Thursday, 19 March 2015



Parvathamalai is a part of the Javadhu hills of the Eastern Ghats and situated 25 km from Polur in Thiruvannamalai District. The height of the hill is about 3500 feet from mean sea level. There is a temple for Lord Shiva temple at the top. Lord Shiva appears under the name of Mallikarjunaswamy. It is popularly believed that Lord Shiva is worshipped by the Devas and spiritual beings from other world and siddhars every night. The hill is considered to be very auspicious, with powerful vibrations. People refer to Parvathamalai as Southern Kailasam. Sri Bramarambigai was enshrined by Sri Bhogar, one of the eighteen Tamil siddhars. The whole mountain is believed to be protected by Vanadurga and Veerabhadra.

Lord Shiva Temple

Many siddhars lived once and practiced their mystical powers on this hill, which is covered with medicinal plants. It is believed that Parvathamalai was formed when a piece of rock fell from the Sanjeevini hill, carried by Sri Anjaneya, and thus the hill got its name Sanjiva Parvatamalai. The scented herbal breeze on this hill is believed to cure even incurable diseases. During the pournami (full moon) day, it attracts a lot of devotees.

History of the hill

The history of the Parvatamalai hill can be traced from the Sangam period. It is believed that the King Nannan would come to this hill and worship Lord Mallikarjuna. When Lord Shiva came to the southern part of Tamil Nadu from the Himalayas, he placed his first foot step on this hill. As in Thirukalukundram, here too one can see three eagles circling the Pappathi hill. At midnight, the villages around the hill can hear the sounds of melam, sangu, tharai and thappatai. Guru Namashivayam and Guhai Namashivayam lived on Parvathamalai and attained their youth by consuming herb called Karunochi, according to popular belief.

Kanchi Sri Sankaracharya saw the hill in the shape of a Shiva linga and therefore never placed his foot on it the circumambulated and worshipped it. Every month, during pournima people start the Girivalam (circumambulation of the hill) at 7pm.


Temples in the Parvathamalai

There are several temples of on the hill, including the Pachaiamman in the Pachaiamman temple; Lord Veerabhadra temple with its herbal park; Renugambal temple situated in front of the herbal pond known as ‘Agaya Gangai’. If one bathes in the water of this pond it is believed that one can get cured of all body pain and fatigue; the Vana Durga temple situated on the way to the main hill temple; the siddhar’s temple on the way; and the Kadaparai Shiva temple, the last temple situated on the way to the hill top temple. Those who cannot climb the hill perform their pooja here and turn back. Before reaching the hill top temple one can find symbols of lord Shiva’s feet.

The major festival of the temple is chitra pournami (full moon day), Kaarthikai dipam, Shivraratri and Panguni Uttram. Wearing white, yellow and saffron coloured dresses and worshiping the God by offering milk is said to auspicious.

Temple Tanks

It is believed that there is an underground whirlpool which heals all diseases. Old people believe that there is a lotus pond and plantain field, inhabitated by a holy cow and sages.

Biodiversity of Parvathamalai

The Parvathamalai Forest is an undisturbed portion of the Eastern Ghats, all of which was once densely forested. There are many small temples in the forest area between the Parvathamalai hill and Munnurmangdam village. This is an important protected area, the hills of which are considered by the people to be the “Southern Himalayas”. The area is also of heritage and historical value with its plants well known for their medicinal value.

The entire Parvathamalai is protected as a reserve forest. There are about 152 plant species recorded in this hill. Very rare herbal plants found on this hill include: peyviratti (Anisomeles malabarica) karunthulasi (Ocimum sanctum), karunochi (Justicia gendarussa / Gendarussa vulgaris), karu umathai (Datura fastuosa), karunelli (Phyllanthus reticulatus), civanar vembu (Indigofera aspalathoides), mahavilvam (Limonia acidissima), vellerukku (Calotropis procera), orithazh thaamarai (Lonidium suffruticosum) and other plants. However, these plant species are characteristic of this area only. 

Justicia gendarussa
Datura Fastuosa

Limonia acidissima
Ocimum Sanctum

As far as fauna are concerned, there are about 128 species of animals, of which there are 17 species of mammals, 22 species of reptiles and 89 species of birds. Some of the animal species are IUCN-categorized animals, including the Star tortoise, the Orange-breasted green pigeon and Slender Loris that belong to the rare animal species and the Barheaded goose, Black buck and Civet cat that belong to the threatened and endangered category.

