India’s sacred groves are reviving a vanishing forest -Dlight News

India's sacred groves are reviving a vanishing forest

Ancolie Stoll tends to one such space called Nilatangam, a 7.5-hectare afforestation project started by her European parents when they first settled in Auroville.

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 carefully spaced out, like crops on farmland, with walking paths and plenty of room for plants to re-seed naturally.

Stoll works with Blanchflower and Baldwin at the botanical garden and says that in Nilatangam he has recently planted more native species belonging to the tropical dry evergreen type. Among the canopy of non-native trees from his parent’s time, he points out the patches where he has planted such saplings.

Over time, he will plant even more as new species become available, he explains. The process is slow, but she hopes to create a tropical dry evergreen forest within several years.

Dry evergreen tropical trees dominate the 20-hectare Pitchandikulam Forest and Bioresource Center and the similarly sized Auroville Botanical Gardens. Baldwin, Blanchflower and their botanic garden team are working to map the extent and variety of native species within Auroville.

Education is a key goal of botanic gardens, and this is where Sathyamurthy plays an important role. During excursions to the Auroville forests and sacred groves, she teaches students about the ecological importance and cultural heritage of forests.

I have an idea of ​​what students might experience when Sathyamurthy leads me through Keezhputhupattu just after the heavy monsoon rains of November 2021. The scent of damp earth mingles with incense sticks and jasmine garlands as we pass. next to shrines and flower sellers. Inside the forest, we walk through ankle-deep reddish soil; all around us stand stout trees, two or three stories high. Sathyamurthy continues unperturbed, leaving traces of his rubber sandals.

From time to time he stops to enlighten me in Tamil, with a smattering of English, about the medicinal or cultural uses of some of the plants. Share their scientific names and the Tamil equivalents in quick succession. An ironwood tree, called kasan in Tamil, it has particular medicinal value. Women mash the leaves with rice and consume the mixture as an immunity booster for postpartum recovery, she says. The tropical ebony, called karungaali, is used to make musical and agricultural instruments. Its highly coveted twigs are hung on the doors to protect themselves from bad energy. We stop frequently; Sathyamurthy seems to have a story for each plant and hopes that his enthusiasm will inspire the students he leads into the forest.

Sathyamurthy believes that students will give sacred groves in their villages a chance. He believes that such visits help forge a relationship between the trees and the students. Students leave the field trips with seeds, saplings, and advice on planting native trees on common land 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, sacred groves are not spared from threats of development, including extraction. for biomedical and cultural uses.

Keezhputhupattu, for example, receives hundreds of thousands of devotees each year, and villagers find it difficult to control outsiders’ interactions with the forest. Tourists and shepherds also invade.

Outside the grove, Sathyamurthy sees three young men pulling a tree. They manage to get hold of a large branch. After a prolonged tug-of-war, they tear off a branch from the tree. The leaves fall with a loud, exhausted crunch. The men happily drag their loot around, 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 threat to the groves. Later, he tells me that the loss of the sacred groves feels like an attack on his community’s way of life.

That is why seed collections, nurseries, tree planting campaigns and awareness about tropical dry evergreen forests are essential. If it’s all removed, there’s no chance the forest will regenerate and “build the bank balance,” Blanchflower notes. Recreating the natural forest “puts energy back into the bank”.

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