Tuesday, 23 December 2014


Kerala also known as Gods Own Country, is located on the southernmost tip of India on the Malabar Coast and embraces the coast of Arabian Sea on the west and is bounded by the Western Ghats in the east
The state of Kerala with its wide array of topographical features such as coastlines along the Arabian Sea, hills of the Western Ghats, valleys, and abundant water-bodies has tropical climate. The natural vegetation of Kerala comprises 3,872 flowering plants including 900 plants of great medicinal value. The forested regions with an area of 9,400 km² comprises tropical wet evergreen partly-evergreen forests with thick undergrowth in the lower and mid altitudes, tropical damp and arid deciduous forests in the middle altitudes plus mountainous subtropical and temperate (shola) forests in the precipitous hills.

On a rough estimate Kerala has about 644 sacred groves which are distinct and unique in biological diversity. Most of the sacred groves represent the relics of once gregarious and abundant low lying evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. Only few are reported from the foothills and the high ranges. The size of the sacred grove in Kerala varies as small as one cent to 20 or more hectares.

Sacred groves (Kavus) are patches of forests or natural vegetation that are usually dedicated to local folk deities and  protected by local communities or Families  because of their religious beliefs and traditional rituals that run through several generations. Kavus of north kerala are mainly “Theyya kavu” belonging to the mother-goddess in many cases. These kavus are very much associated with theyyam Festivals.

In the olden days, almost Kerala ‘Tharavad’ (homesteads) had sacred groves dedicated to the serpent Gods and goddesses. The fear of the unknown and religious beliefs ensured the flourishing of these green spots.

The origin of the ‘Kavu’ could be traced back to pre-historic times. Kerala had been geographically isolated in the distant past, due to the barrier created by the Western Ghats, covered with impenetrable tropical rain forests. The inhabitant believed to have been of Dravidian origin. They worshipped mother –goddess (‘Bhagawathi’) ,Serpent god (‘Nagam’), Hunter –gods (‘Sasthappan’).

Brahmins controlled temple, but in most of the ‘Kavus’ rituals were performed  by  different communities of the village. Usually no one entered the ‘Kavu’ during days other than those of worship or during the festival. Cutting trees, collecting firewood, leaves etc. were strictly forbidden. People believe that any kind of disturbance will invoke wrath of the gods, resulting diseases, natural calamities, failure of crops and even death.

There are many myths, legends and faith associated with the sacred groves of Kerala. The deities in the sacred groves are at times represented by some trees like Alstonia scholaris, Adenanthera pavonina, Hydnocarpus pentandra, Commiphora caudatum, Caryota urens, Holarrhena antidysenterica, Strychnos nux-vomica, Ficus tinctorius, Mimusops elengi, etc.

A stone slab installed at the base of the tree is the altar on which the offerings including the animal sacrifices are made. These trees are also considered to be the abode of ancestral or natural spirits and demons. The sacred groves owned collectively by the villagers are mostly dedicated to Lord Ayyappa and called as “Ayyappankavu or “Sasthamkavu and to Goddess Bhagavathi called “Bhagavathikkavu or “Ammankavu. One interesting feature about “Ayyappan Kavu” is the freedom to enter this sacred grove to offer worship irrespective of the caste or creed.

Sacred groves owned by the tribal communities are dedicated to “Vanadevatha, the Goddess of the forest, or to natural spirits or demons or ancestral spirits. The fishermen caste -“Dheevara or “Araya also maintain sacred groves in the coastal areas of Kerala. These groves are called “Cheerma or “Cheerumba and the patron deity is “Cheerma. “Cheerma is the Goddess of smallpox and other epidemic diseases.

The sacred groves owned by families are mostly dedicated to Snake God (Naga) or Goddess or both, hence, known as “Nagakkavu” or “Sarpakkavu”. Sacred groves of the tribal inhabiting near and around the forest areas are known as „Madankavu or „Yakshikkavu. The sacred groves of North Kerala are mostly associated with Goddess whereas the sacred groves of South Kerala are associated mostly with snake worship. Many sacred groves associated with Siva temples also have serpent Gods.

