Meghalaya’s Sacred Groves

For centuries Khasi tribal people have been protecting certain groves and forests as dwelling places for the gods. Among the taboos are hunting, gathering, or using the wood for commercial purposes, and only on rare occasions can it be used for private consumption. As a result, the sacred groves have been virtually untouched and are a rich depository of endangered plants–orchids, medicinal and rare plants–many of which can now be found only in these isolated pockets. Scientists place the origins of these forests to the pre-agrarian age. Many animals and birds also live here.

Two things stand out for me with these sacred places. One is the importance of myth and how seamlessly myth dovetails with ecology. Many of the sacred forests fall on important watershed areas, so their preservation has also been instrumental in protecting water sources in India. The villagers are well aware of this as well as the unique biodiversity of the forests and the role they play in soil erosion. Perhaps the ancient shaman knew more than we realize?

The other is the similarity in beliefs between Khasi, and no doubt other Northeastern tribal people, and Native American spirituality. If the Native American population in America had not been so decimated, perhaps the U.S. would also have an abundance of protected, sacred spots where the people could commune with the gods on a regular basis. In northeast India, the majority of these places are still under tribal protection.

Meghalaya has also been steeped in Christianity and western civilization is once again a culprit in destroying the land. Christianity has taught that the old religions are primitive superstition, and introduced the idea that we know so well in the west–the land and its resources are for our consumption. Many of these areas have now been subject to deforestation, yet surprisingly over 50% are still relatively intact–a high number considering the times we live in. Maybe the world is finally ready to listen to ancient wisdom in regards to the planet?

There are over 100 of these sacred groves in Meghalaya alone and literally thousands of sacred sites–forests, rivers, mountains–scattered throughout India.