One of the most striking, remarkably pristine religious centres in Nigeria’s South West is the Osun-Osogbo grove. The grove is not just sacred but it is held in awe by a large array of worshippers who usually throng there for prayers and commune.
The forest in which the grove sits has its location on the outskirts of Osogbo, the Osun State capital. Today, the grove is regarded as one of the remains of the primary high forests in Nigeria’s South west.
One of the striking features of the groves is the array of art works, sanctuaries, sculptures and shrines. It must of course be mentioned that the Osun deity is said to have the abode as her place of resident where she connects with her worshippers. These sanctuaries, shrines, works of art and others are raised in honour and worship of the female deity venerated as the goddess of fertility. Again, while the grove serves as the abode of the goddess, other gods in the Yoruba pantheon are worshipped and their symbols placed for references of worship.
For many years, Yorubas both within and outside the country, travel down to the grove for the annual osun-osogbo festival. In fact, the festival has gone beyond the frontiers of the Yoruba race as it has gained so much global interest. Tourists, cultural and religious enthusiasts travel from the world over to have an inclusive participation in the annual ritual of the festival. It is not just seen a grove for worship, but as a rallying point for both worshippers of the deity and a unifying symbol for the Yoruba race. The importance of the grove has repeatedly signposted the importance of having sacred groves of worship outside traditional settlements.
In an interaction with Nigerian Tribune, culture enthusiast, Biodun Adetunji, argued that the grove represents so much for the Yoruba race. “It is not just an ordinary place of gathering. It is a holy place, a place of prayers and worship. We cannot overemphasize the importance of the grove. The goddess of fertility which is Osun is worshipped there. People travelled far and wide from all over the south west for prayers and divine intervention. That was the situation at first. But today, the case is different. People come down here every now and then from all over the world to worship the deity and offer prayers. You need to come there when we hold this year’s edition of the Osun-osogbo festival. It is an annual event that is celebrated the world over. The grove must be protected and preserved. It is very important,” he said.
Today, it is unarguable that the place remains the largest grove to have survived going by its years of existence and also that is still held in reverence. At the grove, priests and priestesses can be seen at various points of the river banks.
Sharing a similar train of thought, Gbenga Bamise, a regular caller at the grove, praised those in charge of the preservation of the grove just as he condemned those who see worshippers at the grove as atheists.
“I must commend those who have been saddled with the responsibility of preserving the grove. They have been doing a wonderful job. That grove connotes our collective heritage as Yoruba people and we must ensure that nothing wrong happens to it. The grove is a sacred place that must be venerated. People go there to pray and they usually come back to say that their prayers are answered. Every year people travel to attend the annual osun-osogbo festival. We must not desecrate that place. It is important that we keep and cherish our heritage,” he warned.
For Mrs Morenike Osungbemi who is a devout worshipper of the Osun deity, the grove should be celebrated by all. “I come to the grove to worship and I have never had any cause to regret. I am indeed glad that the place is preserved. It is very important. I encourage people to worship at the grove. When true worshippers come there to pray, our prayers get answered. This has always been the case. Nothing can change that. I am very glad and pleased. That is my experience. I am looking forward to this year’s festival of the goddess,” she said.