Forest shrines and sacred groves: Impact of changing economy on the Kodavas

Forest shrines and sacred groves: Impact of changing economy on the Kodavas


Forest shrines and sacred groves: Impact of changing economy on the Kodavas

Nice paper by Veena Poonacha:

The article delineates the life-affirming values of caring for the earth among the Kodavas in Kodagu district, Karnataka. It argues that the coffee economy under colonial rule depleted the forestland, a trend exacerbated by the post-independence economic and forest policies. The full impact of these policies are apparent from the growing conflict in the area between wild elephants and humans.

This article has argued for the need to rethink development policies since the current model of economy is based on the over-utilisation of natural resources. It recalls the existence of a sustainable world view that conserves biodiversity. The lives of forest people, living in the tropical forests, were not necessarily easy; and yet the idea of the sacredness of the web of life prevailed. The representation of the sacred in Kodava cosmology was both male and female. If the male god Igguthappa presided over agriculture, it was the river goddess, Cauvery, who was the giver of life. Similarly, if the hunter god, Ayyappa, and the protector of animals, Muthappa, were represented in the sacred groves, the mother goddesess Bhagavathi, Bhadrakali, and Chamundi were worshipped in other groves. These mother goddesses are not benign consorts of male gods, they are ferocious and independent, like nature Itself.

The philosophical underpinnings of this sacred cosmology contrasts sharply with the values of domination over the earth, ushered in by colonialism into Kodagu less than 200 years ago. Colonial policies defined forests as “wasteland” and trees assessed for their commercial value rather than intrinsic worth. The continuation of this model of development, after independence, has exacerbated the destructive trend. The introduction of the coffee economy has contributed historically to the destruction of forests. However, it is now seen as eco-friendly and labelled “private forests.” This change in nomenclature serves to statistically conflate the total area under forests. It also provides the rationale for the sale of forestland to other private enterprises.

There is community rancour against these changes. The Coorg Wildlife Society and Save Kodagu, Save Cauvery campaign are struggling to protect the environment. There is political demand to break away from Karnataka in order to protect the land. However, their voices remain muted because of their lack of numerical strength. The way forward is to involve the forest communities in decisions affecting the land use in Kodagu as envisaged in the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006.

Saving Coorg and its citizens should be one of our top priorities. There are hardly places as beautiful and serene as Coorg…



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