A century ago, around 25,000 sacred groves were believed to exist in Kerala, but now the numbers have dwindled to about 2,000. With 90 per cent of such groves disappearing from the face of land, it is a bad omen for the State ecologically. With the vanishing groves, the pond ecosystem that feeds the groundwater table and biodiversity of an area too disappears.
Nobody wants a sacred grove on their part of the inherited land that would lower the saleability of the property. It is either sold to non-Hindus or the grove is taken to another place where they will be happy after the observing the prescribed rituals.
What happens when there is no one to look after them and the sacred groves ( Sarpakavu) are left in the lurch? Just like there are old age homes to take care of the elderly, Ameda Temple is one of the temples that “accepts” the snake spirits of the sacred groves from places that the land owners are unable to maintain. It has the shrines dedicated to the Nagaraja and Nagayakshi along with the main deity known as Saptamathrukkal
“We try to talk to the land owners about preserving the ecosystem of the land. But most of the times the share of the land that has to be divided among the family would be small and the presence of the sacred grove would further lower the share. This brings them to us to conjure the spirits of their grove to join the Ameda temple groves”, said Vasudevan Namboothiri, one of the priests of the Ameda Mangalam, the family that runs the temple.
Not sharing the idea of “old age home” concept, he said, it is perhaps the need of the times. The joint family system could take care of all such things while the nuclear families find it difficult to “accommodate” such things.
“If the area has more space, we advise people to tend to the grove. But we do take it up when people from other religious communities approach us. We are guided by astrological predictions in these rituals and sometimes if the spirits do not want to leave the place, no ritual or prayers can help,” said Mr. Namboothiri, who has taken voluntary retirement after a long stint at Hindustan Newsprint in Velloor.
With fast diminishing sacred groves, the down fall of society is imminent because it was the most natural way to preserve biodiversity, said N. C. Induchoodan, convenor of the Project for Conservation of Sacred Groves in Kerala and the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Munnar.
The priests at Ameda had in a year invoked the spirits of about a hundred sacred groves to Ameda. And these rituals have been on the rise for the last two decades. Earlier, it was just one or two such rituals in a year, said Mr. Namboothiri. Only if people feel for nature and try to foresee a future for their children by preserving the ecology rather than securing future for them through a better bank balance can the sacred groves be maintained, said Dr. Induchoodan.