'Sacred groves of Kerala: Down
from 10,000 to 1,200', the headline of an article snapped my mind to attention.
I researched the topic when the Instagram post 'Sacred grove conservation and
tracing theyyam, the sentinel artform', came across my feed by Cherish
Expeditions that had partnered with MG Motors Coastline Garages.
Cherish Expeditions is a
travel-based impact initiative. Each of their initiatives focuses on uplifting livelihood
of local communities and their programmes are carefully chosen to integrate the
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Three weeks later, I was in
the old city of Cannanore (now called Kannur in North Malabar region of Kerala). It is the
land of looms and lore. I was out tracing one of the oldest art forms in Kerala
and with me was the MG Hector Plus.
Launched in the summer of 2020, the MG (Morris Garages) Hector Plus is India’s
first 6-seater internet SUV with a panoramic sunroof.
I was undertaking a 7-day long
self-driven journey through the northern Malabar region. MG Motor India was our
mobility partner. Handpicked by Cherish Expeditions, I was among the few conservationists
and content creators who had to come together and work towards creating an
impact by planting 100 species of Rare Endemic and Threatened Species (RET) trees.
RET trees and theyyam have an
almost sacred connection. Theyyam was performed mainly in the sacred groves of
the northern Malabar region and it was believed that residing deities from
these sacred groves were summoned to the performing man's body. For centuries,
the sacred artform secured the groves from destruction but with growing
urbanisation, these residing deities shifted to temples which resulted in loss
of these groves and its unique biodiversity.
While most of the Theyyam
performances were scheduled in the pitch darkness of sacred groves demanding
the midnight silence, our alluring blue Hector Plus engaged our daytime on the
trail, with its 17-inch diamond-cut alloys, inviting all attention while on the
road. We took the flaunting beauty to Muzhippilangadi beach, Asia's longest
drive-in beach, leaving the city behind to have a splashy affair with the
waves. The 1.5-litre turbo diesel engine ran perfect, absolutely sure footed on
the sandy beach. With automatic gears, city driving felt effortless. On the
highways, the Hector Plus drove perfectly, providing great ride and handling.
The 6-seater Hector Plus, comes
with luxurious captain seats in the middle row. The SUV features an all-new
dual-tone smoked sepia brown interior, along with stylish new headlamps, a new
chrome-studded front grille, and a chit-chat feature on i-SMART Next Gen
interface. It also comes with other attractive features including the all-new
smart swipe for tailgate opening
The voice assistant recognising
Hinglish and the 'Chit Chat' feature ensured that we were never bored.
Theyyam, the Ritualistic Art form
We drove through the interior
villages of Kannur tracing Theyyam, the ritualistic art form and its
unavoidable umbilical link with sacred groves. The Theyyam artist with his
fierce red makeup and the attire enhanced in shades of red was strong enough to
catch hold of my wandering mind. A cold shiver radiated across my spine as the
light body movements of the theyyam artist changed into intense movements like
Theyyam is a centuries-old
ritualistic artform restricted to perform only on temples and sacred groves,
where the belief goes that the residing deities are summoned to the performing
man's body. Today, when the caste system is openly criticised and secretly
worshipped, the villages in the northern Malabar of Kerala celebrate this
ritualistic art form where the caste system's lower hierarchy is honoured.
Deities possessed to be the Theyyam Gods have folklores that tell the stories
of humans who sacrificed their lives against the caste system, gender
inequality and other societal inequalities. As each Theyyam performs and
converse with their devotees, 'Thottam Pattu,' the Theyyam song, will be vocalised
in the background, conveying the folklore behind each theyyam. To become a
Theyyam artist is a privilege only given to the 'lower caste,' providing an
equal status for the society's tyrannised community.
Theyyam and sacred groves nurture each other
Theyyam has been strongly
coiled with nature starting from the ornaments used for the performance to the
stage where the artist is performed. Theyyam was performed mainly in the sacred
groves, till man's fantasy with brick and mortar took the upper hand. Once
urbanization started hitting the rural villages, the grove's residing deities
were carefully shifted to temples, leaving the sacred groves for deforestation.
We were on a humble mission to revive the degrading sacred groves through this
expedition planting the rare endangered species of plants and conserve the
Sacred Grove Conservation
Sacred groves may not be a
familiar word for the present-day modern world. Though I have heard about
sacred groves from grandma stories deeply intertwined with superstitious
beliefs and folklores, I never imagined visiting one someday, and being a part
of its revival and conservation.
Sacred groves are small
rainforests with a residing deity placed in it for worship, deeply rooted with
mythological stories making them sacred enough not allowing to cut any trees or
branches. Sacred grove conservation is the need of this era as it is a treasure
trove of biodiversity where rare flora and fauna flourish without human
interruptions. As these virgin forests are left to thrive, it houses endangered
species of birds, mammals, reptiles and a variety of butterflies. Sacred groves
improve the microclimate of their vicinity and water cycle by sun trapping and
preventing soil erosion. Also, they are our last storehouse of many ayurvedic
plants which were previously endemic to the forest.
As the geographical terrain
changed from tar roads to narrow unpaved paths, the green got denser, hinting
us the arrival of our destination, Mapitacherry sacred grove. There we have
partaken in the GOD (Grow Our Dying) tree campaign by planting 100 RET trees
along with MSSRF, which falls under the 1trillion tree campaign by the World
Economic Forum. While we are having global discussions on climate change going
on, it is crucial to conserve the last of these sacred groves and protect their
rich biodiversity along with the extinct species of trees.
"What is happening
here", is that one question we have come across the most, as we drove MG
Hector Plus along the rural villages of Kannur where growing urbanisation has
yet to be checked. It took a modern car like the Hector Plus to help us in our
expedition so as to spread awareness about a cause that was for long ignored
and forgotten. That, perhaps, is the impact when old meets new!
(The author is a professional freelance writer & photographer)
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