Forest cover one-third of the earth and give shelter to half of the world’s land-based species of animals, plants, and insects. We all recognize and are aware of the role forests play in the health of the planet and mitigating the effects of climate change. Apart from this, they also provide sustainable livelihoods to people. Still, deforestation is happening at an alarming rate across different regions.
In the good old days, various Goddesses used to protect the forests. Forests have been associated with feminine because of their nourishing and life-sustaining abilities. The connection of women with forests and forest ecosystem goes deep and long. It is a woman’s job traditionally to collect wood for cooking, fodder for animals and other forest products such as honey, herbs, and medicines from the forest. It wasn’t surprising to see women embracing or hugging trees during the Chipko movement in India to prevent them from being cut.
Different cultures have Goddesses who are associated with the protection of forests and wild animals.
Ardwina is a Celtic goddess who oversees the forests of Ardennes who demands a fine for every animal killed in her region. Artemis was a Greek Goddess who assumed different forms as per the needs like the moon, tree, and bear and used to roam in forests. She used to protect the animals from hunting and was also responsible for deaths in the woods. She was also in charge for the survival of species in the forests.
Buschfrauen was a central European goddess who used to guard the trees and revealed the secrets of herbs and healing. Her dance used to make plants grow and didn’t allow people to cut the bark of the tree as it hurts the tree.
Cuvto- Ava is a Russian Goddess of the indigenous people of Mordvins, who used to protect her tree daughter from injuries. People who break off the branches of the tree were punished with different diseases.
There is an entire hymn devoted to Indian Goddess Aranyani in Rig Veda. She is called the Goddess of the wild and is unafraid of the thick forest. She has no home of her own and wanders fearlessly from the edges of the villages. One cannot see her but can hear the tinkling of bells of her anklets. She is sweet-scented and is compassionate. She feeds both man and animal and is a storehouse of fruits and provides shelter to all.
Budhi Pallien is an Assamese goddess of forests and jungles, who roams in the form of a tiger. She can change shape and communicates with the other forest animals.
Bonbibi is another forest Goddess who protects all. She is worshipped both by Hindus and Muslims. Mendez Uddin, Sufia in John Renard (ed). Tales of God’s friends: Islamic hagiography in translation writes that she is the friend of the God. Her role is to protect the people who risk their lives in the dense forests of Sundarbans.
Worship of these Goddesses organically weaves the various narratives of ecology and feminism together into the cult of the divine. It shows the associations between women and nature where both have nurturing, caring abilities and both suffer from patriarchal oppression.