Goa, like other parts of India, has a rich tradition of maintaining its sacred groves which are repositories of plant and animal wealth that have been conserved over the years by the locals.
Sacred groves are dedicated to forest gods and other local deities and are worshipped by the local inhabitants. They constitute a unique example of in situ conservation of genetic resources and also show micro climatic conditions with their own distinct floral and faunal varieties. The ethno-botanical value of sacred groves is also an important factor leading to their protection by the local communities.
In Goa, Sacred Groves are known by various names such as Devrai, Devran or Dewart. There was a time when most of the villages had their sacred groves but today few exist. In some places, these groves consists of just a giant tree like banyan or pipal whereas in other cases, they include various virgin tracts of pristine forests.
In Quepem taluka there is a most interesting sacred grove at Morpirla which protects the source ol a mountain stream called Paikacho Vhal, a stream named after the forest spirit Paik. To reach it, one has to remove leather sandals, climb a steep gradient, enter a long tunnel of bushes, crawl on all fours as the tunnel gets narrower and narrower and then come out to witness a cascading spring emerging out of the heart of a dense forest. The Velip community has zealously guarded this place for centuries. Morpirla's sacred grove is a wonder of nature because of its pristine habitat and undisturbed bio-diversity.
In Sanguem there are many villages where one can see well maihtained sacred groves. Though Sanguem is the most densely forested taluka of Goa, the villagers have kept alive the tradition of sacred groves by honouring their beloved Paik Dev. These groves are the abode of unique species of plants and animals. At Netorli there is a place called Budbudyanchi Tali (the pond of bubbles).
It is believed that the bubbles rise to the surface when one claps. The tribals of this area are called the Velips and they worship a deity called the Paik Dev. It is an important deity of the forest dwellers of Sanguem. It represents a swordwielding male god riding a horse. Small statues made of clay are worshipped at the centre of sacred groves.
At Salgini (Verlem) there is a Mahadeva temple and a sacred grove called Mahadevachi Rai. This grove is surrounded by three magnificent mountains. At Bati, there is a place called Vagpedi (the cave of the tiger). Even today the villagers say that tigers visit this place.
Sattari taluka has a long and cherished tradition of sacred groves. The people of Sattari believe that the presiding deity would be offended if any form of life -- plant or animal- in the deity's dwelling place is harmed. Breaking even a dead twig in a sacred grove might result in serious illness or violent death. Hence, these patches of forest have thus been protected and conserved by successive generations of the people of Sattari.
These groves are, in fact, traditional nature sanctuaries where all living creatures are affordeded protection. There are two sacred groves, in Sattari which are dedicated to the holy spirit known as the Nirankari. The first is maintained by the villagers of Zarme, Dabe and Saleli. The second is located at Nanoda-Bambar and is the abode of rare medicinal plants. This forbidden spot is a refuge for a unique forest community which is classified as 'Myristica Swamp Forests' and has great ecological significance.
The trees have unusual aerial roots of mangrove forests. This grove is known to exist for the last 250 years. The natural vegetation of the area is of tropical hill forest dominated by evergreen broad leafed species. One of the unique features of the trees in this habitat is the presence of numerous aerial roots in the shape of a'U' arching over the mud. The ecological significance of this peculiar knee root is an adaptation or reaction to overcome environmental stress.
The best preserved sacred groves of Goa are situated in Keri village of Sattari. Pishachi Rai, Biramanyachi[ Rai, Baldyatali Rai, Komachi Rai are the prominent groves of this village. However, Ajobachi Rai is the most unique as it is the largest sacred grove of Goa, covering an area of about ten hectares.
Since the reigning deity of the forest, Ajoba, is honoured by all the villagers irrespective of caste and creed, the forest in this grove is unhampered till date. This grove has a rich variety of woody creepers, trees, birds, animals and reptiles. Not only trees but also animals receive absolute protection in this grove.
There are many other sacred groves in remote villages and villagers venerate them with devotion since their gods and goddesses have been residing there since time immemorial. The tradition of sacred grove indicate our forefathers cared and had respect for nature which has been influenced for centuries by religious beliefs and traditions.