- SEASONAL RESTRICTION The Hindu month of Sravana (approximately mid-August to mid_September) which coincides with the peak of the main rainy season over most of India is a period during which many castes abstain totally from consumption of fish, poultry, meat and consequently suspend all hunting as well. The harvest of certain wild plants is ritually restricted to certain days of the year. Thus, in Jhukol Panagari area of Uttarkashi of Himalayas, the tubers of a plant, locally known as Nakhdur may be harvested only at the time of a religious festival, as is also the case with flowers of Brahmakamal – a herb of alpine meadows near the Nandadevi peak in Chameli district of Himalayas.
2. SACRED GROVES, POOLS AND PONDS
There occur throughout India patches of vegetation, or sacred groves, which receive special protection from the local community on grounds of their association with some deity. Most of these sacred groves were traditionally free from any exploitation. There are however groves known as Orans associated with the Goddess Jogmaya in the Aravalli hills of Western India where it was permitted to take away wood for fuel so long as the collection did not involve the use of any metal implements.
As Gause’s classical experiments have shown, a very effective way of preventing the extinction of prey populations in a predator-prey system is to provide the prey with “refugia” or regions in which the prey is immune from predation. Such a traditional system of refugia in India was the network of sacred groves, ponds and pools in the courses of rivers and streams. These were patches of land or water, which were dedicated to some deity and were kept free of all exploitation, both of plant and animals. They ranged in extent from fifty hectares or more to a few hundred square meters. Where the network of sacred groves has remained intact till recent times, as in the South Kanara district on the West Coast, one can see that they formed islands of climax vegetation ranging in size from a small clump to a hectare on more, and originally covering, perhaps five percent of the land area. This must have been a very effective way of preserving tropical biological diversity for we are still discovering new species of plants, species which have disappeared from everywhere else, in these sacred groves. For instance the woody climber, – Kunstleria keralensis, was thus “discovered” a few years back.
3. SACRED PLANTS AND ANIMALS
In India a variety of plant and animal species have been considered sacred by one or more communities and therefore never destroyed (9). The most widely protected of such organisms is the peepal tree (ficus religiosa), found depicted on Mohenjodaro seal of around 2000 B.C Other species of the genus Ficus are also considered sacred. Ficus are also considered sacred. Ficus is a genus of particular significance in the overall maintenance of tropical biological diversity – a “keystone mutualist” 910). In particular, its preservation may have helped to maintain high levels of populations of frugivorous birds, especially pigeons and doves. Other plants and animals receive less universal protection, being sacred only in particular locations or to particular castes. The peafowl, for example, is sacred to Lord Kartikeya and is never hunted, and is consequently abundant around Kartikeya temples, in the Southern state of Tamilnadu. It is more widely protected all over the Western states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. The blue rock pigeon (Columba livia) is considered sacred to the saint Hazrat Shah Jalal and is protected and encouraged to breed in artificial nest baskets in rural Bangladesh. Even the rodents are protected and abound in the famous temple of Karnimata Goddess in the state of Rajasthan.
Many castes or clans within the castes have certain totemic plants or animals which they do not destroy or let others destroy if they can help it. Thus, the Maratha clans of Mores and Ghorpades from Maharashtra derive their clan names from their totemic animals – peafowl and monitor lizard respectively – and will protect these animals, although other clans of the same Maratha caste will hunt and eat them. By far the most remarkable example of protection to certain species is that of the Bishnoi sect of Western India. This Hindu sect, founded in 1485 A.D. enjoins its followers never to cut a green tree, or kill any animal. They hold as specifically sacred the khejdi tree (Prosopis cinerare) which is by far the economically most valuable tree in the desert tractrs in which this sect originated. It is recorded that in 1630 A.D. three hundred and sixty three Bishnois sacrificed their lives to prevent the King of Jodhpur from cutting down these trees to furnish the fuel for the lime-kilns to build a new palace. The Bishnois also protect the wild animals including blackbuck and chinkara. To this day, the tradition is very much alive and the Bishnoi villages are a refreshing scene of greenery and plentiful wild life in the Indian desert.
4. MAINTENANCE AND PROPAGATION OF AGRICULTURAL BIODIVERSITY
India is the home of one of the richest diversity of cultivated crops known to us. If we take the example of one of our principal crops – namely Rice, it has been estimated by the well known Rice expert Dr. R. H. Richaria, that India had about four hundred thousand varieties of Rice during the Vedic period. He has himself collected and identified over twenty thousand varieties of Rice from just the Chattisgarh area of Madhya Pradesh. The crop is grown throughout the year in some part of the country or the other. It is cultivated in altitudes ranging from 7000 feet above sea level to 10 feet below sea level. There are varieties of Rice that grow in regions with rainfall ranging from twenty inches to two hundred inches a year. There are a large number of cultural practices related to the conservation of agricultural biodiversity. Some examples are cited below.
- At the Temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri in Orissa, there is a custom that the food offered to the Lord is always cooked from freshly harvested rice every day. This has the implication that there was a sufficiently large number of rice varieties so that they could be harvested round the year.
- The festival of Ugadhi celebrated every year in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh has a ritual which serves as a test for the germination capacity of various grain varieties, based on the test suitable varieties are selected for planting each season. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, there is the festival of “Mulaippari”, that appears to serve a similar function.
- Specific varieties of grains are considered suitable for sowing in various conditions and for distinct uses by convention based on the observation and understanding of its action. For example, there are rice varieties known in Tamilnadu, that are said to be suited for sowing in a dry (low rainfall) season, when there is a lot of sand and dust etc. In Sri Lanka, distinct Rice varieties are considered best for – use by lactating, for breaking a fast etc.
It is clear that India has had a remarkable tradition of practices relating to the conservation of biodiversity and bio-resources. It is interesting to see that many of these practices and traditions have survived in some form or the other right down to this period even though our society and its resources have been under a state of tremendous stress and strain for the last two centuries. These traditions reveal to us that the Indian society has an approach to nature that is intrinsically eco-friendly. Today in various parts of the world there is a lot of talk regarding the need for eco-friendly technologies, sciences and models of development. However, in most of these cases this is a “post facto” realization that has come about as a result of industrialization that has been devastating to the environment over the last few centuries. Thus, the eco-friendliness that is widely discussed today is in the nature of a – “corrective” – to a philosophy that is essentially antagonistic to nature. In striking contrast we find the traditional Indian approach is intrinsically eco-friendly in its basic conception. This is amply illustrated by the examples given which show that eco-friendliness manifests itself in varieties of customs, norms and traditions from every sphere of life be it social, cultural or religious and indeed penetrate the very fabric and core of our society.
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