SACRED GROVES OF RAJASTHAN
Sacred Groves are found from the western part of Rajasthan to the east of the Aravalli range. These groves are known under various names in Rajasthan as sacred groves (deora, malvan, deorai, rakhat bani, oran, etc.), sacred corridors (deo ghats), temple forests (mandir van) and sacred gardens (baugh).
Brandis, as early as 1887, gave initial information on sacred groves of Aravallis. He wrote, 'though very few papers have been published on sacredgroves, this does not mean that such areas do not abound in India'.
Commenting on the sacred groves of Rajasthan, particularly Rajputana and Mewar area, he wrote that in Pratapgarh and Banswara such groves are common. Here trees of Anogeissus pendula abound. People do not cut wood for personal use. Only dead and fallen trees are removed for religious work such as the repair of the temple or funerals.
Joshi (1995) writing on the ethnobotany of Rajasthan provided interesting insights on tribal traditions of maintaining sacred groves.
Deep N.Pandey and his team in their paper “Sacred Forestry: The Case of Rajasthan, India”, have classified the sacred areas in to sacred groves, sacred corridors, temple forests, sacred gardens and inhabited groves.
Sacred groves in Aravallis and Vindhyas were classified into three major groups.
In the first group they classified groves located near the village and close to a water source. Such groves are also at the top of small hillocks in Aravallis, where people worship Bheruji, Bawsi and Mataji. Khanpa Bheruji, Kukawas Bheruji, Badi Roopan Mata etc. are the example of such sites in Udaipur. In the Vindhyan tract of Kota Bundi, Baran and Jhalawar such groves abound.
The second group of groves is dedicated to Lord Mahadeo. Vegetation of the entire watershed is often protected as groves. Sometimes part of the vegetation in a watershed is protected. Large trees and a water source are the main characteristics of these groves. Water sources developed as open and step wells (Bawdi) may be seen at Ubeshwarji, Kamalnath, Gautmeshwasji,Taneshwarji and Jhameshwarji. Sometimes both groups can also be found in the same village.
The third type may be as a single tree. In Kotra forest range several large trees of Ficus benghalensis are seen. Because of development of aerial and prop roots these trees look like a grove. The tradition of protecting Peepal, Gular and Bargad trees is not only found in Rajasthan but also in other states of India. The tradition is also reported from other Asian and African countries.
In northern parts of Aravallis various forms of sacred groves are maintained. These are known as kankar bani, rakhat bani, dev ouranya, vall and dev bani.Large tracts of tree-bearing land in otherwise desertified western Rajasthan are called Orans.
These Orans are identical to sacred groves in Aravallis and they offer similar advantages.
One of the finest examples of Oran is Ramdeora in the Jaisalmer District in Rajasthan. Species in most of the Orans are Prosopis cineraria, Zizyphus mauritiana and Salvadora sp.In Jaisalmer District most of the Oranssupport Caparris aphylla. Shrubs include Calotropis procera in Jaisalmer and Zizyphus sp. in Jodhpur Districts.
However, comparatively sacred groves in Aravallis and Vindhyas are larger in area coverage.
Important Orans in Sirohi, a semi-desert district in Rajasthan, include Pichheshwar Mahadeo near Pindwara, Voreshwar Mahadeo in Sheoganj, Sarneshwar Mahadeo near Sirohi (famous for its step-well), Mochal Mataji in Sheoganj (particularly famous for animals like Chinkara and Neelgai), Baleshwari Mataji Oran in Pesua village (famous for a very large Rayan tree) and Varada Hanuman ji which supports several old Prosopis cineraria trees.