The sacred groves

  • 29/06/1999

The sacred groves   tucked away in the northeastern part of India, the eastern Himalayan state of Meghalaya is witnessing an environmental regeneration of sorts. Environmental consciousness is also gaining popularity among the tribals in this state. According to Khasi folklore, the forests of Meghalaya are sacred because the spirit of U Ryngkew lives inside them. Nearly 100 such sacred forests still exist, according to the art and culture department of the state government. According to Khasi belief, U Ryngkew was sent by God U Blei to earth and his spirit lives in these forests. Even tribals don't venture into these forests alone. Tradition has it that it is a sin to cut trees, break leaves and pluck flowers from these sacred forests.

U Ryngkew's spirit, it is believed, roams free in these forests and she protects the local population.

Tribals pushed these traditions and religious practices to the background after they embraced Christianity. These beliefs were denounced as superstitions. Once such folklore, which acted as a deterrent against felling trees, was forgotten and the fear of venturing into the forests disappeared, people brazenly cut down trees.

Now, what survives are tiny forests called sacred groves or Law Kyntang in Khasi. Only 10 per cent of the land is maintained as sacred groves, say state government officials. In certain places, huge stone monoliths still mark the presence of these groves.
Efforts to revive tradition The largest sacred grove of Meghalaya at Mawphalang, located 25 km from Shillong, has made way for a water reservoir. However, locals and environment enthusiasts from abroad have launched a project with support from traditional village chiefs to revive the tradition. The idea is not only to save culture but also the environment.

A group of elders from seven villages of Ri Bhoi district came forward to create a sacred forest on their land, and thus Raid Thaiang was inaugurated at Thaiang. The official name of the project is Law Kynthang Nongblah Thaliang. The project is coordinated by a co-operative of villagers, village heads, local associations and Association for Intercultural Projects, a Switzerland-based ngo .

Behind this turn around, is an interesting story. According to village elders, the tribal priest, Lyndoh, had converted to Christianity and destroyed forests to build a huge statue of Jesus Christ. Shortly afterwards tigers attacked the statue and destroyed it. It is believed that God had appeared in the form of a tiger and avenged the destruction of the forest. Thereafter, misfortune struck the people

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