The Vanishing Sacred Groves ("Kavus") in the 'God's Own Country' and its Ecological Significance
Kavu" or the holy Sarpa Kavu (meaning Sacred Grove of the Serpent) is a typically small traditional grove of trees seen in the Kerala state of South India. These pristine groves usually have representations of several Naga Devatas (serpent gods), which were worshipped by the joint families or big houses (taravads). This was part of Nagaradhana (snake worship) which was prevalent among Keralites during past centuries. The kayos' represent the locally deep-rooted tradition of worshipping plants, animals and local deities. They are mostly concentrated in Kerala's entire region especially in the North Malabar region. The kavus; however, are facing threats byway of changes in values as well as socio-economic pressures, despite the weight of
traditional beliefs and rituals associated with them. Large scale conversion of land, decline of traditional agrarian values, socioeconomic factors, population pressure and shortage of land have already made a dent on the rich ecosystem of 'kavus'. A large number of 'sarpa kavus', that were protected and maintained by upper caste communities, disappeared, due to the disintegration of families that protected them. In some cases, this led to their renovation and conversion into temples. There are reports stating that the 'kavus' suffered large scale degradation in the state due to high percentage of settler migration. These rich ecological repositories that also function as traditional water-harvesting system are not being given due importance. Most of the 'kavus' are located near agricultural lands; this indicates their role in an agrarian society. Most of the 'kavus' have perennial water resources rich in organic matter that enhance fertility of agriculture lands. Community protection alone can save the ' kavus'. Only through solid initiatives, it's possible to create awareness about 'kavus' ecological value among the communities (stakeholders); traditionally protecting the 'kavus' and the public. Sanctity of the 'kavus' may have been sustained by beliefs. No less important is their protection by highlighting their ecological importance.