Mythologies Residing in Sacred Groves and Lakes of Devbhoomi
By Arushi Jain
People around the state of Uttarakhand have different beliefs, customs, and religious values. That too in terms of different entities being temples, deities, water bodies, mountains, or even groves. Especially the people living in the rural or semi-urban communities have more reliance in the preachings of their ancestors and their respective lands. In addition to this, many taboos are associated with them, as well. The framework for such convictions is derived from the cultural and religious credence, varying from community to community. Likewise, no scientific questions can be raised or proved against the spirituality of the populace.
Uttarakhand, which lies on the southern slope of the Himalaya range, is majorly covered with mountains and forests. With this, there are many particular lakes and groves which are considered sacred and are simultaneously worshipped by a large number of people. The people doing so belong not only to Uttarakhand but to further states too. Every lake or grove has a respective mythology analogous to it.
The Nainital Lake, being one of the holy water bodies exists in Nainital which is considered as one of the most prominent holy lakes in the country. Pilgrims visit the Nainital Lake because according to the Hindu mythology, it is believed that Sati Devi’s eyes once fell here and therefore it became holy. Also, it is said by the legends that once the lake went totally dry, So the sages brought water from Manasarovar and poured it in the lake after which the lake also came to be known as a form of the Manasarovar. This perspective suggests the dogma of people and their beliefs are above all surroundings and the changing times. Not to mention, the undeniable efficacy of the communities.
Lakes in Uttarkashi and Rudraprayag districts of Uttarakhand are considered so sacred that no acts of any kind of occupation or adventure are allowed. Fishing particularly is completed restricted there. The myth behind it says that if fishing is done in the lakes, the person doing it would suffer from diseases like leprosy. With this perspective, people do not even consider indulging in any kind of such acts. It is only and only the beliefs and blind faith of people which stops them from doing so. In a way, the traditions and culture, in turn, protect the rare species which might still be existing in such water bodies. Sacred grove of the state includes Hariyali Devi in Chamoli district, Chiplakedar in Askot wildlife sanctuary, Pithoragarh district, Binsar, Tarkeshwar, Tapovan, Nagdeo, Goldev, Mayavati, Kot, Nandisain, Paabo, Dewal, and Chapdon.
A huge number of taboos and bans are associated with these groves concurrently with the positive spiritual customs. To name a few, in many places women are prohibited from entering the sacred forests as they are believed to be ‘impure’ an ‘sinful’. In terms of substances, anything made up of leather is also prohibited in the temples and groves. That might be because of the fact that leather is extracted from animals. By the same token use of tools like knife and sickles on the plants and animals is deemed to hurt the sentiments of ‘Devi’, which thereafter can lead to wrath and disaster in the life fo the offender.
Such presumptions depict how even today, with the ever emerging technology and innovation, people still are fearful and scared to involve in any act which might go against their tradition or hurt the impulsive customs that have been passed down from generation to generation.
In Garhwal Himalayas, Ficus religiosa, because of its sacredness, has led the communities, present there, to control the excess of resource utilization by confining the advent of the resources. This has had a direct implication on biodiversity protection. There have been many instances where such groves and forests have been protected from the axe owing to the sanctity associated with them. The conservation and preservation of these trees being equally important for the mankind, have resulted in huge benefits and has set goals for long-term conservation.
Vanishing of species, pollution, climate change has been growing at an alarming rate. No proper legislative have been set and the few that have been set, aren’t being implemented in a proper manner. Yet, it is the faith and beliefs of the people that have for so many decades, fortified the forests and water bodies. Some of the groves are so sacred that even a single leaf of theirs has not been touched until today!
However, sacred groves are eventually becoming victims of the lessening faith within people. With increasing migration of people to the urban areas, there is no one to take proper vigilance. Moreover, the present generation lacks commitment towards the conservation of groves and the management has turned out to be inept. In the acquisitiveness among the young generation living in or around the groves, the groves have also been facing encroachment by government bodies to fulfill their purpose of expansion of projects and evolution of such areas.
Surprisingly many groves and lakes have become extinct since. The attitude of people has changed not only towards the ‘normal’ forests but also towards the forests which were preserved for decades considering their cultural and religious beliefs. Which indeed arises as a matter of concern for the state and its natives.