Unlike much of the Western world, the Indian subcontinent has managed to retain many thousands of groves, forests, rivers, lakes, and mountains that are afforded special protection for religious or spiritual reasons. Despite the enormous cultural disruption caused by British rule and the wave of industrialization that followed independence, sacred places in India have survived as a living tradition into the modern age.
As the nation starts to feel the environmental strain of its economic boom, with a rapidly expanding population growing ever more hungry for land and resources, ecologists have begun to recognize sound scientific reasons for preserving human-free zones. Ancient as the tradition is, and as imbued with folklore and myth, declaring certain places sacred dovetails with some very modern concepts. Conservation groups are currently urging the Indian government—whose policies have led at times to the erosion of many sacred-grove systems—to acknowledge and understand the ways in which the country’s past may be key to its future.
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