Bar Headed Goose
Orange-Breasted green Pigeon

Civet Cat
Star Tortoise


A variety of factors threaten the sacred mountain environment. The forest stretches leading to the temples are degraded due to the disposal of polythene materials (bags, cups, etc) by devotees and due to the clearing of vegetation by the pilgrims to keep away the poisonous snakes from the path.  

Friday, 6 March 2015


A small grove with an area of 1.1 hectare is situated in Periyakumatti village in Cuddalore district of Tamilnadu, dedicated to the goddess Kilialamman, on the state high way between Cuddalore and Chidambaram. The main deity is sheltered within a temple of brick and mortar. A perennial pond is situated in the forecourt of the temple where people clean themselves before entering the precincts of the sanctum. 

In this grove, Kilialamman is the main deity and Aiyanar is the secondary deity. Terracotta horses line the way to the Aiyanar shrine. People offer flowers, fruits and pongal (rice cooked in milk and jaggery) regularly. Images of peafowl and terracotta horses are offered to Aiyanar on special occasions. Goats and fowls are sacrificed to the goddess Kilialamman. After harvesting, the village people ritually offer paddy to make pongal and to perform puja and ghee for lighting the lamp in the temple. Oil extracted from the punnai (Alexandrian laurel) seed is used to light the lamp. The people believe that the goddess Kilialamman protects them from floods, cyclones and other catastrophic events. The priest performs spiritual healing with the neem twigs. Hunting and gathering of wood are strictly prohibited. Fallen twigs and wood may be used for temple purposes. The annual festival is celebrated in the month of Aadi (June- July) every year. During the annual festival, before taking out the procession of the decorated Amman, four goats are sacrificed in the four corners of the temple for the smooth conduct of the festival. There is a common belief that if those who want progeny must make and offered pongal to the deity, tying a thottil (cradle) on the uddhala, vidimaram (Indian Cherry /Cordia mixa) tree in the grove.

The Story

A merchant was carrying a cartload of tamarind to be sold at Cuddalore. While the merchant was crossing the grove, he heard a call and looked around. He could not find anybody except a parrot sitting on a banyan tree. The merchant got scared, since the place was desolated, and drove his cart faster. After reaching the market, the merchant found charcoal instead of tamarind. The merchant realised his mistake of not responding to the divine call. He returned to the grove and sought pardon for disregarding the anonymous call. Kilialiamman, the goddess of the grove, appeared before the merchant and offered consoled him. After that, the merchant visited the grove and worshipped the Amman regularly. Kilialiamman was satisfied with his devotion and reconverted the cartload of charcoal into tamarind. The merchant was happy and, as a token of atonement, he installed an Amman idol inside the grove and started worshipping the goddess regularly. Since the Amman was believed to have been incarnated as a parrot on a banyan tree, the goddess got the name ‘Kilialamman’ - Kili (parrot) + aal (banyan) + amman (goddess) - and the grove is known as ‘Kiliaalamman thoppu’ (Kiliaalamman grove).

Biodiversity of the grove

The grove extends over an area of about three acres and is a conserved patch of tropical dry evergreen forest. The soil is humid and damp in texture. The grove is relatively less disturbed with a dense vegetation cover. Around 45 plant species belonging to 33 families are found in the grove. The major species occurring are Callophyllum inophyllum, Ficus hispida, Ficus amplissima, Ficus recemosa, Acacia leucophloea, Azadirachta indica, Lepisanthes tetraphylla, Borassus flabellifer, Atalantia monophylla, Paramignya monophylla, Acacia leucophloea, Pongamia pinnata, Syzygium cumini, Dioscorea oppositifolia, phoenix pusilla, Ecbolium viridae, Calamus rotang, Pandanus odoratissimus, Theriophonum minutum, Cissus quadrangularis, Gloriosa superb, Tinospora cordifolia, Coccinia indica, Hemidesmus indicus, Aristolochia indica, Asparagus racemosus, Combretum albidum and Lepisanthes tetraphylla.


In general, the threats are mainly anthropogenic activities due to the development in and around the temple. Cattle browsing is high in the grove because of a waterbody nearby.


