UNESCO (1996) defined Sacred Groves as an area of “natural” vegetation preserved through local taboos and sanctions that entail spiritual and ecological values. The ecological values are found in the traditional association of the sacred groves with wildlife and physical landscape such as streams. The grove is the focus of common religious and socio-cultural affinity for a number of surrounding village communities.
Some of the important sacred groves of Goa are as follows:-
Nirankarachirai of Bambar:
The Scared Groves located at Bambar in Sattari Taluka is the abode of rare medicinal 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 area of the grove is about 0.25 ha having undulating terrain. This 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.
Holiyechirai of Caranzol:
It is located in Sattari taluka (15 kms from Valpoi township in Caranzol). The access path to this sacred grove involves a very narrow path uphill of approximately 45 minute climb. The sacred grove cannot be accessed during the rainy season due to the strong currents from a seasonal stream. The trees found within the grove are Vateria indica (dhup trees) which are believed to be around 200 years old, Pterocarpus marsupium (Kino), Dalbergia latifolia (Shiso), Terminalia paniculata (Kindal), T. tomentosa (Matti), Sygizuim cumini (Jambhul) etc. The temple in the village where all the festivities are conducted is dedicated to Shree Sateri. Festivals such as – Shigmo, Shirigao Zatra and Machimurkar Zatra are celebrated in the month of February.
Devachi Rai of Kopardem
The Sacred Grove Davachirai of Kopardem is located in Sattari taluka. There are two temples located at the entrance of this sacred grove – the main temple is Brahmanimaya and is believed to be the presiding deity of this sacred grove. The smaller temple is dedicated to Betal. It is believed that Betal guards the village at night, protecting the villagers from evil spirits. There is a sacred tank located near the entrance to the grove. Water from this sacred tank is believed to cure every skin ailment, some of which cannot be cured by other forms of medicine. There are natural springs within this tank ensuring a perennial source of water. There is a seasonal stream which flows through this grove during the monsoon season. There are a number of bee hives on the lofty trees of the grove. A large number of Malabar Pied Hornbills nest in the grove. There is an abundance of Pandanus species of plants found in this grove. Orchids varieties seen are Rhyncostylis retusa, Bulbophyllum species and Cottonia pedunculairs. The distinct feature in the sacred grove at Kopardem is the luminescence of fungus seen on the forest floor on new moon nights. The festival of Diwaza is celebrated in the month of December. A preparation made from rice, jaggery and dal known as ‘Upaar’ is prepared and left overnight in the Brahmanimaya temple. It is believed that Brahmanimaya and the cobra god transform this Upaar into Prasad which is then served to the entire village.