Tamil Nadu moves to infuse life in sacred gardens around temples

The sacred garden at Narumbunathar Temple in Thirupudaimaruthur provides a habitat for thousands of birds, bats, reptiles and small mammals.

“Located between the world of men and the world of nature, gardens were regarded as a kind of border between the world of men and the world of gods.” Professor of Japanese literature and language, Michel Vieillard-Baron, once said this about the sacred gardens of Japan.

Thousands of kilometres away the lines found an echo in India where sacred gardens (Nandavanam in Tamil) are part of a practice — going on since time immemorial — of conservation of native trees and associated biodiversity. The traditional sacred gardens act as green fencing to the temple and house native trees and plants that would be beneficial to the temple, as well as the community that lives in the vicinity of the temple. Unfortunately, many such sacred gardens have disappeared due to rapid urbanisation, lack of care and encroachment.

A group of environmentalists in Tirunelveli have, however, taken it upon themselves to preserve what remains of the sacred gardens. Under the first phase of Nellai Tree Mapping exercise, a team from ATREE’s Agasthyamalai Community Conservation Centre (ACCC), Manimutharu along with Tirunelveli district administration surveyed more than 130 temples in the region. The results were motivating. The volunteers recorded more than 3,664 trees belonging to 97 species. With 841 individuals, the neem trees top the list followed by coconut trees (512), bael (307), teak (196), mango (120), peepal (102), Arjuna tree (102). The team also recorded tree species such as mahua, Indian beech, amla, tamarind, banyan and jamun in and around the temples that they surveyed in Tirunelveli.

Only three cadamba trees were recorded in the survey in and around Nellaiappar Temple.
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