Society

Forest fragments for the ecology

A view of the kaavu recreated at Kanakakkunnu as part of Vasanthotsavam   | Photo Credit: S. MAHINSHA

The popular image of a traditional kaavu, or sacred grove, calls into mind an abode of the snake gods inside a forest, where unseen forces are at play. But the science behind the belief goes well beyond the religious and the preternatural.

Set up by Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute, Palode, a recreation of a sacred grove representing its small but rich biodiversity at Kanakakkunnu is part of the ongoing Vasanthotsavam that concludes on Sunday. Constructed around a massive tree, the installation purports to show a mini-pond, nagaprathishta (idols of snake gods), a vertical stone lamp, termite hills, climbers and creepers... all essential features associated with a kaavu.

A view of the kaavu recreated at Kanakakkunnu as part of Vasanthotsavam.

A view of the kaavu recreated at Kanakakkunnu as part of Vasanthotsavam.   | Photo Credit: S. MAHINSHA

Built quite realistically by a team from the Botanical Garden, the replication is the result of three-days’ work, says V. Prem Kumar, a public relations officer at the institute. But for the gigantic tree, all other artefacts have been installed. The idea is to spread awareness about the decline in the number of sacred groves in Kerala and the need to adapt the model in a modern context to improve local ecosystems.

The myth and history of ‘naga groves’ in Kerala date back before the concept of god, at a time when pantheism was the accepted form of worship. “Ancient people did not follow the modern idea of temples. According to certain vasthushasthra literature, the origin of life is believed to have been in the form of tharangam (waves). In the entire world, probably snakes are the only creatures that move in a wave-like motion. The ancient naga groves likely became places of worship in deference to this system of belief,” says Prem Kumar.

A view of the kaavu recreated at Kanakakkunnu as part of Vasanthotsavam.

A view of the kaavu recreated at Kanakakkunnu as part of Vasanthotsavam.   | Photo Credit: Harikumar J.S.

Due to the ‘fear factor’, and restricted location, the ecosystem of many such forest fragments remains undisturbed, permitting them to form their own natural eco-balance over the years. “With the accumulation of falling leaves, deadwood, plant and animal remains and other debris for decades, the soil bed at sacred groves becomes rich in humus, making the land immensely fertile. This also helps absorb and retain water, boosting the groundwater level. It acts as natural filtration too. This can be tapped as a good source for drinking water,” says Thulasidas G., a technical officer of the institute.

A view of the kaavu recreated at Kanakakkunnu as part of Vasanthotsavam.

A view of the kaavu recreated at Kanakakkunnu as part of Vasanthotsavam.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Being rich in flora and untouched by polluting factors found in inhabited areas, sacred groves enrich the oxygen content of the air. Laws of nature and the food chain remain balanced. The vegetation and the age-old trees provide an atmosphere conducive to breeding of insects and vermin. This in turn invites avian visitors that effectively act as biological pest controllers in nearby farmlands. Several rare and indigenous species of flora, especially plants with medicinal values, have been discovered in many such groves, says Thulasidas.


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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 6:11:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/recreation-of-sacred-grove-in-the-city/article22429837.ece

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