Iringole Sacred Grove

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 Location  Ecosystem Type    Conservation Type    Area(hectare)  Legal status 
 Ernakulam, Kerala  Forest  Sacred Grove  800  Privately Owned

Case Study (2009)


Iringole sacred grove has an interesting myth of three goddesses, who, while traveling the world, each settled down in three different places, one of which is Iringole. The name ‘Iringole’ is derived from ‘Irunna Aval’, which means ‘she who rested here’. Local people believe that even today the three goddesses meet up here in the evenings and spend the night here. Therefore nobody is allowed to stay at the grove overnight.

Located three km north-east from Perumbavoor town in the Perumbavoor taluka of Eranakulam district, the sacred grove can be accessed by several private buses that ply to the Iringole school. This is the largest sacred grove in the Travancore-Cochin region,1 covering lush evergreen forest land, though disturbed in certain sections. Studies indicate that the vegetation at Iringole Kavu is comparable to other evergreen formations in the Western Ghats with respect to floral species diversity and other characteristics. Waters from the Poorna irrigation project play a crucial role in keeping the forest lush and green. The sacred tank of the grove can be seen as one approaches the temple from the northern side.

The sacred grove and temple are under the administration and management of the Travancore Dewaswom Board.2 Previously, this sacred grove was owned by 32 Brahmin illams. 3 Only three illams now survive, and were managing the grove till recently. Due to financial constraints and administrative difficulties, they could no longer take care of the grove and handed it over to the state government. The state government slated this grove for developing a tourism centre. This plan was fiercely opposed by the local villagers and consequently the government had to withdraw the plan. The village itself does not have any institution of its own to manage and look after the grove. The villagers still actively protect the grove and oppose any action that may cause harm to the grove. Villagers strictly adhere to all traditional rules and regulations regarding maintaining the sanctity of the grove as well as regarding the resource collection from the grove. Some of these include:

1. No material (plant or animal) is permitted to be taken out of the sacred grove, except on certain exceptional cases or occasions after consulting the local priest.

2. Fallen twigs, branches of trees or leaves are also not taken out.

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

4. Pilgrims visiting the grove are permitted to dip in the sacred tank, but bathing is prohibited.

Violation of the rules that disturb or dispel the sanctity of the sacred grove and its immediate surroundings were considered to be unpardonable sins that would invite the wrath of the patron deity.

The local community does acknowledge the fact that the sacred grove has an important impact on the micro-climate of the region. The constant presence of groundwater in their wells is attributed to the fact that the grove is important in maintaining the local environment.

Despite the above measures, the sacred grove is faced by a series of threats:

1. Since the grove is not fenced and is open to entry, outsiders use grove for picnics and leave behind the usual picnic trash.

2. After the management of the sacred grove was transferred to the Dewaswom Board, the temple priests are treated as regular government employees. Their duties are to conduct morning and evening poojas and return home. There is thus an indifferent attitude towards conservation of the sacred grove.

3. Since the grove is situated in the plains, it is buffeted by strong winds. This has caused the uprooting of a lot of trees. Tying the temple elephant inside the grove and burning elephant dung has resulted in damages to the sacred grove.4

Over many generations Apatanis have evolved an intricate system of natural resource management. These include efficient forestry and agricultural skills. There is a strong sense of belonging even today because of the critical cultural, religious and biomass dependence on the ecosystem. Under the influence of modern education and changing socio-cultural scenario, some of the traditions seem to have weakened. However, the fact that the villagers have realised the damage such changes can bring about to their ecosystem and have initiated the village forest protection committees is a strong indication that community-based conservation can be a success in the area if the right conditions are provided. One such condition could be a positive wildlife conservation policy, which would take into account people’s participation in the management and protection of the ecosystem rather than alienating them by creating conflicts, such as creation of the sanctuary without their consent or information.

  This case study has been put together by Ruchi Pant. The material for the case study has been    extracted from S. Chatterjee, S. Dey, A.R.K. Sastri and R.S. Rana, Conservation and Sustainable Use of    Natural Bioresources: A case study on Apatanis in Arunachal Pradesh (World Wide Fund for Nature, New Delhi,  2000); R. Pant, ‘Conflicts, Resolution and Institutions in Forest Resources Management:  Experiences from   the traditional mountain communities of Arunachal Pradesh’, in K.Seeland and F.  Schmithusen (eds.) Man   in the Forest (Delhi, D.K.Print World (P) Ltd., 2000); People’s Commission on  Environment and Development, ‘Report on Public Hearing on Environment and Development’ (New Delhi, The People’s Commission on Environment and Development, 2002). 

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

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

2 The board established by the state government to manage sacred groves in the state.

3 These are joint families of the highest caste of Brahmins.

4 Unnikrishnan, Sacred Groves of North Kerala.

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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