FIRST REPORT ON THE MYTHS AND PLANT DIVERSITY OF GARHWAL HIMALAYAN SACRED WETLAND DEORIA TAL
Department of Environmental Sciences, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University (A Central University), Srinagar Garhwal 246174, Uttarakhand, India
Religious beliefs, fairs, traditions and cultural practices always play an important role in the conservation and management of natural resources and biodiversity of the Himalayan people. The Himalayan flora is rich and diverse with varying altitude, climate and ecological habitats. The present study encompasses on the mythological history, traditional practices and plant diversity of the wetland Deoria Tal, which is located in the lap of Garhwal Himalaya, surrounded by rich vegetation and snowy mountains ranges. A survey was undertaken for the study of plant diversity of the wetland from its understory and upper limits. A total number of 10 tree species, 11 shrubs and 21 herbs with their ethnomedicinal properties were recorded during the study period of two years from April 2014-March 2016.
Keywords: Myths, Sacred wetland, Mahabharata, Garhwal Himalaya, religious fair (Mela).
The word Himalaya literally derived from the Sanskrit work him (snow) and alaya (above), which means abode of snow. It not only provides innumerable services to mankind, it is the place for various saints and pujaris (priests) to perform their sadhana (religious practice). The important and pious rivers of India like Ganga and Yamuna originated from the Garhwal Himalayas and are the source of water to people. The Himalayas are one of the richest and youngest of all the ecosystems on the earth with a wide variety of floral and faunal diversity due to the varying altitude, climate and ecological habitats (Mani 1978). The Himalayas are considered as the hotspots of biodiversity because of various endemic species. Garhwal Himalaya is called as land of gods or Dev Bhoomi (Anthwal et al., 2006) and people from the different parts visit the place to perform various rituals. From the ancient history, Himalayan people have been conserving the rich biodiversity, lakes, rivers, and streams with their traditional beliefs and knowledge. One of the sacred places is the wetland Deoria Tal which is famous for its enchanting and picturesque landscape. Fishing is strictly prohibited in the wetland and there is a taboo that the fisherman will suffer from leprosy (Colding and Folke, 1997).
Plants have been regarded as an essential part of life. The wetland serves as a home for avian, terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity and therefore helps in conservation of biodiversity. The local people of Garhwal Himalaya depend on plants for fuel, fodder, wood made agricultural implements, medicines (made by local Vaidyas) etc. The local Vaidyas use their indigenous knowledge and practice of Ayurveda for the ailment of different diseases. Garhwal Himalayan wetlands (lakes and ponds) are full of rich biodiversity but due to their longer trek routes and inaccessibility, it has become a major issue to understand their current status from their sustainable and conservation point of view. In this paper, an attempt has been made to collect the knowledge of the beliefs, myths and plant diversity of the area. A lot of work has been done on the various aspects of terrestrial diversity of Garhwal Himalayan forests (Semwal et al., 2010; Bhat et al., 2013; Singh et al., 2017 etc) but there is no data available for the lakes as far as their mythology and plant diversity is concerned.
Study Area: The Himalayan wetland Deoria Tal is located in the central Himalaya surrounded by famous mountain peaks like Chaukhamba, Neelkantha, Bandarpunch, and Kalanag. It is located in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand (Figure 1) with an altitude of 2,445 m a.s.l., latitude 30031’44” N and longitude 79007’48” E (Sharma et al., 2018) with a distance of 12 km from Ukhimath through Tala and Sari village. From the village Sari there is a trek distance of 2.5 km to Deoria Tal. The wetland is famous for its unique beauty, cool temperate climate and topographic conditions with rich biodiversity, culture, mythological and traditional values. It is surrounded by rich vegetation from the two sides while the remaining sides are open.
Figure 1: Map of Deoria Tal wetland on Google Earth Imagery.
Materials and Methods: The visual observation was made by interviewing the locals of the Sari village, and forest range officer, and caretaker of the forest department at Deoria wetland. The interviewer comprises men-women of the Sari village, priest of the Omkar Ratneshwar Mahadev temple (1 kilometer towards trek to Deoria Wetland from village Sari). The personal interview and observations were made at regular intervals and field trips during the festival month of both the years. The survey was also done for the plant diversity of the wetland’s understory and upper limits. The flora was identified by books, research articles and few database sites (Gaur, 1999; Naithani, 1984; Prakash et al., 2004; Joshi et al, 2011; Bhat et al., 2013; Singh et al., 2017; The plant List, 2017; Flowers of India, 2017).
