I have been visiting Kaavus (sacred groves) in Gudalur valley to understand their status and biodiversity in them. Most of the Kaavus which I have seen so far are very small – sometimes just a single large tree. I had heard that a typical Kaavu consists of a water source and small and big trees but I hadn’t seen any such Kaavu. I know that my experience is too little and therefore, I have taken keen interest in seeing more Kaavus.
Everytime I go to visit some Kaavus, I wish to see some big ones. My wish finally came true when we saw a Paniya Kaavu in the village Verakavadu on 16th July. It was quite bright and sunny when Shruti akka (older sister) and I reached Padanthorai from where we were supposed to walk to Verakavadu. Parasu anna (older brother) and Kadhiravan anna from Devarshola area office joined us at Padanthorai. A concrete road led to Verakavadu where we met the Karnavar (traditional leader) of the kaavu. His Kaavu was a bit far from the village. We walked in a single file on a very narrow path that went straight to the Kaavu. The path was really bad and slippery to walk. Shruti akka was being very careful and going slowly since she was scared of falling, but I was almost running. I was laughing at her, and shouted to out to her “Akka, I am a forest boy. Look at me walking. This is how you should walk in the forest!”
As we came near I saw a small pond at the entrance of the Kaavu. I got excited and immediately called out to Shruti Akka. “Akka, there is a pond in this Kaavu!” Shruti Akka also got excited too and started walking faster. At the pond, we could clearly see the footprints of an elephant which the Karnavar told us had come there the day before to drink water. That was the first time I had seen a water source in a Kaavu.
It was also the biggest Kaavu I had ever seen – around 10 cents. It was surrounded by a Vayal (swamp/wetland), arecanut plantations and tea plantation. The ground had been recently cleared of weeds for the Kaavu puja. It was very clean.
There were lots of trees in the Kaavu – big and small. There was a huge mango tree, which had been there for generations. Also, there were several new trees like bamboo, mango, pongu maram, phirangi pani etc that were growing on their own. Shruti akka told me that it could possibly be a case of ‘natural regeneration’ like the kind we see in forests. Usually I don’t have any difficulty in noting down the names of trees in a Kaavu. But in this Kaavu, there were so many different kinds of trees that I took very long to get all the names. Also we spotted butterflies flying all around the trees. In the vayal around the Kaavu, I could see the crabs’ eyes glistening-some were moving here and there while some seemed to be sitting and wondering what we were doing there.
Kutty the Karnavar was ready to tell stories about his kaavu. He told that the Kaavu had been there for generations and he took care of it now. They celebrate Kaavu puja every year and invite all their relatives. Chetties, who own the vayal around the Kaavu help them financially during the puja and also attend their pujas. Infact, these Chetties have given them a part of the vayal which is now a part of the Kaavu. Kutty told us that since then, they have enough space for everybody to dance during pujas. Under the mango tree they have placed a small stone where god kaali amma stays. Behind the mango tree I noticed that a hibiscus flower was in full bloom. It seemed to me that the flower was smiling at us.
I was really glad to see so much biodiversity in and around a Kaavu. I was also very happy to learn that non tribals like Chetties not just respected adivasi Kaavus but also gave a part of their land to the adivasis for it. In most other Kaavus, non tribals have encroached upon them. So I found this surprising but it made me happy too. I hope to see many more such Kaavus in future.
By Dhanesh Kumar
Dhanesh is a young Kattunayakan from Chembakolly village who works with The Shola Trust on sacred groves.
First Published in The Edge of Existence, August 7, 2013
Contact: C/o Shruti
We started a blog called “At the Edge of Existence: Indigenous Cultures and Conservation” to record stories about adivasi practices, belief systems and knowledge in the Gudalur valley that are relevant to modern day understanding of conservation. For more stories, please visit https://cultureandconservation.wordpress.com/