Subject: Devarakadu – Sacred Groves
Place: Coorg, Karnataka
Camera: Yashica Mat 124 G
Film: Ilford HP5 Plus
Sacred groves have been a part of the history and culture of many indigenous societies worldwide. In India they are believed to date back to Vedic times, nearly 5000 years ago. The notion was born out of a deep understanding of the symbiotic bonds that connected nature and human.
Nature was seen and experienced as an ecosystem that supported all earthly life. Diversity and interconnectedness were its hallmarks. It could flourish only if it was seen as being more than a source of resources to be extracted. It was a regulatory and balancing system whose delicate dynamics was understood by king and commoner alike.
The passage of time and the growth of cities saw the rapid dwindling of forests. Early British travelers to India described it as “an ocean of trees”. By 1860 forest cover across India had come down alarmingly. The vast network of sacred groves was slowly enclosed and appropriated under the commons act seeking to provide more space and scope for agriculture and increased taxation.
To this day one can see small verdant stands of old trees in many of the mountainous regions of the country – notably the Western ghats, the Himalayas and the hills of the north east - surrounded by tracts of denuded forest cover. These groves, with their shrines and presiding forest deities, are reminders of farsighted ancestral practices that favored replenishment over depletion. They are also valuable gene pools, harboring a great variety of plant and animal life within their small confines. They are often also the only sources of pure water in many places where springs have dried up.
The district of Kodagu in Karnataka bears witness to many sacred groves called Devara kadu – literally forest of the Gods – as featured in this picture. The Kodavas are a people of the earth who understood the intrinsic connections between man and the ecosystem and strove to maintain this delicate balance through the network of sacred groves they initiated and nurtured over centuries.
The sacred grove is being increasingly recognized as a valuable tool in conservation efforts worldwide today. Even in a secular age, it offers enough scientific affirmation as a regulator of natural rhythms and a reservoir of future life.