Sacred Grove


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Sacred Grove

  1. 1. DIGITIZING INDIAN SACRED GROVES – AN INFORMATION MODEL FOR WEB INTERFACED MULTIMEDIA DATABASE Gaikwad, S.S.; S. N. Paralikar; Vishwas Chavan; and S. Krishnan Information Division National Chemical Laboratory Dr Homi Bhabha Road, Pune 411008, INDIA e-mail : Abstract 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. Introduction 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,, 1999). These are mainly distributed in the states of Andhra Pradesh (WWF, 1996), Bihar, Jharkhand,Orissa,Maharashtra (Gadgil and Vartak, 1981; Deshmukh, 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, 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.
  2. 2. 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 India. 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 management activities. 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.
  3. 3. 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
  4. 4. 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. Conclusion 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. Acknowledgements Authors thank Director, National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, India for his guidance and support towards this activity. References 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
  5. 5. Kosambi, D. D. 1962. Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture. Popular Prakashan. Bombay 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 Garhwal Hinmalayas: A case study of Haiyali sacred forest. Pp. 289-300. In: P.S. Ramakrishnan, 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 Biodiversity Management. Oxford and IBH Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd 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- 278
  6. 6. 1 5,500 1,214 290 25000 26,326 761 900 133 2,808 Uttar Pradesh West Bengal Meghalaya Maharashtra Tamilnadu Kerala Andra pradesh Rajasthan Karnataka Pondichery Figure 1. Distribution of Sacred Groves in India.
  7. 7. Historical Multimedia Biodiversity Information Information Information Sacred Locality Groves Sociological Information Information information System Community Beliefs/Taboos Cultivation Information Information Information Figure 2. Data Diversity of Scared Groves Information System
  8. 8. Figure 3. Web based information system allows easy retrieval of data and dissemination of knowledge.