0087-A1

Religious and Spiritual Values of Forest Plants in Nepal

K.P. Acharya[1]


ABSTRACT

Forests provide food, medicine, energy, shelter, wood and non-wood products to sustain life on earth. Dependency on forests to support subsistence-farming systems has been of paramount importance in Nepal. In addition, there have been numerous essential uses of forest plants in the life system of the Nepalese. These are cultural and spiritual dimensions of forest plant uses. The paper examines how the socio-cultural and spiritual values in Nepal influence the way Nepalese communities perceive plants, and how religious beliefs and practices affect the way plants are understood, utilized and managed.

It was found that about 80 plant species are used in socio-cultural festivals. These plants are essential to start all religious festivals and one cannot imagine completing any religious rituals without them. It was observed that specific species are used for special purposes and festivals. The frequency of requirements varies from daily, seasonal, annual, and periodic to occasional. The nature of the plant species varies from annual herbs to big-sized trees. However, due to loss of species and migration to urban areas, some cultural changes have been occurred. The paper is a detailed investigation of the use of forest flora and fauna for social, cultural and spiritual purposes.


INTRODUCTION

The Hindu Kingdom of Nepal extends 800 km east to west along the southern slopes of the Himalayas in central Asia. It is a land-locked country located between 80 4' and 88 12' east longitude and 26 22' and 30 27' north latitude. Its total land area is 147,181 km2 and the borders are contiguous with India in the west, south and east and with the People's Republic of China in the north. More than 80 percent of the area is covered by rugged hills and mountains including Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) and seven other of the worlds highest peaks (HMG 1989). According to the 2001 population census, the total population of Nepal is 31million, with an annual growth rate of 2.10 percent (CBS 2002). The economy largely depends on the use of it’s natural resources base and is dominated by the agrarian sector. More than 80 percent of the people depend on subsistence farming and more than 80 percent of the economically active population is engaged in subsistence agriculture.

The forests in Nepal are very important from a socio-cultural and economic point of view. During the 1960’s only fuelwood was recognized as an important forest product (Eckholm 1976). However, a closer look in recent years has revealed that farm, forestry and livestock husbandry are three highly integrated constituents of the hill farming system and can not be separated from each other (Gilmour and Fisher 1991; Mahat 1987). The studies describing the use and importance of forest and plants in the area of medicinal values, tourism, agricultural tools and implements, households' uses such as furniture, timber, fuelwood energy, foods and beverages and other uses has been well documented (Acharya 2002; Gautam 2001; NBAP 2001; Malla 2000; Edwards 1996; HMG 1989; Gilmour and Fisher 1991; Mahat 1987). It can be said that forest plays a vital role to support food security situation of rural framers in Nepal. Aside from their values as source of energy, medicine and raw materials, plants are important to man in other ways. These are social, cultural and spiritual dimensions of forest uses, which have been less studied and documented in Nepal.

Rituals values of plants

All Hindu families in Nepal and in India have to perform pujas (religious rituals) on certain occasions and is itself partially responsible for procuring the ritual objects necessary for them (Pohle, 1990). These could be daily puja, seasonal, monthly, annual, periodic and occasional. There is no religious ritual, which does not require plants and their products. Traditions Hindu Books such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Veds, all put intention to preserve forest as a part of the cultural heritage. An attempt has been made to return to the sources of traditional cultural value in order to record and document the treasure of knowledge that still exits with different caste and ethnic community. Recently, few ethno-botanical studies on some caste or tribes have been conducted. However, these attempts have ignored detailed study on spiritual and cultural values of plants in heterogeneous Hindu dominated Nepalese society that gives higher social recognition on it. Therefore, this paper attempts to investigate and document cultural and spiritual values of plants species in a Nepalese society from mid hills of Nepal.

Hindu religion and rituals

The recent census, in 2001 revealed that about 80.61 % of the populations were adherents of the Hindu religion followed by Buddhists (10.74%), Islam (4.19%), and remaining by Christians, Jains and animists (CBS 2002). The Hindu religion believes that the world is governed by supernatural beings that play various roles of construction (Brahma), continuation (Bishnu) and destruction (Shiva). Many of the major deities have a number of different forms, each requiring ritual worship at different times and in different ways (Deep 1982). According to traditional belief, sodash sanskar (Six in numbers) must be completed before acting as a human being and all activities in this sanskar demand the use of plants and their products for example all most all Hindus and ethnic groups cremate their dead in prescribed manner (Bista 1987), consuming a great deal of fuel each year.