Tuesday, 20 January 2015


Uttarakhand formerly Uttaranchal, is an Indian State in the western Himalaya. It is the abode of gods and goddesses. There are many natural objects which are considered sacred such as rivers (Ganga, Yamuna), mountain peaks (Nanda Devi, Chaukhamba, Trishul, Om parbat), lakes (Roopkund, Kedar tal, Hemkund) and forest areas.

Uttarakhand has a total area of 53,484 km², of which 93% is mountainous and 65% is covered by forest. Most of the northern part of the state is covered by high Himalayan peaks and glaciers.

Uttarakhand lies on the southern slope of the Himalaya range, and the climate and vegetation vary greatly with elevation, from glaciers at the highest elevations to subtropical forests at the lower elevations.

The prominent geographical features of Uttarakhand are as follows:
  • Mountainous shrub land and plains
  • The alpine bushes and pastures of Western Himalaya
  • Moderate coniferous jungles
  • Subalpine conifer jungles in the Western Himalaya
  • Moderate broadleaf forests of the Western Himalaya
  • Subtropical pine forests of the Himalayan mountain range
  • Terai-Duar lowlands and savanna
  • Humid broadleaf forests of the Upper Gangetic Plains

Biodiversity of Uttarakhand is rich because of the close relationship between the religious, socio-cultural beliefs and conventions. The biodiversity of Uttarakhand includes the sacred groves that exhibit a rich wealth of flora and fauna.

Uttarakhand has an age-old tradition of having protected temple forests near villages, where deity / deities are worshipped in a grove or groups of trees. The trees / vegetation growing in these groves are not allowed to cut / fell, as it is believed to belong to the deity. Only the dried parts are sometimes used by them. Even sometimes sudden dying of trees or plants of these forest are said to be bio-indicator of misfortune for the villagers. These types of restriction in these forests have helped conservation of indigenous species of these areas. 

Bajinath Machhiyal, Bageshwar District

Hadimba Sacred Grove

In uttarakhand a systematic approach to the study of scared groves is lacking. Several researchers have traversed the wilderness of Uttarakhand in search of such sacred groves.

Some of groves already reported and researched upon include Hariyali Devi in Chamoli district, Chiplakedar in Askot wildlife sanctuary, Pithoragarh district, Binsar, Tarkeshwar, Tapovan, Nagdeo, Goldev, Mayavati, Kot, Nandisain, Paabo, Dewal and Chapdon. Infact the list is endless. Savita Bisht and J.C. Ghildiyal of Government P.G. College Kotdwara estimate that there may be more than 1000 such groves in Uttarakhand.

Haat Kali Sacred Grove 

In addition several other groves like Thalkedar and Nakuleshwar,  and Haat Kali sacred groves of Pithoragarh, have been reported by researchers from National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow

A recent addition to the long list has been made in a paper published in Current Science by Harsh Singh (Research Fellow), Tariq Husain and and Priyanka Agnihotri of NBRI, Lucknow. They have described two hitherto lesser known sacred groves of Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand. While carrying out biodiversity survey in the area they noticed relict vegetation and dense forests maintained by the local communities. These folks have a strong belief that their deity resides in these forests. As such they protect it with the best of their ability. Grazing, cutting trees and poaching and collection of non-timber forest products are strictly forbidden.

Sacred grove, Pithoragarh District

The grove at Jakhani has trees more than 100 years old and is spread over 30 ha land. It has the temple of the Goddess Vaishno in the thick forest. The community which looks after the forest and the temple is called ‘Gangola’, so named after Gangolihat the nearby township.

The Chandika Devi sacred grove has the temple of Devi at the centre of the grove, surrounded by dense growth. This temple is known for ‘tantrik’ rituals and goat sacrifices.   These groves are characterized by dense growth of pine, cedar and rhododendron trees. But the variety of flora is tremendous. There are 112 species of plants in these groves out of which 56 species are of medicinal plants, report Priyanka. In addition there are 12 species of fodder and forage plants, six species of oil yielding plants and four species of timber plants she says.


