Flight of Gods 35. Devachirai (Sacred Groves)

The Flight of Gods

by Mohan Pai

Forests have been the lifeline fo tribals and other forest dwelling communitiesr since distant past. Communities have been setting aside certain patches of land or forest dedicated to a deity or village God, protected and worshipped called Devachirai in Goa. Goa had an extensive distribution of the sacred groves and few have survived till today. Most of the sacred groves that have survived are in Sattari and Sanguem talukas. Ranging in size from less than a hectare to many hectares, sacred groves are often the only remaining haven for plants and animals in areas with destruction of their natural habitat. Ajobachi Rai in Sattari taluka is the largest sacred grove in Goa spread over 10 ha.

Icons worshipped in a sacred grove in Sattari – photo by Mohan Pai

Devachirai or the Sacred Groves are more or less pockets of climax vegetation preserved on religious grounds. Several such pockets are located in remote tribal areas of the Western Ghats and Goa has quite a number.The ’protection’ tradition originally forbade any interference with the biota of the grove in any way whatsoever, and not even the leaf litter could be touched. Grazing or hunting was not allowed within the grove and hence they represented a sample of vegetation in its climax state. In view of the protection and optimum growth condition prevailing in the sacred groves some arboreal species exhibit their grandeur and become a fascinating sight. Earlier, human beings relied on sacred groves for the supply of various medicinal plants, shrubs and creepers. In order to pluck these plants they had to perform some rituals to please the forest God. Even today, in the remotest parts of Goa, locals who are still far away from any rural health services, go to these sacred groves for herbal medicines.

In many villages, locals believe that the forest Goa or spirit would get offended if the trees are cut, flowers or fruits are plucked or if the animals inside the sacred forest are harassed or killed. That is why these groves are not molested and are well preserved. The sacred groves are traditional institutions, deeply involved in the conservation of not only few individual species in isolation but also the ecosystems at large.Niramkarachi Rai – the sacred grove at Nanode, Sattari – photo by Mohan Pai

The Sacred Grove located at Bambar in Satari Taluka is the abode of rare medical plants. This forbidden spot is a refuge for a unique forest community and it is classified as Myristica Swamp Forests having great ecological significance. The trees have unusal aerial roots which are analogous to pneumatophores or stilt roots of mangrove forests. The area of the grows is about 0.25 ha of undulating terrain and is situated 11 kms from the Goa – Karnataka border.Historical PerspectiveThis grove is known to exist for the last 250 years and the reigning deity is the God ‘Nirankar’, who is worshipped by the people of three villages namely Maloli, Ustem and Nanode. Their deep rooted religious belief strengthened by the cult of nature worship, has ensured that the vegetation remained more or less untouched for the last 40 to 50 years.People of these three villages used to assemble at the site during the years gone by to venerate the Lord “Nirankar” who is considered the ‘Rakhandar’ (Protector) of these villages. After the sacrifice, the ritual is performed and food is cooked, but only the male members eat the preparation. These customs and rituals have now been neglected due to the changing life style of the people and other pre-occupation for their material gains.VegetationThe natural vegetation of the area is of tropical hill forest dominated by evergreen broad leaved species. The floral composition of the grave shows the presence of the following plant species: Alstonia scholaris, Artocarpus hirsuta, Calamus thwaitesii, Calophyllum inophyllum, Combretum sp., Canarium strictum, Holigarna arnottiana, Holigarna grahamii, Hydnocarpus laurifolia, Lophopetalum wightianum, Machilus macrantha, Myristica malabarica, Piper nigrum, Stereospermum personatum, Osbeckia sp, Tetrameles nudiflora, etc. In addition, there are several species of algae, lichens, epiphytes and under growth plants which are yet to be identified.One of the unique features of the trees in this habitat is the presence of numerous aerial roots in the shape of “U” arching over the mud. These roots resemble a knee when the leg is folded. The ecological significance of these peculiar knee roots is an adaptation or reaction to overcome environmental stress. Presumably this is two fold – one in which the plants overcome poor anchorage in a soft bed; and two ensuring root aeration when oxygen is not available in the soil. In either case it is analogous to the adaptations found in mangroves. The knee roots suggest the presence of an underground stream creating conditions similar to those of mangrove swamps.
Bambar is located approximately 60 kms. from Panaji on the Valpoi-Nanode road and is easily accessible.
Nirancarachi Rai
It is an unique Micro-climatic ecosystem with Myristica Swamp forests located at Nanoda in Sattari taluka. It covers 0.2ha. Area duly protected from all the encroachments and disturbances by fence. It has characteristic of swamp forests, which is found at present only in Kerala State. Nirancarachi Rai is a sacred grove which is comprising of about 19 different evergreen species and has the roots protruding out gaining inverted ‘U’ shaped which is a characteristic of myristica swamp forests. The place is also of great educational interest and worth seeing and studying the phenomena of nature. From Valpoi 15Kms Via Nagargao-Sattari.
List of the Sacred Groves in Goa:
Rashtroli Pernem Gavadewada (Mandrem), Kurlyachi wadi Pernem, VarkhandShevro Bicholim, Kharpal, Sidhdachirai Bicholim Vadawal, Ajobachirai Sattari Keri, Maulichirai Sattari Vagheri (Keri), Pishyachirai Sattari Keri, Sidhdachirai Sattari Morle, Devachirai Sattari Saleli (Onda)Devachirai Sattari Nagve, Holayechirai Sattari Caranzol, Ajobachitali Sattari Brahmakarmali, Devachirai Sattari Koparde, Dhupachirai Sattari Derode, Devachirai Sattari Satre, Poshyachirai Sattari Bondir, Devachirai Sattari Shelop – Khurd, Devachirai Sattari Surla, Nirankarachirai Sattari Bambar–Nanode, Devachirai Sattari Thane, Devachirai Sattari Pali, Devachirai Sattari Shel – Melavali, Devachirai Sattari Shiranguli, Devachirai Sattari Assodde, Devachirai Sattari Malpona, Devachirai Sattari Shirsode, Devalachemol Sattari Dabe, Devachirai Sattari Bhironde, Devachirai Sattari Golauli, Devachirai Sattari Mauxi, Devachirai Sattari Ivre – Budruk, Devachirai Sattari Ivre – Khurd, Devachirai Sattari Pendral, Avali Dano Canacona Cotigao,
Kuske Dano, Canacona, Cotigao, Badde Dano Canacona Cotigao, Paikapann Sanguem, NeturlimPaikapann Sanguem, SalginiPaikapann Sanguem, KumbhariPaikapann Sanguem, Bhati, Devadongor Sanguem, RivonVasantagal Sanguem, Rivon Patryatali Devrai Sanguem Rivon, Vaghryapann Sanguem, Rivon, Paikapann Quepem, MorpillaPaikapann Quepem, CazurBetalapann Quepem Barce, Vaghryapann Quepem Barce, Gadgyapann Quepem Barce, Siddhmaddi Quepem Barce, Shivapann Quepem Barce, Devipann Quepem Barce, Mahadevapann Quepem Barce, Durgadevipann Quepem Gokulde, Devatipann Quepem Bennudde.
For some of my articles visit:
For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:http://westernghats-paimohan.blogspot.com/
For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:http://mohan-pai.blogspot.com/
For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:http://oldagecare-paimohan.blogspot.com/
You can also access my blogs on Sulekha and WordPress:For my book “The Flight of Gods – Hindu Temples & Shrines of Goa” please log on to:



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