Skip to content

India’s Sacred Groves Are Resurrecting a Vanishing Forest

India’s Sacred Groves Are Resurrecting a Vanishing Forest

Ancolie Stoll aspires to one such space called Nilatangam, a 7.5-hectare reforestation project started by her European parents when Auroville was first established.

Nilatangam has tall trees from different parts of the world but few indigenous varieties. It is not dense and complex like the forests of the sacred groves. Instead, the trees are neatly spaced out, like crops on farmland, with walking paths and plenty of space for plants to naturally re-seed.

Stoll works with Blanchflower and Baldwin at the botanic garden and says she recently planted more native species of the tropical dry evergreen type at Nilatangam. Between the canopy of non-native trees from her parents’ time, she points to the patches where she planted such saplings.

She will plant more over time, as new varieties become available, she explains. The process is slow, but she hopes to create a true tropical dry evergreen forest within a few years.

Tropical dry evergreens dominate the Pitchandikulam forest and the 20-hectare Bioresource Center and the similarly sized Auroville Botanical Garden. Baldwin, Blanchflower and their botanic garden team are working to map the extent and diversity of native species within Auroville.

Education is a key objective of the botanic gardens and this is where Sathyamurthy plays an important role. During trips to Auroville’s forests and sacred groves, he teaches students about the ecological importance of forests and cultural heritage.

I have a sense of what the disciples might experience when Sathyamurthy takes me through Keezhputhupattu just after the heavy monsoon rains in November 2021. The smell of wet earth mingles with incense sticks and garlands of jasmine as we pass shrines and flower sellers. Inside the forest we walk through ankle-deep red earth; there are trees around us, two to three stories high. Sathyamurthy continues undisturbed, leaving behind the footprints of his rubber sandals.

Occasionally he stops to enlighten me in Tamil, with a bit of English, about the medicinal or cultural uses of certain plants. He shares their scientific names and Tamil equivalents in rapid succession. Wood of iron wood, so called they raised in Tamil, is of special medicinal value. Women crush the leaves with rice and consume the mixture as an immune booster for postpartum recovery, he says. Tropical ebony, so called carungaali, used to make musical and agricultural instruments. Its highly sought-after sprigs are hung on front doors to ward off evil energies. We stop often – Sathyamurthy seems to have a story for every plant, and he hopes his enthusiasm will inspire the students he takes into the forest.

Sathyamurthy believes that the students will give an opportunity to the sacred groves in their villages. He believes such visits help create a relationship between the trees and the students. Students leave the field trips with seeds, seedlings and advice on how to plant native trees on communal lands in their own villages.

Educating the next generation about the value of these forests could be the key to their survival, as despite their temples and importance to religious groups, the sacred groves are not spared threats from urbanization, including exploitation for biomedical and cultural uses.

Keezhputhupattu, for example, receives hundreds of thousands of devotees every year, and it is difficult for villagers to control the interaction of outsiders with the forest. Tourists and herders also enter the property.

Outside the grove, Sathyamurthy saw three young men poking at a tree. They manage to get hold of a large branch. After a long tug-of-war, they tear off a branch from the tree. The leaves fall with a loud, exhausted rustle. The men merrily haul away their prey, presumably to be used for medicinal or cultural purposes.

Sathyamurthy shakes his head in disapproval and says there is an urgent need to address the menace to the groves. He later tells me that the loss of the sacred groves feels like an attack on his community’s way of life.

This is why seed collection, nurseries, tree planting drives and awareness of tropical dry evergreen forests are essential. If everything is removed, there is no way the forest can regenerate and “build a bank balance,” Blanchflower points out. Re-creating a natural forest “puts energy back in the bank”.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our Magazine, and enjoy exclusive fresh news 24/7