The major threats to the existence of sacred grove in kerala are the disappearance of old joint family system and partition of family properties along with changing socio-economic scenario. In most of the cases the kavu and surrounding areas will be handed over to a generation who has no faith or less faith in keeping the integrity of the Kavu.
The second major threat is the anthropogenic activities and cattle grazing. As the demand for land is always high in Kerala, the shrinkage of groves is inevitable. Encroachment has resulted in the shrinkage of some of the  largest Kavu in Ernakulam and Kannur Districts.


Monday, 15 December 2014


                           SACRED GROVES OF PUDUCHERRY

Puducherry, formerly known as Pondicherry is a Union Territory of India and is located on the Coromandel Coast in South India. It is a plain land with almost no mountain and forest. The area is covered with dry and evergreen species of vegetation typical in tropical regions.

In this region there are no longer any representatives of undisturbed climax forest. Nonetheless a few relic patches of the old vegetation at different levels of degradation still remain. Some interesting examples: Marakkanam (Forest Department), temple groves (Puthupet, Pillaichavadi, Mudaliarchavadi, Kottakarai), and temple land (Bommapalayam). Some individual trees can also be found around village ponds or in the hedges surrounding agricultural fields

Sacred Groves locally known as ‘Kovil Kadugal’, ‘Ayyappan Kavu’ represent small patches of forest left untouched by the local communities because of their faith and tradition that the area is sacred and the vegetation and animals inhabiting the same should not be destroyed.

They are repositories of medicinal plants and local flora and often they harbor local fauna as well. These sacred groves are often dedicated to local spirits or deities and as such the people attach some sanctity to them. Religious practices and cultural traditions have been spun around them to deter people from exploiting the biodiversity contained within them. This ancient Indian conservation tradition has played a vital role in conserving small pieces of forest cover, which often consists of endangered flora.

These groves are often found in forestlands, Community lands, and temple lands and sometimes in private lands.

However due to scarcity of land, change in outlook etc. these areas are under pressure of extinction.

 Around 123 patches of sacred groves varying in size from 0.2 to 5.0 ha in around the temples have been identified in the U.T. of Pondicherry.

Some of the important sacred groves are at Mangalam, Poornankuppam, Thirukkanur, Madagadipet, Lawspet, Mettupalayam, Abhisekapakkam, Keezhur, Karasur (all in Pondicherry Region) Chembara and Pandakkal (in Mahe Region).


Tuesday, 3 June 2014


Meghalaya, the Abode of Clouds, is a state in the northeast region of India.  About one-third of the state is forested.Meghalaya experiences the two seasons, of winter and monsoon, and is characterized by a cool climate throughout the year. The Cherrapunjee-Mawsynram belt in the southern slopes of Khasi Hills records the heaviest rainfall in the world. Numerous rivers flow through Megahalaya, although none of them are navigable, due to rocky beds and strong currents.

The sacred groves in the state cover an estimated area of about 10,000 hectares. Most of the major sacred groves are located on the catchment areas of important rivers and streams of the state. About 60 of them, with an area of about 6,500 hectares are located at the source of perennial streams.

Predominantly tribal, the original inhabitants of this state are Khasis, Jaintias and Garos. Khasis and Jaintias trace their ancestry to the Mongolian race, while the Garos belong to the Tibeto-Burman race. Their cultural trails and ethnic origins remain distinctive, mainly due to their geographical isolation. The Khasi language spoken here is believed to be one of the few surviving dialects of the Mon-Khmer family of languages, in India.




The tribal communities of Meghalaya have a tradition of environmental conservation based on various religious beliefs, which have been passed on from one generation to the other. Based on these beliefs, certain patches of forests are designated as sacred groves under customary law and are protected from any product extraction by the community.

