“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase," said Martin Luther King, Junior.
Centuries ago, this faith in the unknown might have inspired the elders in Sikkim to worship their springs. What it would yield was perhaps unfathomable then, but today, it surely is evident. Devithans are protected areas around a spring, often associated with a local legend or myth about why the place is holy. Rituals are organised there to appease the deity.
How it started is unknown but even today, the sacredness of the space is perceptible in the culture and beliefs of the people. Religious rituals are diverse since Sikkim is populated by Nepalis, Bhutias, Tibetans, Subbas and Lepchas, but people from different communities and cultural dispositions visit and worship the Devithans. Locals organise annual pujas, or prayers, here on important days such as the Buddha Purnima, but people are free to perform pujas whenever they wish.
The area around a Devithan is protected, and there are strict rules set up by the local committee to ensure this. In most cases, the water from such a spring is used only for drinking, and laws ensure that there is no wasting water or dirt around the site. People also abstain from felling trees in the surrounding areas and often plant trees around it. No toilets are constructed and even grazing in the area above the spring is prohibited since it will lead to contamination.
Though shrouded in rituals and myths, Devithans serve as an important institution to preserve springs, but that is not all. On the flipside, some also believe that such strong religious sentiment may prevent any development work near the temple – this could be both a boon and a bane.
The video explains more about Devithans and what it means with regard to spring conservation.
This article first appeared on India Water Portal.