Ancient Hindus, like most other nature worshipping communities in the world have woven tales and beliefs around different aspects of life to keep certain traditions alive. Traditions that may sound preposterous to many but in fact have a larger good in mind.

Sacred groves are one such ancient tradition. Repositories of natural wealth, sacred groves are patches of forest protected in reverence to the deity or forest spirit believed to inhabit them.

There are thousands of such sacred groves scattered around the world, mostly in remote or rural areas.

Nature reigns supreme in these groves where there are no boundaries of caste or religion for those who enter, only the universal dictum of having faith.

There is no priest who tends to the grove; the sacred patch is cared for by all.

Across the varied terrain of India, sacred groves have come to be known with different names and have different beliefs associated with them.

In Madhya Pradesh, though one can find sacred groves in just about any of the 18 tribal districts of the state, the finest appear to be in Sarguja, Pachmarhi, Dindori, Ujjain and Tikamgarh.

The groves are dedicated to local deities. In all groves except for those dedicated to Thakur Deo, sacrifice is prohibited. In most, people who consume meat or liquor are not allowed to enter.

The Saja tree is believed to be the abode of Thakur Deo under which the deity is generally established. In no grove would a Saja tree ever be chopped down completely. Tribals, if they do cut the tree, leave the stump to allow regrowth.

In Banjari Mata groves, the forest goddess is offered whatever one can lay one’s hands on: moss, stone, leaves, in the forest as a sign of reverence.

Suraj Kund in Bicchia tehsil of Mandla is the grove for Siddhapat and Chousat Yogini goddess.

Some of the sacred groves are only a few hundred metres in circumference while few are quite big, many spread over several kilometers, with a water source located close by.

To enter Maharishi van, one of the biggest sacred groves in Dindori that is more than five kilometres in circumference, one has to enter the forest barefoot. It takes a 2 kilometre walk inside the grove to reach the central temple that houses the deity.

The tribal inhabitants of the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh have well preserved sacred groves they call ‘Deogudis’ near their inhabitation.

Sacred groves in the Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are hundreds of years old. Locals who pass Shipin near Shimla dust their clothes after they cross it, believing that they should not carry even the dust out of the grove.

The Puranas mention groves in Garhwal and Kumaon regions of Uttarakhand, the largest of which is Hariyali grove in Chamoli district.

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