the mistrust of traditional beliefs has caused degradation of sacred groves all over India. For improving their degraded condition, it is suggested that the local people living inside and around the SGs need to be taken into confidence, so that long-term conservation goals can be achieved.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this work.


The authors are thankful to the local people for their cooperation during the study period.


  1. L. S. Kandari, V. K. Bisht, M. Bhardwaj, and A. K. Thakur, “Conservation and management of sacred groves, myths and beliefs of tribal communities: a case study from north-India,” Environmental Systems Research, vol. 3, no. 1, 2014. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  2. D. J. Hughes and S. M. D. Chandran, Paper Presented in the Workshop on the Role of Sacred Groves in Conservation and Management of Biological Resources, KFRI, Peechi, India, 1997, Paper presented in the workshop on, the role of sacred groves in conservation and management of biological resources.
  3. A. K. M. N. Islam, M. A. Islam, and A. E. Hoque, “Species composition of sacred groves, their diversity and conservation in Bangladesh,” in Conserving the Sacred for Biodiversity Management, P. S. Ramakrishnan, Ed., pp. 163–165, KG Saxena & UM Chandrashekara, (UNESCO and Oxford-IBH Publishing), New Delhi, India, 1998. View at: Google Scholar
  4. K. C. Malhotra, Y. Gokhale, S. Chatterjee, and S. Srivastava, “Sacred groves in India,” in Proceedings of the Aryan Books International, p. 108, New Delhi, India, 2007. View at: Google Scholar
  5. R. Ray and T. V. Ramachandra, “Small sacred groves in local landscape: are they really worthy for conservation?” Current Science, vol. 98, no. 9, pp. 1178–1180, 2010. View at: Google Scholar
  6. H. Singh, T. Husain, and P. Agnihotri, “Haat Kali sacred grove, Central Himalaya, Uttarakhand,” Current Science, vol. 98, no. 3, p. 290, 2010. View at: Google Scholar
  7. M. L. Khan, A. D. Khumbongmayum, and R. S. Tripathi, “The sacred groves and their significance in conserving biodiversity an overview,” International Journal of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 277–291, 2008. View at: Google Scholar
  8. N. K. Agrawala, Working plan for the Kedarnath Forest Division 1972-73 to 1981-82, Working plan circle, Nainital, Uttar Pradesh, India, 1973.
  9. R. K. Gupta, “Forest types of the Garhwal Himalaya in relation to edaphic and geological formations,” Indian Forestor, vol. 4, no. 8, pp. 147–160, 1964. View at: Google Scholar
  10. Z. A. Malik and M. C. Nautiyal, “Species richness and diversity along the altitudinal gradient in Tungnath, the Himalayan benchmark site of HIMADRI,” Tropical Plant Research, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 396–407, 2016. View at: Google Scholar
  11. A. D. Banjo, G. A. Otufale, O. L. Abatan, and E. A. Banjo, “Taboo as a means of plant and animal conservation in South-Western Nigeria: a case study of Ogbe river and its basin,” World Applied Sciences Journal, vol. 1, pp. 39–43, 2006. View at: Google Scholar
  12. A. Anthwal, N. Gupta, A. Sharma, S. Anthwal, and K.-H. Kim, “Conserving biodiversity through traditional beliefs in sacred groves in Uttarakhand Himalaya, India,” Resources, Conservation & Recycling, vol. 54, no. 11, pp. 962–971, 2010. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  13. J. Colding and C. Folke, “The relations among threatened species, their protection, and taboos,” Ecology and Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 1997. View at: Google Scholar
  14. A. Anthwal, R. C. Sharma, and A. Sharma, “Sacred groves: traditional way of conserving plant diversity in Garhwal Himalaya, Uttaranchal,” Journal of American Science, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 35–38, 2006. View at: Google Scholar
  15. C. P. Kala, P. P. Dhyani, and B. S. Sajwan, “Developing the medicinal plants sector in northern India: challenges and opportunities,” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, vol. 2, article 32, 2006. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  16. C. S. Silori and R. Badola, “Medicinal plant cultivation and sustainable development: A case study in the buffer zone of the Nanda Devi biosphere reserve, Western Himalaya, India,” Mountain Research and Development, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 272–279, 2000. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  17. Z. A. Malik, J. A. Bhat, R. Ballabha, R. W. Bussmann, and A. B. Bhatt, “Ethnomedicinal plants traditionally used in health care practices by inhabitants of Western Himalaya,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 172, article no. 9563, pp. 133–144, 2015. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  18. Z. A. Malik, R. Pandey, and A. B. Bhatt, “Anthropogenic disturbances and their impact on vegetation in Western Himalaya, India,” Journal of Mountain Science, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 69–82, 2016. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  19. Z. A. Malik, J. A. Bhat, and A. B. Bhatt, “Forest resource use pattern in Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary and its fringe areas (a case study from Western Himalaya, India),” Energy Policy, vol. 67, pp. 138–145, 2014. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  20. B. Sinha and R. K. Maikhuri, “Conservation through socio‐cultural‐religious practice in Garhwal Himalaya: A case study of Hariyali sacred site,” in Conserving the Sacred for Biodiversity Management, P. Ramakrishnan, K. G. Saxena, and U. M. Chandrashekhara, Eds., 299, p. 289, Oxford and IBH Publishing, 1998. View at: Google Scholar
  21. S. Sunitha and R. P. Rao, “Sacred groves in Kurnool District, Andhra Pradesh,” in Biodiversity, Taxonomy and Conservation of Flowering Plants, M. Sivadasan and P. Mathew, Eds., pp. 367–373, Mentor Books, 1999. View at: Google Scholar
  22. R. Basu, “Studies on sacred groves and taboos in Purulia District of West Bengal,” Indian Forester, vol. 126, no. 12, pp. 1309–1318, 2000. View at: Google Scholar
  23. C. G. Kushalapa, S. A. Bhagwat, and K. A. Kushalapa, “Conservation and management of sacred groves of Hodagu, Karnataka, South India-a unique approach in,” in Tropical Ecosystems: Structure. Diversity and Human Welfare, K. N. Ganeshaiah, U. R. Shaanker, and K. S. Bawa, Eds., pp. 565–569, Oxford IBH Publishing, 2001. View at: Google Scholar
  24. S. A. Bhagwat, C. G. Kushalappa, P. H. Williams, and N. D. Brown, “A landscape approach to biodiversity conservation of sacred groves in the Western Ghats of India,” Conservation Biology, vol. 19, no. 6, pp. 1853–1862, 2005. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  25. V. Jaryan, S. K. Uniyal, Gopichand et al., “Role of traditional conservation practice: Highlighting the importance of Shivbari sacred grove in biodiversity conservation,” Environmentalist, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 101–110, 2010. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  26. M. Kala and A. Sharma, “Traditional Indian beliefs: A key toward sustainable living,” Environmentalist, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 85–89, 2010. View at: Publisher Site | Google Scholar
  27. Z. A. Malik, Phytosociological behavoiur, anthropogenic disturbances and regeneration status along an altitudinal gradient in Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary (KWLS) and its adjoining areas [Ph.D. thesis], HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar Uttarakhand, Uttarakhand, India, 2014.

Copyright © 2017 Sushma Singh et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

More related articles

 PDF Download Citation Citation
 Download other formatsMore
 Order printed copiesOrder

Related articles

Article of the Year Award: Outstanding research contributions of 2020, as selected by our Chief Editors. Read the winning articles.