DIGITIZING INDIAN SACRED GROVES – AN INFORMATION MODEL FOR WEB INTERFACED
Gaikwad, S.S.; S. N. Paralikar; Vishwas Chavan; and S. Krishnan
National Chemical Laboratory
Dr Homi Bhabha Road, Pune 411008, INDIA
e-mail : email@example.com
India, harbors about 100,000 sacred groves; many of which are losing their rich biotic diversity because of the
developmental activities around and in some cases direct encroachment within the grove. At the same time
increasing attention is being paid to make use of these groves as potential tool and model for biodiversity
conservation. This calls for collation, analysis and modeling of the information on these sacred patches. Authors
have undertaken the development of web interfaced multimedia database on Sacred Groves of India, to build the
comprehensive information resource documenting biodiversity status of sacred groves. This paper discusses the
concept, structure and information model of the database. Paper further elaborate the strategies to be adopted
for analysis of collated information as well as vegetation and GAP analysis studies, which would provide the
trend of depletion of these vital ecosystems. Development of such a factual database would support the
development of strategies for conservation and protection of these unique heritage ecosystems. Such models
would strengthen and support the national and regional biodiversity conservation programs elsewhere in
developing nations where similar types of ecosystems exists.
Sacred Groves is an age-old tradition where a patch of forest or water body is dedicated to local
deities and none is allowed to cut plants or to kill animals or any form of life. The institution of
sacred groves dates back to the pre-agrarian hunting-gathering phase of human civilization, and is
known to thrive in most parts of India (Kosambi, 1962). It has been estimated that total number of
sacred groves in the country lie between 100,000 and 150,000 (Malhotra, et.al., 1999). These are
mainly distributed in the states of Andhra Pradesh (WWF, 1996), Bihar,
Jharkhand,Orissa,Maharashtra (Gadgil and Vartak, 1981; Deshmukh et.al., 1998), Rajasthan
(Pandey, ), Uttar Pradesh (Sinha and Maikhuri, 1998), Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pondichery, Gujrat,
Goa, West Bengal, and some northeastern states such as Meghalaya (Tiwari et.al., 1998). Figure
1, depicts the distribution of sacred groves in ten southern and northeastern states. There are no
records of existence of sacred groves in central part of India, except in some parts of Madhya
Pradesh. Further, these sacred groves vary in size from a few trees to dense forests covering vast
tracts of land.
This paper can be cited as -
Gaikwad, S. S., S. N. Paralikar, Vishwas Chavan and S. Krishnan (2004) Digitizing Indian Sacred
Groves – An Information Model for Web interfaced multimedia database. In: Focus on Sacred
Groves and Ethnobotany, Ghate, Vinya; Hema Sane, and S. S. Ranade (eds.), Prisam
Publications, Mumbai, India, pp. 123-128.
As a result of the high conservation and biodiversity values held in sacred groves, increasing
attention is being paid to their potential as a tool and model for biodiversity conservation’. These
groves are important today as they are banks of genetic diversity that have to be preserved and
sustained. These areas often contain species that have disappeared from the regions outside the
grove. This practice best demonstrates the nature caring and biodiversity conservation attitude of
our ancestors. Though the sacred groves are a biological heritage and a system that has helped to
preserve the representative genetic resources existing in the surrounding regions for generations,
they are declining in numbers and size rapidly, due to modernization and urbanization. This calls
for consistent efforts to conserve these pockets of rich biological diversity.
Sacred Groves Information: Status
During the last few decades socio-economic, ecological and conservation importance of sacred
groves has been recognized and it has been emphasized that immediate conservation of them is
must. Several approaches and options could be adopted to conserve these scared spaces.
However, most essential, but most neglected is the management of information on sacred groves,
which would lead into planning of appropriate policies and action plan to save these groves from
the clutches of both modernization and urbanization.
Vast amount of information is available on various aspects of sacred groves. However, this
information is scattered at various levels. This includes researchers, academicians, nature-lovers,
villagers and settlers in the vicinity of these groves. Not much of this information is in electronic
form. On the contrary most of the information is in folklores and passed from a generation to
generation, hence issue of its authentication and validity arises. This clearly indicates that data /
information is not properly maintained. This calls for integrated application of information
technology to collect, collate, analyze, model and disseminate data available on scared groves of
Sacred Groves: Data Diversity
As data on scared groves is vast, it is also distributed, scattered and available in variety of forms,
formats and conditions. Hardly any data is digitized or available in electronic formats. Infact, much
of the data is not even documented and available as folklores, tales and is being passed from
generation to generation, hence poses challenge of maintaining its integrity and authenticity.
Further, not same amount and nature of data is available on all scared groves, as some of them
are studied in great details and many of them are not even surveyed yet. Hence, there is great
heterogeneity in nature and amount of information available on various sacred groves. Figure 2,
represents the potential data types and diversity of data for sacred groves information
As represented in Figure 2, data is diverse in nature. From the geographic information to stories
associated with the deity, who governs the sacred groves, data is available on variety of aspects.
These include data on diversity of plants, animals, and microbes within and around the sacred
groves, data on climatic, geographic, geological condition, use of scared grove resources by the
community and stories associated. This calls for development of a comprehensive information
management system, which would be able to collate information on all aspects of scared groves.
Authors are developing a web based multimedia database to collate information on sacred groves
of India, details of which are discussed in following sections of this article.
Sacred Groves Information System (SGIS)
In order to develop Scared Groves Information System (SGIS), several factors were considered.