Potential of Sacred Groves in Promoting Ecotourism in Uttarakhand Himalayas by  Kholiya, Deepak; Rawat, Laxmi; Joshi, Preeti 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


Kerala also known as Gods Own Country, is located on the southernmost tip of India on the Malabar Coast and embraces the coast of Arabian Sea on the west and is bounded by the Western Ghats in the east
The state of Kerala with its wide array of topographical features such as coastlines along the Arabian Sea, hills of the Western Ghats, valleys, and abundant water-bodies has tropical climate. The natural vegetation of Kerala comprises 3,872 flowering plants including 900 plants of great medicinal value. The forested regions with an area of 9,400 km² comprises tropical wet evergreen partly-evergreen forests with thick undergrowth in the lower and mid altitudes, tropical damp and arid deciduous forests in the middle altitudes plus mountainous subtropical and temperate (shola) forests in the precipitous hills.

On a rough estimate Kerala has about 644 sacred groves which are distinct and unique in biological diversity. Most of the sacred groves represent the relics of once gregarious and abundant low lying evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. Only few are reported from the foothills and the high ranges. The size of the sacred grove in Kerala varies as small as one cent to 20 or more hectares.

Sacred groves (Kavus) are patches of forests or natural vegetation that are usually dedicated to local folk deities and  protected by local communities or Families  because of their religious beliefs and traditional rituals that run through several generations. Kavus of north kerala are mainly “Theyya kavu” belonging to the mother-goddess in many cases. These kavus are very much associated with theyyam Festivals.

In the olden days, almost Kerala ‘Tharavad’ (homesteads) had sacred groves dedicated to the serpent Gods and goddesses. The fear of the unknown and religious beliefs ensured the flourishing of these green spots.

The origin of the ‘Kavu’ could be traced back to pre-historic times. Kerala had been geographically isolated in the distant past, due to the barrier created by the Western Ghats, covered with impenetrable tropical rain forests. The inhabitant believed to have been of Dravidian origin. They worshipped mother –goddess (‘Bhagawathi’) ,Serpent god (‘Nagam’), Hunter –gods (‘Sasthappan’).

Brahmins controlled temple, but in most of the ‘Kavus’ rituals were performed  by  different communities of the village. Usually no one entered the ‘Kavu’ during days other than those of worship or during the festival. Cutting trees, collecting firewood, leaves etc. were strictly forbidden. People believe that any kind of disturbance will invoke wrath of the gods, resulting diseases, natural calamities, failure of crops and even death.

There are many myths, legends and faith associated with the sacred groves of Kerala. The deities in the sacred groves are at times represented by some trees like Alstonia scholaris, Adenanthera pavonina, Hydnocarpus pentandra, Commiphora caudatum, Caryota urens, Holarrhena antidysenterica, Strychnos nux-vomica, Ficus tinctorius, Mimusops elengi, etc.

A stone slab installed at the base of the tree is the altar on which the offerings including the animal sacrifices are made. These trees are also considered to be the abode of ancestral or natural spirits and demons. The sacred groves owned collectively by the villagers are mostly dedicated to Lord Ayyappa and called as “Ayyappankavu or “Sasthamkavu and to Goddess Bhagavathi called “Bhagavathikkavu or “Ammankavu. One interesting feature about “Ayyappan Kavu” is the freedom to enter this sacred grove to offer worship irrespective of the caste or creed.

Sacred groves owned by the tribal communities are dedicated to “Vanadevatha, the Goddess of the forest, or to natural spirits or demons or ancestral spirits. The fishermen caste -“Dheevara or “Araya also maintain sacred groves in the coastal areas of Kerala. These groves are called “Cheerma or “Cheerumba and the patron deity is “Cheerma. “Cheerma is the Goddess of smallpox and other epidemic diseases.

The sacred groves owned by families are mostly dedicated to Snake God (Naga) or Goddess or both, hence, known as “Nagakkavu” or “Sarpakkavu”. Sacred groves of the tribal inhabiting near and around the forest areas are known as „Madankavu or „Yakshikkavu. The sacred groves of North Kerala are mostly associated with Goddess whereas the sacred groves of South Kerala are associated mostly with snake worship. Many sacred groves associated with Siva temples also have serpent Gods.

The major threats to the existence of sacred grove in kerala are the disappearance of old joint family system and partition of family properties along with changing socio-economic scenario. In most of the cases the kavu and surrounding areas will be handed over to a generation who has no faith or less faith in keeping the integrity of the Kavu.
The second major threat is the anthropogenic activities and cattle grazing. As the demand for land is always high in Kerala, the shrinkage of groves is inevitable. Encroachment has resulted in the shrinkage of some of the  largest Kavu in Ernakulam and Kannur Districts.