, Volume 14, Issue 7, pp 1541-1582

Sacred groves of Manipur, northeast India:biodiversity value, status and strategies for their conservation

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Abstract

The people of Manipur, a state in northeast India, follow ancestral worship and animism in the form of deity worship, with the central focus on worship in forest patches. The beliefs and taboos associated with the Sylvan deities (Umanglais) in the forest patches are restricted to any sort of disturbance of flora and fauna. These social boundaries help to conserve the entire organism as a whole, which stand the concept of sacred groves. The pleasing of deities is performed every year by the Meiteis, a dominant community of Manipur, in honour of the deities and to gain their favour. Indigenous cultural and rituals practices of the local people in sacred groves serve as a tool for conserving biodiversity. Sacred groves are distributed over a wide ecosystem and help in conservation of rare and endemic species. Well-preserved sacred groves are store houses of valuable medicinal and other plants having high economic value, and serve as a refuge to threatened species. One hundred and sixty-six sacred groves were inventoried in Manipur valley that comprises Imphal east, Imphal west, Thoubal and Bishnupur districts of the state. Detailed studies were carried out in four selected sacred groves, to know the importance of biodiversity status and vegetation characteristics. A total of 173 plant species representing 145 genera under 70 families were recorded through baseline floristic survey. The species diversity indices were compared among the four studied groves. The vegetation composition and community characteristics were recorded. Ethnobotanical uses of species were examined, which reveal that 96% of the species were used as medicine for the treatment of various ailments. Utilization of herbal medicine by the Meiteis is closely related to the cultural and ritual practices. A few of the medicinal plants which have disappeared from the locality are now confined only to the groves. Socio-cultural aspects were investigated taking into account the attitudes of local people, which indicate social beliefs and taboo are eroding, simultaneously degrading the degree of protection of sacred groves. Therefore, conservation measures of sacred groves need to be formulated considering the factor of degradation and the basic necessities of the local people. Until and unless a viable option is provided to the local people (especially those who habitat nearby the adjoining areas) for sustaining their economic condition, no step for conservation of biodiversity will be successful.