The changing landscape of sacred groves in Kerala (India): A critical view on the role of religion in nature conservation
SourceReligions, 7, 4, (2016), article 38
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ RSCR CAOS
SubjectAnthropology and Development Studies
Sacred groves are an age-old and world-wide phenomenon, traditionally consisting of forest zones, protected by people based on their spiritual relationship with the deities or ancestral spirits believed to reside there. India alone counts nearly 50,000 sacred groves, with 2000 in Kerala where they are known as kaavu. Presently, the sacred groves are under serious threat with numbers of groves reducing drastically. In this article, the authors challenge one of the dominant theories that sacred groves, while previously protected by religion, now disappear due to the loss of traditional beliefs. Starting from the observation that the destruction of sacred groves has less to do with a loss of faith but more with a change of faith, the article focuses on the ambivalent role of religion and the impact the commercial offer of some specific Hindu rituals has on the declining number of sacred groves. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork among grove-owners in Kerala, the authors argue that it may be true that religious perceptions maintained the sacred groves for centuries, but that the same religious tradition now provides both justifications and marketable rituals for cutting them down.
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