In Meghalaya, the traditional religion in the East and West Khasi Hills districts is Niam Khasi or Seng Khasi, and in the Jaintia Hills district is Niam Tre. According to traditional beliefs of the region, a forest deity resides in the sacred groves

For example, labasa is the name for the god of the Mawphlang sacred grove, described by interviewees as taking the form of a tiger or leopard. There is a strong belief that this deity inhabits the sacred grove and offers protection to the community. Similarly, Basa or Ryngkew Basa is the sacred grove deity, which is benevolent and provides for the wellbeing of the people in the village. In general, protecting a sacred grove is a form of respect for its deity.

It is an unpardonable crime to cut down trees or even pick flowers and fruits from these sacred groves except for cremation and religious purposes, that too, with the permission of the ‘Lyngdoh’ (Priest).

These sacred groves are divided into three categories, depending on the places where they are located. In places ruled by the Lyngdoh (Priest) the sacred groves were called Law Lyngdoh. In place where the traditional religion (Niam trai) plays a major role, the sacred groves were called ‘Law Niam’ and in places where the village is ruled by a village Headman, the sacred groves were called ‘Law kyntang’. 

All these sacred groves have the same status although their names are different. These sacred groves are closely related to the social and cultural life of the people and a number of rites, rituals and religious ceremonies have been associated with them.

These sacred groves are very rich in biological diversity and harbor many endangered plant species including rare herbs and medicinal plants. The sacred-groves, which have been preserved since time immemorial, are in sharp contrast to their surrounding grasslands. 

These groves are generally rimmed by a dense growth of Castanopsis kurzii trees, forming a protective hedge, which halts intrusion of Pinus kasia (Khasi pine), which dominates all areas outside the sacred groves. Inside the outer rim, the sacred groves are virtually Nature's Own Museum. The heavily covered grounds have a thick cushion of humus accumulated over the centuries. The trees in every sacred grove are heavily loaded with epiphytic growth of aroids, pipers, ferns, fern-allies and orchids. The humus-covered grounds likewise harbor myriad varieties of plant life, many of which are found nowhere else.





Monday, 2 June 2014


                                          Baori of Rajasthan

The Chand Baori in Abhaneri Village

Abhaneri is a small rural community near Jaipur in Rajasthan. Abhaneri is at a distance of about 96 Km from Pink city. The Chand Baori is one of the primitive step wells in the state of Rajasthan and is well thought-out to be one of the largest well in entire globe. The famous Chand Baori in Abhaneri village is one of the most unnoticed attractions in India.
History of ChandBaori:

Chand Baori, an incredible step well was constructed by “King Chanda of Nikumbha Empire” somewhere between 8th – 9th centuries so as to provide the neighboring areas with a reliable water resource before contemporary water deliverance systems were launched. The Chand Baori is devoted to Goddess “Harshat Mata”, a deity of bliss and Joy.

Wonderful Edifice of Chand Baori:
The far-fetched structural design of Chand Baori is more or less 13 inch profound. It appears exactly like a well. There are 3,500 tapered steps in this step well. The steps are prearranged in impeccable evenness and moves down 20 meters deep into the base of the well that leads to a dark green water pool. The green water at the pedestal of the well indicates that the well is of no use now. However, it stands as a remarkable tourist spot of an architecturally exciting construction that is more than 1000 years old. One can also find a beautiful temple adjacent to the well.

The steps encircle the step well on the 3 sides while the 4th side has a group of pavilions that are constructed top of the other. The 4th side of the well with pavilions has fortes with gorgeous carvings together with the sacred statuettes. Also, there is a stately abode with rooms for both King and Queen and an arena for the performing various cultural arts.

In addition, Chand baori also has turned out to be a Social gathering spot for the villagers of Abhaneri. Generally, the locals will sit around the huge step well and chill out during the scorching summer season of the year. The temperature is always about 5-6 degrees lower at the base of the well when compared to the summit. The famous Chand Baori at Abhaneri was marked in a movie called “The Fall”. This step well also made a quick appearance in a smash hit film called “The Dark Knight Rises”.