Few of them include type and nature of information, information sources, validity and authenticity
of information, as well as current ness of data. Other aspects include rapid collation and
dissemination of data. Hence, it was thought appropriate to develop web-interfaced database,
which would be multimedia in nature. This would allow several of data custodians to contribute
information remotely and on-line. Being on the web, dissemination to wider cross-section of
concerned community will be assured. In other sense, it would ensure virtual collaborative efforts
by all players.
Database contains two tables, one for locality specific information and other to collate information
on other aspects. Oracle 8i is used as back-end for the database. Java Server Pages (JSP) is
uses as front end for the web application to collate and disseminate the information. Data structure
is open-ended making it feasible to cross-link with other databases or information resources.
Initially information is being collected through published literature and also through personal
communication. Currently, SGIS holds cursory information on about 3000 sacred groves from the
state of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu. Data on scared groves in other states is
being gathered from various sources. Web based data acquisition and dissemination approach
eliminates time gap required for collection and publishing of the data, making it most transparent
information base model. Information is also being acquired in multimedia form such as sketches,
line drawings, photographs, as well as audio and video clips too.
Current search facilities can retrieve data based on “keywords” or “wild cat” term. State wise data
can also be retrieved based on features of scared groves such as taboos/beliefs, consequence of
violence, punishments, scared qualities, worship patterns, and material benefits etc. Figure 3,
depicts one such search leading to retrieval of detailed information on specific sacred groves.
Currently, links to multimedia information is also provided. Current URL of the database is
Presently we are concentrating to gather cursory information on every existing scared grove
across Indian sub-continent. During the next phase more micro-level or detailed information for
each of the sacred grove would be collated along with cross-linking of select information
parameters with other databases such as regional/global species databases, genomic, molecular,
biogeography, climate, meteorological, community, and agricultural or forestry databases, etc. It is
planned to integrate geographic information system to represent distributional data on various
aspects of scared groves.
Information and Communication Technology in Scared Groves: Potentials
During the development of SGIS, it was realized that information and communication technology
has great potential and important role to play in effective management and conservation of these
ecosystems. This would require additional tools and techniques in better managing and analyzing
data derived and acquired from ecosystems. Ideal information system on scared groves when
ready would be 4M (multi –element, -component, -season, and –location) in nature.
It would be essential to use controlled vocabulary and standardized terminology to make the
database interoperable with other such systems. For better taxonomic knowledge management
and identification of biotic resources that are harbored in these groves, it is essential to use
standardized taxonomic information system such as ITIS or Species2000.
Use of GIS would handle and analyze specially referenced data and offers tremendous potential in
storing voluminous spatial and non-spatial data. Employing GIS and remote sensing technologies
we sought advantages not only in time and costs, but also in a more comprehensive and
integrated treatment for sustainable utilization of resources. This would further help in vegetation
and GAP assessment studies. Techniques such as modeling, simulation and visualization would
improve the accuracy of analysis and prediction of potential changes. This would in turn result into
better and informed decisions and action plan for effective management of abiotic and biotic
resources of the sacred groves ecosystems.
Emerging communication and surveillance systems could be employed to acquire information /
data on real-time basis, as well as would be able to disseminate information as and when it is
required. Application of mobile or wireless computing could be sought for on spot field
identification as well as data / information comparison.
Beginning has just been made to collate all the possible data related to sacred groves in a
comprehensive web interfaced database. Though, it is a long journey, we believe that when
complete, such a knowledge base would provide the trend of depletion of these vital ecosystems.
This would also help in recalling the past land-use history and compare it with the present land-
use, thereby initiating the process of discussing conservation strategies. Development of such a
factual database would support the development of strategies for conservation and protection of
these unique heritage ecosystems. Such models would strengthen and support the national and
regional biodiversity conservation programs elsewhere in developing nations where similar types
of ecosystems exists.
Authors thank Director, National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, India for his guidance and support
towards this activity.
Deshmukh, S., M G Gogate and A K Gupta 1998. Sacred groves and biological diversity:
Providing new dimensions to conservation issue. Pp. 397-414. In: P.S. Ramakrishnan, K.G.
Saxena and U.M. Chandrashekhara (eds), Conserving the Sacred for Biodiversity Management.
Oxford and IBH. New Delhi
Kosambi, D. D. 1962. Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture. Popular
Malhotra, K C 1998. Anthropological dimensions of sacred groves in India: an overview. Pp. 423-
438. In: P.S. Ramakrishnan, K.G. Saxena and U.M. Chandrashekhara (eds), Conserving the
Sacred for Biodiversity Management. Oxford and IBH. New Delhi.
Sinha, B. and R.K. Maikhuri 1998. Conservation through socio-cultural-religious practices in
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K.G. Saxena and U.M. Chandrashekhara (eds), Conserving the Sacred for Biodiversity
Management. Oxford and IBH. New Delhi.
Tiwari, B.K., S.K. Barik, and R.S. Tripathi. 1998. Sacred Groves of Meghalaya. pp. 253-263. In:
P.S. Ramakrishnan, K.G. Saxena and U.M. Chandrashekhara. (eds). Conserving the Sacred for
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Vartak, V. D. and Gadgil, M. (1981) Studies on sacred groves along the Western Ghats from
Maharashtra and Goa. Role of Beliefs and Folklore. In: Glimpses of Indian Ethnobotany, pp. 272-
Uttar Pradesh West Bengal Meghalaya Maharashtra
Tamilnadu Kerala Andra pradesh Rajasthan
Figure 1. Distribution of Sacred Groves in India.
Historical Multimedia Biodiversity
Information Information Information
Locality Groves Sociological
Information Information information
Community Beliefs/Taboos Cultivation
Information Information Information
Figure 2. Data Diversity of Scared Groves Information System
Figure 3. Web based information system allows easy retrieval of data and dissemination