Results and Discussion
The wetland Deoria Tal also called as Devariya Tal as the Devas (Hindu Gods) bathe in the water hence the name given Deoria. The place is known as “Indra Sarovar” in Puranas by sadhus (sage) and Hindu mendicants. The wetland has so many mythological legends from the epic Mahabharata. When Pandavas (heroes of Mahabharata) were moving in search of water and didn’t find any source, then Lord Krishna with the help of Vasuki (several headed snake) originated the wetland to quench their thirst. It is also believed that Yaksha (in the form of a crane) asked questions from the Pandavas in which the four, out of five died because of not answering the questions and finally the elder one, Yuddhishtira gave all the answers and allowed to drink water and all Pandavas were revived. Every year on Krishna Janmashtami, a fair is being organized at Deoria Tal wetland in which a huge crowd gathers and celebrate the festival. People carry Doli (palankeen) of Nagraj (Figure 2) and circulate it around the wetland, worship with bells and dhoop and sing their traditional songs. There is a famous temple of Nagraj (God of Snakes) called Omkar Ratneshwar Mahadev temple on the route to Deoria Tal, 1km from the village Sari (Figure 3). The locals and tourists visit the temple and worship for blessings. The temple resembles the ancient architecture of famous temples of Uttarakhand like Kedarnath and Tungnath in terms of Garbhagraha and Mandap. Inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, there is a lingam in which water/milk is poured that resembles a snake wrapping over the lingam and liquid flows in a waveform just like a snake is moving in an anticlockwise direction.
Figure 2: (a) Festival (Mela) on Krishna Janamashtam; (b) Palankeen of Nagraj-devta (God of Snakes)
Figure 3: Omkar Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple (dedicated to Nagraj devta)
Plant data forms the framework of the environment, provide resources and create habitats used by the other organisms as they are called “structural species” (Thomas, 1991). A large number of people depend on plant resources as they sustain the life support system on earth. They perform a role in environmental stability, ecological balance, food security, environmental conservation and sustainable development and are the source of fodder, fiber, gum, oils, tannin and herbal medicine to the Himalayan people (Kumar and Bhatt, 2006). The himalayan people have a rich tradition of conserving nature through socio-religious constraints (Anthwal et al., 2006) and have a spiritual relationship with the existing physical environment. The local women collect dry wood to prepare the meal. The region has so many taboos for the conservation of plant. The orally transmitted traditional and social rules that are not in written form and regulate human behavior are known as taboos (Banjo et. al., 2006). The dominant plant species with their common/vernacular names and ethnomedicinal uses are given in table 1.
Table 1: List of Plant diversity found in the Wetland Deoria Tal.
Scientific name Family Common Name/Vernacular Name Ethno medicinal Uses
Acer caesium Wall. Ex Brandis Aceraceae Indian Maple
Fuel, muscular swelling, boils and pimples.
Aesculus indica Wall. Ex Cambess, Hook Sapindaceae Indian Horse-Chestnut Or Himalayan Horse Chestnut Skin diseases, rheumatism, as an astringent, acrid and narcotic, and in the relief of headaches
Anaphalis spp. Asteraceae Pearl or Pearly Everlasting Flowers poultice/whole plant- burns, ulcers, swelling and rheumatic joints.
Athyrium spp. Athyriaceae Lady Fern Cures Intestinal fever
Berberis aristata DC. Berberidaceae Chutro, Kingoor Indian Barberry, Tree Turmeric Fuel, fodder, ophthalmic, conjunctivitis and gastritis
Berberis asiatica Roxb. Berberidaceae Dar-hald, Daruhaldi, Asian Barberry Affection of eyes, skin disease, jaundice, and rheumatism
Berberis lyceum Royle. Berberidaceae Masholi , Raswanti, Kashmal Cedrus deodara Roxb. G.DonPinaceae Himalayan Cedar, or Deodar/ Devdar/ Devadar/ Devadaru, Neurological disorders, asthma, fever and for infected wounds
Ceratophyllum demersum L. Ceratophyllaceae Sevar, Kaayi, Sivar, Hornwort, rigid hornwort, coontail, or coon’s tail Leaf juice is used to stop vomiting, as cooling agent
Clematis grata O. Hoffm. ex Baker Ranunculaceae Dhanvali, Santai, Charming Clematis Rheumatism, headaches, varicose veins, syphilis, gout, bone disorders, etc
Cotoneaster microphyllus Wall. Ex. Lindl. Rosaceae Little leaf Cotoneaster
Cuts and wounds, Anti-inflammatory
Cuscuta reflexa Roxb. Convolvulaceae Amar Bel (Meaning, Immortal Vine) Constipation, liver and spleen diseases, diarrhoea and inflammation.
Cyperus rotundus L. Cyperaceae Common Nut Sedge, Motha Relieves fever, burning sensation and excess thirst, Improves lactation. Plant juice used to cure jaundice.
