Chennai: Rapid Industrialisation and emergence of nuclear families spelt doom for sacred groves in South India, which once boasted of varied culture in its grove presence. Interestingly, Tamil Nadu is an exception, as researchers have been identifying a large number of groves with diversified customs in the recent past.
Sustaining religious beliefs and importance to joint families are the underlining factors promoting the culture of sacred groves in Tamil Nadu, say environmental activists.
According to the director of C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, Nanditha Krishna, the belief of Koval Kadu (sacred groves) pertains strong in Tamil Nadu.
“The whole grove is respected as a pooja room. Neither do people walk in with their footwear nor they will let anyone cut a branch from the grove. Even children don’t urinate on the premises,” said Nanditha.
Religious sanctity has been associated with the groves, due to their ecological and medicinal properties, she said, adding that the groves in Tamil Nadu harbored wild varieties of mango, rattans, jamun and fig.
Communal and atheist beliefs in Kerala act as a spoilsport in conserving flora varieties, said an environmental activist. “Large number of tribal population embracing Christianity in Kerala hit the tradition of preserving sacred groves. The phenomenon, which happened in Meghalaya and Mizoram, led to the death of groves as acculturation is not accepted among protestant Christians,” the activist added.
Anupriya Neeraj, a social worker, who has been researching on grove culture said: “The land catered at each ancestral home for development of groves is now used to either to expand the house or to divide it among family members. This is the byproduct of disintegration of joint family system. Fragile ecosystem
also lies disturbed,” she added.
Groves promote agriculture, retain groundwater level
Besides cultural significance, sacred groves possess a wide role in promoting biodiversity and retaining groundwater levels. Groves, which shelter native fauna varieties, facilitate pollination, in an indirect way – thus acting as custodians to human habitat.
The prevalence of large varieties of banyan trees in South Madurai is interlinked with growth of fruit bats that root on them, said M. Amirthalingam, a researcher.
Fruit bats that live on trees act as pollinating agents. Seeds released by animals will produce good yield, as they are fertile, he added. Similarly, Kiliaal Amman Sacred grove in Cuddalore has extensive varieties of banyan trees that harbours parakeets. “Parakeets here are required for the seed dispersal. The region is famous for paddy cultivation,” said Selvapandian, who restored 53 groves in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
Explaining the regard to the groves, Nanditha Krishna said, “Localities follow certain instructions like not burning the crackers, keeping cattle off the grove and objecting deforestation, to not disturb the ecosystem.” Grove festivals are observed with a lot of fanfare. Providing food to the whole village and offering the terracotta animals are part of the custom, added Nanditha.
“They regulate soil nutrients, provide shelter, recharge ground water and aid pollination. Through festivals, they allow culture to cherish,” added Selvapandian.