Dakshinkali is a sacred grove located at 1550 m of altitude about 22 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. It is a local symbol of divinity, devoted to the Goddess Kali. Hindus consider Kali to be the supreme, dark female power whose role is to destroy evil. Therefore, people worship her as a mother figure during religious festivals and marriage ceremonies, and whenever they seek solace. The Indigenous dwellers of two nearby villages — Pharping, inhabited by Newar people, and Chaimale, inhabited by Tamang people — have traditionally been involved in careful and respectful stewardship of the grove. The grove as well as the Seshnarayan pond located within it have long been closely integrated into the lives of people living in the neighboring districts, Lalitpur and Khatmandu.
The grove supports rich aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna, as well as abundant water resources that surrounding households access through tap water. Everywhere around the world, traditional ecological knowledge and spiritual beliefs teach people to treat sacred natural sites with respect. In Dakshinkali, people hold a strong belief that the grove’s vegetation is under the protection of the Goddess Kali. Hence, they deem many plant species found there to be holy. The belief that plants are manifestations of the gods restricts their exploitation, and traditional taboos protect rare and threatened plants from extinction. Integration of many medicinal plants into rituals by the Indigenous people has played a huge role in their conservation.
The forest patches of Dakshinkali, however, are no longer free from anthropogenic pressures. Several political, economic, and social issues often challenge management through the traditional system. The abandonment of sustainable practices in favor of the conveniences brought about by development — such as road construction, non-biodegradable waste pollution, and illegal harvesting of rare and endangered species — is among the causes of loss of the sacred grove’s pristine features. Biodiversity loss is an ongoing problem, creating a serious need for long-term revitalization and sustainable management efforts. Awareness programs for local people about the value of rare and endangered species as well their importance for the very existence of the Dakshinkali deity are essential steps to be undertaken urgently to ward off the ongoing devastation of the area.
Acknowledgements. We are thankful to the high-spirited people in Dakshinkali who shared with us information, anecdotes, cultural references, and traditional knowledge of this sacred grove. We highly value and appreciate the time they gave us to explain their values and beliefs.
Sheetal Vaidya, PhD, is an associate professor of Botany at Patan Multiple Campus, Tribhuvan University, Nepal, specializing in plant systematics. With over 27 years of teaching experience, she has done research on diverse subjects such as molecular biology, floriculture, and biocultural diversity of Indigenous communities of the Kathmandu Valley.
Asha Paudel is an assistant lecturer at Amrit Campus, Tribhuvan University, Nepal, teaching about climate change and biocultural diversity in the high Himalayas. An accomplished field scientist, her interests also lie in pollination biology as well as plant systematics of the alpine regions of Nepal.
Adhikari, D. (2006). Hydropower development in Nepal. Economic Review, 18, 70–94.
Government of Nepal. (2014). Nepal Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014–2016. Kathamndu, Nepal: GON, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation.
Government of Nepal. (2012). Nepal Population and Housing Census 2011, National Report. Kathmandu, Nepal: GON, National Planning Commission Secretariat, Central Bureau of Statistics.
Sangal, N. C., & Sangal, P. (1998). Glimpses of Nepal. New Delhi, India: APH.
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