INDIA: Hindus restore sacred forests in Orissa
Hindu groups and the Orissa government agreed to re-establish the state’s sacred forests to provide sustainably-managed wood for the annual festival of Lord Jagannath.
The centrepiece of the ancient festival is the building and parading of three huge chariots – after which the English word “juggernaut” is named. These are made with timber from 20 local tree species and after the ceremony, the wood is distributed to local villages and used to fuel temple kitchens.
But over the centuries inadequate forest management has gradually led to a significant loss of trees. The implication both for the festival and the natural environment is serious.
||Festival chariots require an estimated 400 cubic metres of wood, harvested annually by the State Forests Department specially for the purpose
The forests are rich in resources, but their proper management requires the co-operation of the people who live in and around them.
The Sacred Gift builds on the people’s devotion to Lord Jagannath – a devotion that has been a key element of Orissan culture for at least 2000 years – and aims to set up three forest conservation zones, each incorporating about ten villages sited in state-owned forest lands.
Since 2000 each village has had a Forest Protection Committee to promote joint forest management based around practical incentives and employment schemes.
In 2001 the local communities developed a management plan in collaboration with ARC.
By mid-2007 2369 hectares were earmarked for plantation under the Shri Jagannath Vana Prakalpa Forest Project. See link to learn more about this project and the management of Jagannath Forest.
The project sets an important precedent for other Hindu groups to extend their involvement in environmental matters. It also encourages the Orissa State Government to incorporate traditional cultural and religious practices into their forest activities - which are vital to the state’s economy.