At a time when the relevance of planting native trees has come to the fore, Nanal, a city-based environmentalist youth group in Madurai, India, has documented rare and endangered species of plants and trees under the initiative ‘Mannin Marangal’.
In the last two years, they have carried out walks and events to various pockets in and around Madurai to identify area-specific trees. “So far, we have identified over seven sacred groves in the district and around 12 trees that are regarded as Gods in the villages,” says Tamil Dasan, a member of Nanal. “The idea is to redefine and rebuild the relationship between humans and trees. Presently, we seem to have lost the ties our forefathers cherished with trees and plants. There’s a pressing need to revive our sense of belonging towards native trees.”
People see trees at various levels and the most common tradition is to regard trees as Gods, says Karthik Kamaraj, another member who has worked on the initiative. “Other than the cultural relationship, trees are regarded for the medicinal value and source of livelihood. During our walks, we came across interesting practices in villages. For instance, the very concept of sacred groves (Kovil kaadu) was a way to protect forests, where every family in the village would take turns to safeguard the grove.”
Nearly 500 sacred groves have been identified in Tamil Nadu. The biggest grove in Madurai district is the Vellimalai shrub forest at Idayapatti that’s spread over 150 acres. “The tradition of sacred groves finds mention in the Sangam literature and inscriptions. Certain native trees are associated with rural deities and worshipped,” says Karthik. “On a trip to Sathyamangalam, we documented the practice of the Solagar tribes who plant a wild tree in the place where they bury their dead. The tree is later regarded as incarnation of the dead person and they even call the trees as their ‘thatha’ or ‘paati’. They nurture a deep relationship with plants and trees.”