Forest management and religious forest

The practices of maintaining and managing religious forest and its potential to incorporate to community forestry have been seen as an important way to manage forest in Nepal. Ingles (1994) argued that religious beliefs and practices affect the way forests are perceived and managed in Nepal. Forests are also affected by activities such as tree worship; establishment and maintenance of scares sites in forests, religious festivals and rituals conducted within the forest. Moreover, religious forests provide refugia for species, which may otherwise have become locally extinct. Religious forests are not harvested and there is a belief that it is devoted in the name of the god.

Hindus and their Dharma

Nepalese society places a high value on dharma. Gyawali (1987) defined dharma as correct lifestyles of living in harmony with one's nature in a world of perpetual change, a lifestyle in harmony in three spheres; the philosophical, the social and the environmental. Various religious rituals and social activities are carried out to observe dharma. During the religious rituals and ceremonies, one or more deities are worshipped using actions, process and products prescribed by texts or priests or local tradition (Ingles 1994). The social activities includes the construction of temples, schools, rest houses for pilgrims, construction of drinking water taps, donating to charity, constructing bridges, roads, chautara (resting place). All these activities require use of plants or plants products.

METHODOLOGY

The study was conducted in Kusma, Siwalaya Village Development Committee, Parbat of western development region of Nepal. It was selected based on the criteria such as familiarity (hometown) of researcher with the village and accessibility. The semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, informal discussions and key informants surveys were carried out in order to collect information from local people. The principle of triangulation was applied to verify the information.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Roles and values of plants and their products

Different pants and their products are essential with no replacement to perform various religious rituals. This practices is higher particularly in rural areas as the case study area. Some plants species are highly scared and worshipped such as Ficus religiosa, F. bengalensis, F. glomerata, Magnifera indica, and F. glaberrima, Dsemotachya bipinnata, Ocimum spp and Phyllanthus emblica. Appendix 1 presents the list of plants species and worshipped goddesses. Soon after 11 days of birth to death and all intermediate ritual and cultural functions require plants and their products. Appendix 2 presents glossary of Nepalese term and Appendix 3 includes detailed list of plant species and their uses in different rituals ceremonies.

Number and nature of species

It was found that more than 80 different plant species and their products are required to perform religious and cultural festivals in the study area. The nature of species varies from annual herbs, climber, palm trees, shrub to big sized trees and their parts. These are purely wild to domesticated. With increasing development different kinds of flowers are used than were traditional used. However, there are some plants products for which there is no substitute such as Dsemotachya bipinnata and bamboos used to transport dead body up to the cremate places. The most commonly used part in various ceremonies are leaf and flowers. Other parts used are branches, stems, fruits, bark and roots. These part(s) of individual plants are either used in individual basis or are used to produce composite products.

Tree worships and culture

In Hindu theology, specific plant and trees species are deemed to be incarnations, or symbols of deities and other supernatural forces and must be worshipped (Ingles 1994). Harvesting of worship tree was thought to be against worshipped god e.g. F. religiosa is not harvested easily and there is religious merit by planting such worshipped trees is still common.

Uses

The plants and their products must offer and are essential for the purpose of religious rituals or incense or decorative values or prayed for god. Some of the interesting and important uses and values are pointed below.

Resources accessibility

The practices to access the different plants product varies from place to place and products to products. In rural areas plants and their products are easily accesses in private or communal or governmental forest and special arrangements have been made to obtain forest products from community forests. In urban areas some common products such as Sal leaves are available in market. Some difficult products are make accessible through governmental agencies such as District Forest Office provides firewood for burning the dead body in Kathmandu. The users collect most of the forest products from the forest area free of cost and as required all the time. Some plants products such as Dsemotachya bipinnata is delivered at home by the priest. Some products such as Aegle marmelos, Ficus religiosa are available from public places and are extracted in required amount. However, some plants such as Eulaliopsis binata is grown in private farm or is collected from the forest. In case of public managed forest known as community forestry, in general all plants products for such proposes are available free of cost and all the time if are available in the forest.

