By Rebecca Pereira
Goa is said to possess 93 Sacred Groves. Sacred groves are patches of pristine forest area which are dedicated to local deities or forest spirits in Goa. Traditional worship of these patches as well as of plants and animals has been carried out since ancient times. Tribal communities who first inhabited Goa like the Kunbis and the Gavdas have protected these areas which can range from a small cluster of vegetation to 10 acres of land, seen in places like Keri and Verlem.
Goa’s renowned environmentalist, Rajendra Kerkar said that sacred groves are very old nature sanctuaries where not only living but also non-living beings are afforded protection through the grace of any one deity or spirit from traditions.
“Once through various taboos related with them, the sacred groves have been completely or nearly completely immune from human interference on grounds of religious beliefs,” stated Kerkar.
Endangered Flora and Fauna
Sacred groves of Goa harbour several rare species of flora and fauna, including numerous medicinal plants. Thus they also have served as a traditional means of conservation of the rich bio-diversity of the forests. Most groves are located near water bodies, springs or streams. These trees prevent soil erosion and help in conserving water. It is believed that the waters of these springs have medicinal properties.
The ’protection’ tradition originally forbade any interference with the biota of the grove in any way whatsoever, and not even the leaf litter could be touched. Grazing or hunting was not allowed within the grove for fear that the divine’s wrath would cause great illness or a horrific death. This has kept these patches of virgin forest in a near-natural state. In order to pluck these plants they had to perform some rituals to please the forest God. Even today, in the remotest parts of Goa, locals who are still far away from any rural health services, go to these sacred groves for herbal medicines.
The healing, Paikacho Vhal
In Quepem taluka there is a most interesting sacred grove at Morpirla which protects the source of a mountain stream called Paikacho Vhal. A stream named after the forest spirit Paik. To reach it, one has to remove leather sandals, climb a steep gradient, enter a long tunnel of bushes, crawl on all fours as the tunnel gets narrower and narrower and then come out to witness a cascading spring emerging out of the heart of a dense forest. The Velip community has zealously guarded this place for centuries. Morpirla’s sacred grove is a wonder of nature because of its pristine habitat and undisturbed bio-diversity. Many in the hope of finding a cure, which treatment centres can’t heal, visit Paikacho Vhal as the spring is said to cure skin diseases and other forms of illnesses.
The following table gives a break up of the Sacred Groves taluka-wise in Goa:
Respect mother nature
Goa, like other parts of India, has a rich tradition of maintaining its sacred groves which are repositories of plant and animal wealth that have been conserved over the years by the locals. These sacred groves are considered to be sanctified area and one should abide by traditions like removing footwear and not disturbing any life forms when visiting the groves.