Sacred Groves and Local Gods: Religion and Environmentalism in South India

Paperback | April 2, 2013

byEliza F. Kent

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In recent years, India's 'sacred groves,' small forests or stands of trees set aside for a deity's exclusive use, have attracted the attention of NGOs, botanists, specialists in traditional medicine and anthropologists. Environmentalists disillusioned by the failures of massivestate-sponsored solutions to ecological problems have hailed them as an exemplary form of traditional community resource management. For, in spite of pressures to utilize their trees for fodder, housing and firewood, the religious taboos surrounding sacred groves have led to the conservation ofpockets of abundant flora in areas otherwise denuded by deforestation. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu over seven years, Eliza F. Kent offers a compelling examination of the religious and social context in which sacred groves take on meaning for thevillagers who maintain them, and shows how they have become objects of fascination and hope for Indian environmentalists. Sacred Groves and Local Gods traces a journey through Tamil Nadu, exploring how the localized meanings attached to forested shrines are changing under the impact of globalization and economic liberalization. Confounding simplistic representations of sacred groves as sites of a primitive form ofnature worship, the book shows how local practices and beliefs regarding sacred groves are at once more imaginative, dynamic, and pragmatic than previously thought. Kent argues that rather than being ancient in origin, as previously asserted by scholars, the religious beliefs, practices, andiconography found in sacred groves suggest origins in the politically de-centered eighteenth century, when the Tamil country was effectively ruled by local chieftains. She analyzes two projects undertaken by environmentalists that seek to harness the traditions surrounding sacred groves in theservice of forest restoration and environmental education.

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In recent years, India's ''sacred groves,'' small forests or stands of trees set aside for a deity's exclusive use, have attracted the attention of NGOs, botanists, specialists in traditional medicine and anthropologists. Environmentalists disillusioned by the failures of massivestate-sponsored solutions to ecological problems have hai...

Eliza F. Kent is Associate Professor of Religion at Colgate University.

other books by Eliza F. Kent

Lines in Water: Religious Boundaries in South Asia
Lines in Water: Religious Boundaries in South Asia

Kobo ebook|Jul 1 2013

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.68 inPublished:April 2, 2013Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199895481

ISBN - 13:9780199895489

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsNote on TransliterationRegional Map of South IndiaIntroduction: Sacred Groves and Local Gods: Religious Environmentalism in South India1. Fierce Gods and Dense Forest: Sacred Groves near Madurai2. A Road Runs Through It: Changing Meanings in Malaiyali Sacred Groves in Tiruvannamalai District3. Mixing Botany and Belief: Guardian Deities and Their Forests in the Pondicherry Region4. Soteriology and Stake-holders: The Greening of the Auroville Plateau 1973-20075. Sacrifice and Sacrality: Sacred Grove Restoration Projects Near ChennaiAfterwordNotesBibliographyIndex