Poisonous snakes, harmless rat snakes, civet cats, mongoose and wild cats are some of the creatures that, at times, roam into our village. My village with a high density of population is not located anywhere near a forest. Still the wild animals like civet cats and wild cats find their way to the village. Old timers say that the creatures used to inhabit a sacred grove that disappeared due to ecosystem destruction. Ecosystem restoration of sacred groves is the need of the hour.
Why do we require ecosystem restoration of Sacred Groves?
Conserving the traditional sacred groves helps to defeat climate change, water depletion and carbon emission. The Sacred groves, or kavu, are reservoirs of biodiversity. The different layers of canopy of huge trees protect the smaller trees and shrubs from wind destruction. There is also the presence of fresh water in the surrounding areas. And the green cover provides fresh air and oxygen.
The ancient Sacred groves in Kerala
Our ancestors understood the importance of living in harmony with nature. They valued the interdependence of the human with the environment, the flora and the fauna. Some of the rituals, traditions and beliefs followed in ancestral homes and temples signify the importance of nurturing the surrounding natural world.
Each ancestral family has a distinct tradition for preserving the Sacred Grove. In the evening, it was the duty of one of my school friends, who had a sacred grove at her ancestral house, to light the lamp in the kavu.
Some experts say that there are around 2500 sacred groves in Kerala today. At one time there were 25000 kavus in the entire state. Encroachments for dwelling, overgrazing by animals and the breaking down of the joint family system led to the dwindling number of Sacred Groves in Kerala.
Environment Day and the Sacred Groves
On June 5, World Environment Day, the UN began a decade for Ecosystem Restoration. During the next ten years the UN will work towards restoring and repairing the ecosystems worldwide. Conservation of the existing Sacred Groves and creation of new ones are an important endeavour for Ecosystem Restoration.
In Kerala the depleting water levels can be regained by conserving the Sacred Groves and creating new ones. Traditionally the Sacred groves were maintained by the ancestral families. A portion of the land was kept aside for sacred groves and there would be a preceding spiritual deity in the kavu.
The groves were kept undisturbed, where not even a twig is not allowed to be plucked. When a tree fell, it decayed naturally in the soil. And a total silence prevails in the grove that helps the forest to grow naturally.
How to grow a forest in the backyard
If you got a few sq meters of land, you too can create a grove, or a forest in your home premises.
Traditionally the size of the sacred groves would be a small patch of 100 sq metre (2 Cents) or as sprawling as the Iringolu Kavu near Kochi stretching on 200,000 sq metre (50 Acre) of land. Nowadays many people set aside a patch of their land for sacred groves as they understand the importance of the kavu to replenish nature so that we can leave behind a restored and healthy world for the future generations.
85 year old G Devaki Amma, in Kayamkulam, in Alappuzha district, grew a forest in 5 acres of her ancestral property. She opines that the disintegration of the joint family system was the reason for the depletion of the green environment. As the families become nuclear, more land is required for residence. The cutting down of trees not only removes the green cover, but also depletes the water table. Many such nature lovers have converted their lands into evergreen forests in Kerala.
There are many reasons for creating a grove in your home premise. Here are five of them:
Fresh air as in Israel
The sacred groves provide fresh air as there are a number of large trees in close vicinity. In Israel, it said that the fresh air from a grove is pumped into the homes in nearby areas. In addition, the plants also help in absorbing the carbon emissions.
Source of Fresh Water
There will be fresh reserves of water around the sacred grove. In the ancestral homes there are at least one pond near the kavu, which is replenished by fresh water owing to the verdant green cover.
An environmentalist said that there is salty water in a group of islands except one island where there is fresh water. This island had a large expanse of sacred grove that allowed a layer of fresh water to form in the water table. Thus the inhabitants of other islands can get fresh water from this island.
In another kavu, there is salt water all around, however the well near the groves is a source of fresh drinking water.
Preservation of endemic species.
One of my professors was a nature lover. Two decades ago, when he talked about the groves and forests, we could not grasp the relevance. We were immersed in consumerism. Those were the days when orchids and anthuriums were trending as ornamental plants in bridal bouquets, gardens and flower vases. He said these are actually wild plants that you can find in the groves and forests of Kerala.
Groves is a reservoir of endemic plants. Some of the endangered medicinal plants, flowering plants and trees can be found in the groves. Some species are endemic to a specific environment and may be found only in one sacred grove in the entire world.
The ayurvedic doctor whom I consult for joint pain used a visit specific forests for certain kinds of medicines. He says the quality of the medicine depends on the soil and the climatic condition where the medicinal plant grows.
Protecting the agriculture
The large trees in the sacred grove block the wind, thereby protecting the crops and shrubs from the lashing of the winds. The huge tree acts as a protecting cover to the surrounding agriculture area.
Restoring homes of birds and animals
As mentioned in the beginning, the original inhabitants of the sacred groves are still lurking around. Sometimes we spot them in the dark as they wander without a proper dwelling place. Those who grow forests say that the birds and animals come and settle on the trees. They also contribute to the nurturing of the groves. Rare medicinal plants sometimes come up on their own. Such endangered and unique are the result of Ornithophily, or bird pollination and zoophily, or animal pollination.
As you sow, so you reap. If you work towards Ecosystem restoration of sacred groves and forests then nature gives you fresh air, potable water, cooler and pollution free atmosphere.