Sacred goves (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 wih 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.
Sacred groves can be considered to be equivalent to natural sanctuaries where all forms of living creatures are given protection by a deity and which were refuge and shelter to variety of flora and fauna. They contribute to the preservation of our country’s biodiversity and are remarkable Gene pools. These sacred groves are self sustaining mini ecosystems and no one was permitted to cut any tree or plant, kill animals and birds, or harm any form of life in this area.
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 inpenetrable tropical rain forests. The inhabitant believed to have been of Dravidian origin. They worshipped mother –goddess( ‘Bhagawathi’) ,Serpant 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.
ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF SACRED GROVES
ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF SACRED GROVES
* The sacred groves are important deposits of floral and faunal diversity that have been conserved by local communities in a sustainable manner.
*The groves are often associated with ponds, streams or springs, which help meet the water requirements of the local people. The vegetative cover also helps in the recharging the aquifers. Vegetative mass of the grove itself retains water, soaking it up like a sponge during wet periods and releasing it slowly in times of drought.
*The vegetation cover of the sacred groves improves the soil stability of the area and also prevents soil erosion.
*Sacred groves act as a nursery and storehouse of many of the ayurvedic, tribal and folk medicines.
*The sacred groves may also serve to preserve genotypes which may be useful in forest tree-breeding programmes.
*The sacred groves are also of great forestry interest as indicators of the natural productivityof the region.
*The sacred groves of Kerala are also found to harbour a number of plant species that are wild relatives of many crop species. These wild relatives are important for improving the cultivated varieties of plants.
* A number of studies have emphasized that many sacred groves are climax forests, and probably constitute the only representative of natural vegetation.
With the advent of nuclear families and gated communities, many family properties were divided up, leading to the disappearance of such ‘Kavus’.
Change in social values and religious beliefs as a result of modernization and urbanization and disappearance of the traditional belief systems, which were fundamental to the concept of sacred groves. These systems and their rituals are now considered mere superstition and which caused decline of sacred groves.
The expansion of the market economy, which places heavy demand on resources such as timber, rapid urbanization and developmental interventions such as roads, canals, power lines etc. and encroachment has led to fragmentation. Such fragmentation leads to the shrinkage of some of the largest groves .
Invasion by exotic weeds is a serious threat to some groves.
Many of the Sacred groves are reclaimed for agriculture and erection of a temple in the sacred grove has also resulted in the decline of sacred groves.
All of these factors indicate that the conservation of sacred groves is essential for maintaining local biodiversity, the comprehensive health of a landscape, and preserving the socio-cultural integrity of local communities and as a gene pool insitu conservation of these areas are most important. Hence the relics of once existed natural habitat , ‘Kavus’ have to be conserved for the human prosperity.
Foot note:- Now the Kerala Forest Department through its Social Forestry wing has come up with an innovative scheme to ensure the protection of these Sacred Groves. The owners of the groves should enter an agreement with the forest department and submit a detailed management plan. The main objective of the proposed scheme is to bring an accountability and the involvement of the general public.