ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Governing Sacred Groves

Religion, State, and Institutions in Indigenous Jharkhand

Sacred groves are widely recognised for their religious, cultural, and ecological value. They are an intrinsic part of traditional and indigenous practices of forest governance. However, the contemporary sacred forest system is not an autonomous world. Its sociopolitical landscape is not confined only to the village either. Based on extensive fieldwork in Jharkhand, this paper argues that sacred groves have evolved to be dynamic spaces of multilevel institutional interactions and contestations. Their conservation is contingent on the intersectional dynamics of indigenous, state, and institutional processes. Classical approaches of sacrality of the nature and forms of forest worship need to be combined with the concerns of the local environment, democracy, gender, caste, conservation, and culture.


This paper elucidates the diversity and complexity of contemporary sacred grove governance in Jharkhand. It specifically focuses on the Munda and Oraon tribes along with the challenges to underlying cultural systems within which their governance is embedded. Indigenous cosm­o­logies and symbolism associated with sacred groves have been historically strong analytical points and central concerns. However, this paper focuses on the nature of their governance. In such a governance, communities, institutions, power structures of the union and state governments, and social and political organisations converge as well as diverge in their everyday conservation and management practices around ­sacred groves. The paper argues that such a dynamic approach is much more pertinent in understanding sacred groves amidst the present context of social and cultural changes. The paper brings together indigenous and forest governance and local dynamics as interpretive concepts through which sacred groves are positively and negatively being shaped. It seeks to identify key cultural, social and governmental imperatives needed to strengthen the sacred grove governance.

Theoretical Contexts

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Updated On : 8th Jan, 2022
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