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The Forest of Symbols Embodied in the Tholung Sacred Landscape of North Sikkim, India

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Type: Journal Article
Author: Arora, Vibha
Journal: Conservation and Society
Volume: 4
Date: 2006
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/3156
Sector: Social Organization
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): sacred forests
land tenure and use
indigenous institutions
landscape change
indigenous knowledge
Abstract: "The paper explores the forest of symbols and the cultural politics embodied in the Tholung sacred landscape of North Sikkim, India. Representations of the Lepchas as the guardians of the sacred grove are gaining ground in the contemporary context of their cultural revival and regional ethnopolitics. To nuance these perspectives, this study furthers the socioecological debate on conservation, socio-religious fencing, and the mediating role of state. Sacred groves and landscapes are often perceived as an example of indigenous forest management practices and the antithesis of the sanctuary rationally managed by the forest department of the government. I emphasise that conservation is a latent consequence while the idea of a sacred site preserves the forest and keeps it inviolate. I argue that Tholung constitutes the nerve centre of Lepcha life, their identity, and embodies the nationalist practices of the former Kingdom of Sikkim. As a sanctified site, Tholung legitimised the authority of the Namgyal dynasty that ruled Sikkim until its incorporation into India in 1975. I explain how rituals performed by the Lepchas regenerate the human body, the land, the ancestral connections of the Lepchas, and their indigenous identity. The community, the forest and the state are conjoined in the locus of the sacred grove as it legitimises the power of the state and sustains the ethnic-nationalism of the Lepchas in the region."

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