At present, this Step well is one of the vital assets of the country and is carefully administered by the “Archeological Survey of India”.



Friday, 30 May 2014


                                         SACRED GROVES OF RAJASTHAN

Sacred Groves are found from the western part of Rajasthan to the east of the Aravalli range. These groves are known under various names in Rajasthan as sacred groves (deora, malvan, deorai, rakhat bani, oran, etc.), sacred corridors (deo ghats), temple forests (mandir van) and sacred gardens (baugh).

Brandis, as early as 1887, gave initial information on sacred groves of Aravallis. He wrote, 'though very few papers have been published on sacredgroves, this does not mean that such areas do not abound in India'. 

Commenting on the sacred groves of Rajasthan, particularly Rajputana and Mewar area, he wrote that in Pratapgarh and Banswara such groves are common. Here trees of Anogeissus pendula abound. People do not cut wood for personal use. Only dead and fallen trees are removed for religious work such as the repair of the temple or funerals.

Joshi (1995) writing on the ethnobotany of Rajasthan provided interesting insights on tribal traditions of maintaining sacred groves.

Deep N.Pandey and his team in their paper “Sacred Forestry: The Case of Rajasthan, India”, have classified the sacred areas in to sacred groves, sacred corridors, temple forests, sacred gardens and inhabited groves.

Sacred groves in Aravallis and Vindhyas were classified into three major groups.

In the first group they classified groves located near the village and close to a water source. Such groves are also at the top of small hillocks in Aravallis, where people worship Bheruji, Bawsi and Mataji. Khanpa Bheruji, Kukawas Bheruji, Badi Roopan Mata etc. are the example of such sites in Udaipur. In the Vindhyan tract of Kota Bundi, Baran and Jhalawar such groves abound.

The second group of groves is dedicated to Lord Mahadeo. Vegetation of the entire watershed is often protected as groves. Sometimes part of the vegetation in a watershed is protected. Large trees and a water source are the main characteristics of these groves. Water sources developed as open and step wells (Bawdi) may be seen at Ubeshwarji, Kamalnath, Gautmeshwasji,Taneshwarji and Jhameshwarji. Sometimes both groups can also be found in the same village.

The third type may be as a single tree. In Kotra forest range several large trees of Ficus benghalensis are seen. Because of development of aerial and prop roots these trees look like a grove. The tradition of protecting Peepal, Gular and Bargad trees is not only found in Rajasthan but also in other states of India. The tradition is also reported from other Asian and African countries.

In northern parts of Aravallis various forms of sacred groves are maintained. These are known as kankar bani, rakhat bani, dev ouranya, vall and dev bani.Large tracts of tree-bearing land in otherwise desertified western Rajasthan are called Orans

These Orans are identical to sacred groves in Aravallis and they offer similar advantages. 

One of the finest examples of Oran is Ramdeora in the Jaisalmer District in Rajasthan. Species in most of the Orans are Prosopis cineraria, Zizyphus mauritiana and Salvadora sp.In Jaisalmer District most of the Oranssupport Caparris aphylla. Shrubs include Calotropis procera in Jaisalmer and Zizyphus sp. in Jodhpur Districts. 

However, comparatively sacred groves in Aravallis and Vindhyas are larger in area coverage.

Important Orans in Sirohi, a semi-desert district in Rajasthan, include Pichheshwar Mahadeo near Pindwara, Voreshwar Mahadeo in Sheoganj, Sarneshwar Mahadeo near Sirohi (famous for its step-well), Mochal Mataji in Sheoganj (particularly famous for animals like Chinkara and Neelgai), Baleshwari Mataji Oran in Pesua village (famous for a very large Rayan tree) and Varada Hanuman ji which supports several old Prosopis cineraria trees.