If somebody were to ask you, “Which is the one place on earth where trees are protected at any cost?” or, “Which is the most eco-friendly religious site in the world?” you can reply that such a place exists in Jharkhand by the name of Jaherthan. Jaherthan is a sacred space among the Adivasi community of Jharkhand where harming trees and vegetation is not allowed. It is the place of worship where the community gathers together and offers prayers to nature, to the Maranguburu and to the Jaheraayo.
This sacred space is also known as Desauli in Ho Adivasi language.
This history of Jaherthan
In the past, Adivasis used to live a migratory life which meant that they would shift from one place of settlement to another every few years or decades. This happened mainly because the increase in population required an expansion of lands to practice agriculture on and sustain the additional family members. For instance, when there were many brothers in a family, the existing agricultural land became insufficient to sustain the family of every brother. Migration, therefore, becomes a necessity.
Adivasis used to migrate in groups because many families used to experience similar situation of sustainability. They would search for a new place, locate it, and spend the night at a particular spot. Before sleeping, the families would offer prayers to nature and seek protection from wild animals and snakes. The site where they offered these prayers and slept for the night was considered a sacred space and this spot is where generation after generation of Adivasis offered prayers. It is from this spot that the earliest settlers would plan out the geography of their new village. Among the Adivasi communities. every village has a Jaherthan, not far from their homes. Before the village is constructed, it is always the Jaherthan which is made first, making it a sacred place of worship and reverence. It is considered a great sin to harm it in any way.
Although Jaherthan is a religious site, prayers offered here are not meant to be about individual success and desires. It is believed that such prayers and wishes are not granted. In the Jaherthan, the worship is done by one adivasi priest who prays for a good monsoon, a good harvest, balance of nature, protection of the villagers from wild animals, peace of the village, and also the protection from flu and other diseases.
Festivals that are celebrated at the Jaherthan
There are some major poojas that are performed at the Jaherthan. On such occasions, the villagers prepare a desi chicken khichdi in an earthen pot. This khichdi is cooked at the site and eaten there itself. It is considered to be a taboo to bring this food home. In addition, during the pooja, chappals and shoes are not allowed inside the sacred grove. Men are forbidden from wearing Western clothes and can only enter the grove wearing dhoti and traditional towels. Women do not participate in those poojas. They have their own separate festival called the Baha Pooja.
Some strict rules that are to be followed
People are prohibited from harming the trees in any manner. Not even tiny branches must be cut. Anyone who breaks this sacred rule is punished by the villagers.
A Jaherthan cannot be destroyed or replaced.
When an outsider visits an Adivasi village, they must first ascertain the location of Jaherthan so that they do not desecrate it by mistake. They must not answer nature's call on this location nor indulge in any other unwanted activities. The Jaherthan is simply an open place surrounded by Shakwa trees and for an outsider it is hard to identify this place from other parts of the forest, hence, it's mandatory for them to ask villagers about its location. It is considered to be a big offence to the community if you disrespect the place in any way and you are liable to be punished.
Jaherthan cannot be acquired by any project, whether it is by the government or by the corporates.
Desauli Foundation and the protection of Jaherthan
Desauli Foundation is an organization run by the youth of Jharkhand whose mission is to construct boundaries around each Jaherthan of the state so that they can be easily identified. Till now they have successfully made boundaries for 15 Jaherthans.
In the beginning, this project received some opposition from Adivasis as they deemed it against their traditional principles to construct a boundary around the space. But as many visitors to the villages end up disrespecting the grove by spitting or peeing in the vicinity, it has become important to mark the Jaherthan. The founder of the organization Mr. Sadhu Ho says "The government should help them officially identity all the Jaherthan and should map them on Google Map." Jaherthans are the most eco friendly religious places on Earth and probably the safest place for trees on the planet.