Aravanchal Kavu

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Kannoor, Kerala Mixed Sacred Grove 2.8 Not Available

Case Study (2009)

Background

Located about 25 km east from Payanoor in Thalliparambu taluka in Kannoor district of north Kerala, Aravanchal Kavu (sacred grove) is an excellent example of local community involvement in the management of an old sacred grove. The grove is about 7 acres (2.8 ha) large, situated in the middle of the grassy plains of Aravanchal village of Peringom Vayakkara Panchayat, which falls in the midland eco-region of Kerala state.1 The presiding deity for this sacred grove, as in most sacred groves of Kerala, is the Mother Goddess in the incarnation of Thayiparadevada, locally called ‘Vellarakurangal Bhagawati’.2

The grove is representative of vegetation structures that would be found in semi-evergreen forests, Myristica swamps, deciduous forests and grasslands, and grassy meadows. There are more than 200 varieties of plants in this grove, with Diospyros buxlifolia forming the top canopy of the forest. However, due to gradual degradation of these forests through forest fires, human interference and grazing, only the core area of the grove contains the original floral structure. In the areas where it was open to human interference and others destructive factors, the evergreen vegetation structure has given way to a deciduous one. These degraded sections of the forest now contain species of a more deciduous and thorny scrub nature. Trees and shrubs belonging to the Leguminosae family—a rare occurrence in the evergreen forests—is a common sight in these groves with the top canopy of these forests now occupied by nandi, Wrightia spp., white silk-cotton tree, Alexandrian laurel, Dioclea spp., shisam and others.3 Bonnet macaques are stated to be in such large numbers that these creatures fearlessly interact with the villagers residing outside the grove.

The kavu is located in a region of 5 sq km where 600 families reside, of which 400 are Hindus, 160 Christians and 40 Muslims. The total population of the village is stated to be around 1000.4 Most of the community members are occupied with agriculture or earn their living through private service.

This kavu once belonged to an old Nair family called Tharavadu. In the memory of the people of centuries ago, this Nair family abandoned the grove as they felt that it was unlucky for them. Since then the grove lay without ownership until the 1970s, when the local community took over its management.

In the past many years the community members had been collecting fallen wood for fuelwood purposes from the grove and grazing their cattle on the outskirts of the grove. Despite being not owned by anyone in particular, the sacred grove was respected by all members of the surrounding villages. People also feared the wrath of the deity if they disturbed the grove in any way. This fear was one of the contributing factors towards the conservation of this grove over many decades.

Around 1970, the Hindu families (from all castes), residing within a 4 km radius of the sacred grove formed the Aravanchal Shri Bhagavati Kavu Committee. Presently 400 Hindu families are members of this committee. A general body meeting is called once a year, wherein an executive committee comprising of nine to thirteen members is elected through voice vote. The executive committee members in turn elect the president, vice-president, secretary, joint secretary and treasurer. The objectives of this committee as stated by Shri K.M.K. Nambeeshan, Secretary, Aravanchal Shri Bhagavathi Kavu Committee is ‘for wildlife protection and to conserve/protect a place where we can bathe and worship nature’. Although the committee holds meetings in formal office building, it is interesting to note that the committee members arrive at decisions related to the management of the sacred grove through application of divination techniques, which means passing resolutions after applying to the local deity. This brings a curious mix of tradition and modernity to the management of the grove.

Although Christian and Muslim families in the vicinity of the sacred grove do not become members of the committee, they co-operate in the management of the kavu and adhere to all laws and rules. Women are not permitted to be executive committee members. Traditionally, women were not even allowed to enter the kavu.

The active interest that Mr. Nambeeshan has taken in the management of the sacred grove has resulted in the participation of the forest department too. Recently, a 15 sq m tank was constructed with monetary aid from the forest department. Certain rules and regulations are strictly followed by the local community:

1. Strict observance of entry and exit into the kavu as per the Hindu calendar.

2. Entry is open to pilgrims only during certain times of the year.

3. No leaf litter/dead branches are permitted to be taken away from the grove.

4. Only during Theyyam festival is fallen wood from the grove collected and burnt for the purpose of the ritual.

5. Grazing of cattle is also not permitted within the grove limits.

6. Grass from the sacred grove is auctioned once a year, although this does not bring in much money to the kavu committee.

7. Photography is not permitted inside the grove, or of the Theyyam dancers, as they are believed to be possessed during the dance.

8. Women are not allowed to enter the grove during menstruation.

Finances for the management of the sacred grove come from donations and offerings of the devotees and local residents. Villagers believe that some funds from the Dewaswom Board5 have been allotted to them, though the committee had not received them yet. Once a year, the committee auctions off grass cut from the grove; the amount goes to the committee fund. However, all these methods of income generation have proved to be insufficient for the kavu trust, which is a constant source of worry for the members.

A water tank has been constructed recently with the help of funds collected from the community members and the forest department. The committee hopes that this tank will not only be useful to the villagers for bathing purposes but also be a source of water for the wild animals during summer. 

The local community hopes that by conserving the sacred grove the water shortage that they face during summer will be resolved. Aruvanchaal, a perennial stream that originates inside the grove and flows out from the eastern side of the grove, has run dry over a period of time as the grove has become smaller and surrounding forests have been denuded. The committee plans to afforest some area around the grove to create a buffer around it. Through this afforestation, the committee members hope to rejuvenate the Aruvanchaal stream. They plan to largely plant fruit trees in order to provide sufficient food for the monkeys of the grove.

The greatest constraint faced by the committee currently is that of funds. Because of the financial crunch the construction of the water tank has not been completed. They would also like to take up the stonewall fencing of the sacred grove on priority if sufficient funds are available.

  This case study has been compiled by Roshni Kutty, Kalpavriksh, based on field visits and interviews with Shri K.M. Kunhappan Nambeesan, secretary of the Aravanchal Shree Bhagawathi Kavu Committee, in 2001. 

Roshni Kutty
Kalpavriksh
Apt. No. 5, Shri Dutta Krupa
908 Deccan Gymkhana
Pune 411004
Maharashtra
E-mail: [email protected]

P. Surendran
Secretary, Kalliasser Gram Panchayat
Kannur District
Kerala

1 E. Unnikrishnan, Sacred Groves of North Kerala (Samskriti Publications, Kannur, 1997).

2 (As above) K.M. Kunhappan Nambeesan, Aravanchal Shree Bhagawati Kavu Committee, personal communication, 2000.

3 Unnikrishnan, Sacred Groves of North Kerala. (As above)

4 Nambeesan, personal communication, 2000. (As above)

5 A board established by the state government to facilitate management and preservation of sacred groves.

This case study was part of the Directory on Community Conserved Areas (2009), published by Kalpavriksh. The directory can be downloaded here.

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