Community involvement and innovations

The trade of Shorea robusta leaves and its products has been identified as a source of income to the community forest user groups in mid hills region of Nepal (Gautam and Devkota, 1999). However, the detail process and approach, which needs to be adopted by the forest user groups, has not been identified. Therefore, there is a need to identify all potential products either in raw or semi-process that can be produced by the community with their potentiality at community level. Moreover, establishment of small processing plants at forest community level will create employment opportunity.

Ecological implications

The trees and plants are regarded to be incarnations or symbols of the gods or deities and therefore tree worship became more common. The increased realization of the importance of trees would be helpful to solve the problem of environmental imbalance. One of the approaches towards this direction could be tree worshipping in Nepal. The creation and maintenance of religious forest has positive impacts on ecological and biodiversity implications. The Nepal Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP 2001) has emphasized to conduct biodiversity assessment in religious forest all over the country and has speculated that there could be few species, which are preserved only in such religious forest. There are 40 religious forests in Kathmandu valley only, (NBAP, 2001). The maintenance of religious forest especially in hilly regions has positive impacts on soil conservation and microclimate conservation.

Conclusion

The plants products of their parts are utilized for worshiping, essential requirements to prepare for mandap, toran, to present as a gift, decorative vales such as incense or flowers. All flowering plants may be used either as incense or as decorations for the house altar, so that documentation carried out in the various regions contains only a restricted number of plants, those used in particular rituals or serving customarily as incense. It is clear that without the use of plants and their products the religious rituals and cultural values are not completed. Without completing rituals and cultural values life of a Hindu is not completed. Hence a significant number of plants and their products are essential to sustain life system of a Hindu. The detailed investigation covering heterogeneous society with diverse cultural ceremonies, geographical variation will enhance knowledge and understanding of importance of forest trees in Nepalese society.

References

Acharya, K.P. 2002 Twenty-four years of community forestry in Nepal, The International Forestry Review 4(2) 151-156.

Bista, D.B. 1987 People of Nepal Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu, Nepal

CBS, 2002. Population census National report 2001. HMG/National Planning Commission Secretariat, Kathmandu.

Deep, D.K. 1989. The Nepal Festivals, Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Eckholm, E.P. 1976. Loosing Ground: Environmental Stress and World Food Prospects. W.W. Norton and Company, New York.

Edwards, D.M. 1996. Non-timber Forest Products from Nepal, FORESC Monographs 1/96, Forest Research and Survey Centre, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Gautam, K.H. and B.P. Devkota (1999) Sal (Shorea robusta) leaves can provide income to some community forestry user groups at Sindhupalchok district. The Nepal Journal of Forestry XI (1) 41-46.

Gautam, K.H. 2001. Lopping regimes in community-managed Sal (Shorea robusta) forests of Nepal: Prospects for multiple-product silvicultural for community forestry, Ph D thesis submitted to the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Gilmour, D.A. and Fisher, R.J. 1991. Villagers, Forest and Foresters: The Philosophy, Process and Practice of Community Forestry in Nepal. Sahayogi Press, Kathmandu.

Gyawali, D. 1987 Development of Dharma Himal 17 pp Himal associates, Kathmandu

HMG 1989. Country Background: Master Plan for the Forestry Sector of Nepal. Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, HMG/ADB/FINNIDA, Kathmandu.

Ingles, I.W. 1994. The influence of religious beliefs and rituals on forest conservation in Nepal. Nepal Australia Community Forestry Project, Kathmandu, Nepal.18 pp.

Mahat, T.B.S. 1987. Forestry-Farming Linkages in the Mountains. Occasional Paper No. 7, ICIMOD, Kathmandu.

Malla, Y.B. 2001 Impacts of community forestry policy in rural livelihoods and food security in Nepal. Unasylva 200(38-45).

NBAP 2001. Nepal Biodiversity Action Plan, Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Pohle, P. 1990. Useful plants of Manang district: A contribution to the Ethnobotany of the Nepal - Himalayas, Nepal Research Centre, Publications no. 16, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Appendix 1: List of worshipped plants and their goddesses

S.N.

Species

Nepali name

Worshipped for

Role of individual goddesses

1.

