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Creating A Map of The Sacred Forests

Many temples and traditional homes in India have sacred groves in their vicinity. Sacred groves contain rare trees and plants with medicinal properties. Legend has it that when Hanuman was flying with the Saneevani mountain to save Lakshman’s life, chunk of the mountain fell at numerous places. Sacred groves appeared at the places where the chunk fell. Dr Shonil Bhagwat, a reasearcher at Oxford University, is creating the first ever map of the sacred forests.
The Tribune reports
Dr Shonil Bhagwat’s field studies show how some parts of India have one sacred forest for every 741 acres. He has expert knowledge about threatened tree species in the religious forests of Karnataka, home to ‘poison arrow’ trees (Antiaris toxicari), and some unusual types of fig (Ficus microcarpa) and myrtle (Syzygium zeylanicum). 
He has taken a particular interest in the Kodagu district of Karnataka where devarakadus or sacred groves have been damaged by illegal cutting, grazing and fires. Some of these devarakadus are also home to rare types of macrofungi not found in any other part of the world. 
Commenting about his work, Dr Bhagwat said: “We know so little about these sacred sites and how they should be managed and what biodiversity they hold. There are many different studies. We are trying to bring all the information on to one platform. 
“We urgently need to map this vast network of religious forests, sacred sites and other community-conserved areas to understand their role in biodiversity conservation. Such mapping can also allow the custodian communities, who have protected these sites for generations, to secure their legal status.”
In a jointly authored academic paper published last year, Bhagwat explained how India has the largest number of sacred forests in the world, how many are associated with a god or gods and are typically named after deities. He and co-author Alison Ormsby also documented traditional forest conservation practices, such as the sprinkling of saffron water around a piece of land that needs protection. 
“Globally, sacred forests often have associated myths and taboos on the use of specific plants and hunting of certain species of animals within the area,” said the paper published in Environmental Conservation. “The traditions can serve a conservation role because some of the sacred forest fragments represent the sole remaining forests and the last remaining locations with potential for conservation of flora and fauna.”