Devarakadu in Karnataka, oran in Rajasthan, kovil kadu in Tamil Nadu, devbhumi in Uttarakhand, kavu in Kerala. There are patches of forest – sometimes just a cluster of a few trees, sometimes large swathes of land – that go by different names in different parts of the country. The reason for their existence, however, is the same. They are all believed to be sacred.
These forests are thought to be the places where ancient folk-deities reside; sometimes, the trees themselves are considered manifestations of ancestor gods and goddesses. Protected by the local community, they will not be cut down for fuel or for fodder, even during times of hardship. Unfortunately, many of these forest fragments, so rich in biodiversity and lore, have disappeared as their guardians dwindle in number, and the threat of encroachment advances.
Click through (above) to view a selection of images from sacred groves from across the country.