Ficus bengalensis, Aegle marmelos Elaeocarpus sphaericus Saraca indica
Cannabis sativa

Bar
Bel Rudraksha
Ashok
Ganja

Shiva

Destruction

2.

F. religiosa
Eulaliopsis binata

Pipal Babiyo

Bishnu

Continuation

3.

F. bemjamina
Cynodon dactylon

Swami Dubo

Ganesh

God of good luck and success

4.

Ocimum spp
Phyllanthus emblica

Tulsi Amala

Lakshmi

Money

5.

Dsemotachya bipinnata Butea monsperma

Kush Palash

Bramha, Bishnu and shiva

Bramha is for creation

6.

Acacia catechu

Khayer

Agni

Fire

Appendix 2 Glossary of Nepalese terms

Nwaran: A ritual ceremony carried out in 11 days of birth to named newborn.

Tija: The third day of the bright fortnight of Bhadra (Aug-Sept), is women's wish making day.

Shivaratri: The middle of the dark fortnight of Falgun (Feb-March) month paying tribute to Lord Shiva.

Tihar: Ritual in which sisters pray for long life of brothers and is also known as festivals of light.

Luto phalne: The first day of Shrawan (July-August) in which diseases like scabies is supposed to be thrown through the use of different plants.

Mandam/Jagnya: A special flat place prepared to conduct ritual functions.

Bratabandha: A ritual functions where a boy is supposed to enter in youth stages and is essential function to be a mankind. It is equivalent to conformation in Christianity.

Dashain: The greatest Hindu Festival and the celebration is centered around the worship of mother goddess, offering tika.

Tika: A mixture of rice grain, yogurts and Kesar placed in foreheads is a symbol of success.

Ratha jatra: It is the celebration for the god of rain and food grain.

Sodash sanskar: The six cultural festivals in the life of a Hindu to be a mankind.

Sanskar: Culture

Toran: The weaving of different kinds of leaves and flowers in a rope made of Eulaliopsis binnata.

Brahmin, Chhetri and Newar: Different castes in Hindu caste system.

Bel bibaha: A ritual function in Newar family where a girl must marry with fruits of Aegle marmelos before monthly period.

Appendix 3: List of plant species and plant products required.

S.N.

Nepali name

Species

Species nature

Major ritual function

Parts used

1.

Aank

Calotropis gigantea

shrubs

nwaran

mariage infertile?

2.

Aduwa

Zingiber officinale

herbs

all

roots

3.

Akamaro

Solanum tubersum

herbs

tija

stem and branches

4.

Amala

Phyllanthus emblica

tree

sacred tree

fruit

5.

Anp

Magnifere indica

tree

all

leaf

6.

Asna

Termalelia alata

tree

sacred fire

wood

7.

Ashok

Saraca indica

tree

sacred tree

leaf

8.

Babiyo

Eulaliopsis binata

herbs

all

leaf

9.

Bans

Dendrocalamus spp

grass

all

stem

10.

Bar

Ficus bengalensis

tree

all

leaves and wood

11.

Baramase

Hibiscus rosasinensis

shrub

all

flowers

12.

Barley

Hordeum vulgare

herbs

all

grain

13.

Bel

Aegle marmelos

tree

all

green leaf and fruit

14.

Besar

Curcuma longi

herbs

all

tubers

15.

Bhalayo

Rhus succedanea

tree

nwaran

stem

16.

Bhang

Cannabis sativa

herbs

shivaratri

leaves and seed

17.

Bhimsen pati

Eclipta prostrata

herbs

all

leaf and flower

18.

Bhogate

Citrus spp

tree

tihar

fruit

19.

Bhringaraj

?

herb

luto phalne

whole plant

20.

Bibiro

Citrus spp

tree

tihar

fruit

21.

Chameli

Jasminum spp

shrubs

all

flowers

22.

Chandan

Santalum album

tree

daily

wood and incense

23.

Chyuri

Bassia butyracea

tree

marriage

seedlings as gift

24.

Dhatura

Datura stramonium

herbs

shivaratri

fruit/latex

25.

Dhrusul

Solanum verbascifolium

herbs

all

flowers and leaf

26.

