Vanishing groves

Surviving the severe threats posed by urbanisation, some of the traditional groves still manage to exist on the compounds of ancestral homes and temples in Kerala. Urban spaces being grabbed at any given price, these traditional ecosystems are on the brink of annihilation.

`Sarpa Kavus', the small forests numbering above 2000 in the State, were once a common sight. Some of the compounds even had four to five groves; offerings were made to the idol occasionally.

The tragedy is that these groves are slowly becoming a part of history.

According to mythology, Parasurama created Kerala from the Sea to present it to Brahmins.

The lush green forests, home to numerous species of poisonous snakes, were not an easy place for the Brahmins to settle.

Then someone came up with this bright idea of building groves -- a place where snakes could be worshipped without harming natural balance.

These small green pockets evolved into `Sarpa Kavu' (meaning `Abode of the Snake').

Religious beliefs and superstitions have paved the way for a small-time conservation campaign.

"The religious and cultural beliefs have directly or indirectly promoted sustainable utilisation of these natural resources," says Dr. P. N. Krishnan, Principal Investigator, Tropical Botanic Garden and research Institute. The groves were left as they were from the time of their making.

Nobody was allowed even to collect firewood from these groves. Limited human intrusion attracted a lot of flora and fauna to flourish in the small ecosystems.

A typical example of the endangered grave is the one at Pattom, owned by Chandrasekharan Nair.

The area where the grove is located was the part of a huge family settlement years ago. When the growing needs of a rapidly increasing population demanded more living space, the grove had to be sacrificed. Now the snake grove finds itself adjacent to a cemented trail to a newly built house.

A well-maintained grove could be spotted on the outskirts of the city at Mannanthala, on Nagappan's compound. Poojas and rituals are conducted occasionally to "keep the `Nagaraja' pleased and to avoid `Sarpadosham".

A similar grove is located at Kudappanakkunnu near Peroorkada, where the deity is not the Serpent but the Goddess.

Here, one would see a well-preserved grove.

As the grove is considered a divine abode, nobody would dare to disturb even the birds. The thick undergrowth invites mongooses and hares dwelling in the nearby burrows.

Even medicinal plants flourish in these small bionetworks.

"The project of the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute in Thiruvananthapuram on Kerala's Scared Groves recommends promotion of the sacred groves and calls for government support in checking their destruction through possible legislation and by declaring them as `heritage spots' of the country," says Dr. P.N. Krishnan.


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