Cynodon dactylon L. Pers. Poaceae Durva, Haritali, Dhub, Hariali Enhance immunity, cuts, wounds, piles, inflammation, skin diseases
Desmodium elegans DC Fabaceae Tick-Trefoil, Chamali Vomiting, antipyretic.
Geranium sp. Geraniaceae Cranesbill Acne, reduce inflammation, alleviate anxiety and balance hormones
Antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-fungal
Girardinia diversifolia Link, FriisUrticaceae. Himalayan Nettle, Bichchhoo Mats and rope, antidote against snakebites etc.
Heteropogon spp Poaceae Spear Grass Forage and Fodder
Hypericum oblongifolium ChoisyHypericaceae Chitroi , Pendant St Johns Wort Pain, inflammation and pyrexia
Juglans regia L. Juglandaceae Akhrot, Wallnut fruit edible, Paste of oil and bark powder is useful during pregnancy, antiseptic, astringent, twigs are used to clean teeth and used to cure pyorrhoea.
Lyonia ovalifolia Wall Drude Ericaceae Angeri Skin diseases and external parasites, leaves paste massage relieves pain.
Myrica esculenta Buch.- Ham. Ex D.Don Myricaceae Box Myrtle, Bayberry, And Kaphal. Edible fruit, cough, fever and asthama
Myriophyllum spicatum L. Haloragidaceae
Demulcent and febrifuge
Pimpinella diversifolia DC. Apiaceae Groundsel And Old-Man-In-The-Spring, Chutney (leaves ), Gas trouble, indigestion, abdominal swelling, leucorrhoea, and stomach disorders
Polygonum amplexicaule D.Don GreenePolygonaceaeKnotweed, Knotgrass Antioxidant, cure liver damage
Potamogeton Perfoliatus L. Potamogetonaceae Claspingleaf pondweed Potamogeton epihydrus Raf. Potamogetonaceae Ribbon leaf pondweed Potentilla sp. Rosaceae Cinquefoils, Tormentils Edible, anti-diarrheal, toothache
Pyracantha crenulata D.Don M. Roem. Rosaceae Fire Thorn, Himalayan Firethorn, Bloody dysentery
Quercus ilex L Fagaceae The Evergreen Oak, Holly Oak Or Holm Oak Astringent
Quercus leucotrichophora A. Camus Fagaceae Banjh, Oak, Blackjack Oak Astringent and diuretic properties
Quercus semecarpifolia Sm. Fagaceae Kharsu, brown oak Timber, fuel, fodder
Ranunculus sp Ranunculaceae Butter Cup Anti-rheumatism, intermittent fever and rubefacient
Rhododendron arboreum Sm. Ericaceae Burans, Lal Buransh Fuel, flowers edible
Leaves-Astringent and poultice, headaches
Bark juice- Coughs, diarrhoea and dysentery
Rhus javanica L. Merr Anacardiaceae Tatri , Nutgall Tree Astringent, tannin
Rubia manjith Roxb. Rubiaceae Manjith Febrifuge. Anodyne, antiphlogistic, antitussive, astringent, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, styptic, tonic and vulnerary
Rosa moschata Herrm. Rosaceae The Musk Rose Eyes’ disorders, diarrhoea, wounds healing, stomach disorders etc.
Sarcococca saligna D.Don Mull. ArgBuxaceae The Sweet Box Or Christmas Box/ Geru Antibacterial and antifungal property
Solanum nigrum L. Solanaceae Makoi , Black Nightshade Liver disorders, chronic skin ailments (psoriasis and ringworm), inflammatory conditions, painful periods, fevers, diarrhoea, eye diseases, hydrophobia
Thalictrum foliolosum DC. Ranunculaceae Gold Thread Root Antiperiodic, diuretic, febrifuge, ophthalmic, purgative, salve, stomachic and tonic
Trapa natans Roxb. Lythraceae Water chestnut Fodder, forage, fruit (rheumatism and sunburn)
Viola biflora L. Violaceae Saini Diaphoretic, for intestinal pain.
The study of the myths and plant diversity of the Himalayan sacred wetland Deoria Tal is important for their sustainable management, utilization, and conservation point of view. The mythological taboos, practices and ethno medicinal values of the wetland help in maintaining the traditional beliefs and biodiversity. As the Garhwal Himalayan wetlands are under the stress of various anthropogenic disturbances, it is recommended that regular documentation and inventory of useful plant species with their medicinal values should be done. The forest department and local people need to participate in collaboration for the long- term conservation and management of the wetland.
Conflict of interest
There is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this article,
The author is thankful to the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University (A Central University), Srinagar-Garhwal for providing the Central University fellowship from March 2013 to June 2016. The author is also thankful to Kandari, the Forest Range Officer of Deoria wetland for his support and cooperation during the study period.
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