Dubo

Cynodon dactylon

herbs

all

whole plant

27.

Dumri

F. glomerata

tree

all

leaf and latex

28.

Faledo

Erythrina stricta

tree

all

flowers

29.

Galaincha

Ficus spp

tree

all

flower

30.

Godawari

Chrysanthemum spp

herbs

all

flowers

31.

Gulaf

Rosa spp

shrubs

all

flowers

32.

Gurans

Rhododendron spp

tree

all

incense

33.

Harro

Terminalia chebula

tree

sacred plants

fruits

34.

Jau

Hordeum vulgare

herb

all

grain

35.

Jute

Corchorus capsularis

shrub

all

fiber

36.

Kabro

F. lacor

tree

death

leaf and branches

37.

Kadam

Anthocephalus cadamba

tree

sacred tree

leaf

38.

Kans

Sachharum spontaneum

herbs

sacred fire

leaf

39.

Kapas

Gossypium arborium

shrubs

all

fruit

40.

Kapoor

Cinnamomum camphora

tree

all

extract as incense

41.

Katahar

Artocarpus integrifolia

tree

sacred tree

fruit

42.

Kera

Musa ferra

herbs

all

leaf, whole plant

43.

Keshar

Curcus sativus

herbs

all

extract as tika

44.

Ketuki

Yucca gloriosa

shrubs

all

leaf

45.

Khayer

Acacia catechu

tree

fire works in jagnya

branches and wood

46.

Kush

Dsemotachya bipinnata

herbs

all

leaf

47.

Lalupate

Euphorbia pulcherima

shrubs

all

flowers

48.

Lotus

Nelumbium nucifera

water plant

sacred

whole plant

49.

Lutelahari

unidentified

herb

luto phalne

whole plant

50.

Makhamali phool

Gompherna globasa

herbs

tihar

flowers

51.

Manak

Rabies nigrum

shrub

all

leaf

52.

Mandar

unidentified

herb

all

leaf

53.

Mane pat

Cuauchun cuesicultion

tree

mariage

in tharu community

54.

Mango

Magnifera indica

tree

all

leaf

55.

Mans

Phaseolus mungo

herbs

all

grain

56.

Nareshwar

Musea ferra

tree

all

leaf and fruit

57.

Nariwal

Coconut

shrub

all

fruit

58.

Nimaro

Ficus. spp

tree

all

leaf

59.

Okhar

Juglans regia

tree

tihar

fruit

60.

Painyu

Prunnus cerasoides

tree

bratabandha

branch

61.

Pakhari

F. globerrimata

tree

all

leaf

62.

Palash

Butea monosperma

tree

bratabandha

branches

63.

Pan

Piper bittle

climber

tihar

leaf

64.

Pharsi

Cucurbita maxima

herbs

dashain

ftuit

65.

Phurse

Benicasa hispida

herbs

dashain

fruit

66.

Pine

Pinus spp

tree

ratha jatra

wood and log

67.

Pipal

F. religiosa

tree

all

leaf and wood

68.

Potato

Solanum tubersum

herbs

all

tuber

69.

Rice

Oryza sativa

herbs

all

grain

70.

Rudraksha

Elaeocarpus sphaericus

tree

all

weeds from ripen fruit

71.

Sal

Shorea sobusta

tree

all

leaf, wood, incense

72.

Sayapatri

Tagetes erecta

herbs

all

flowers

73.

Simali

Vitex negundo

shrubs

all

Branch and leaf

74.

Siundi

Euphorbia royaleana

shrubs

Nwaran

leaf

75.

Sunflower

Helianthus annus

herbs

all

flowers

76.

Supari

Areca catechu

palm tree

all

fruit

77.

Swami

F. benjamina

tree

all

leaf

78.

Til

Seasmum indicum

herbs

all

grain

79.

Tite Pati

Artemisia spp

herbs

all

leaf and flower

80.

Tori

Brassica compestris

herbs

all

grain

81.

Tulsi

Ocimum spp

herbs

all and daily

leaf and stem

82.

Ukhu

Saccharum officinarum

herbs

dashain, shivaratri

leaf


[1] Research Officer, Department of Forest Research and Survey, GPO Box 9136, Kathmandu, Nepal. Email: kpacharya1@hotmail.com