Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, Vol 4, No 2(2010): Forests of Belonging: The Contested Meaning of Trees and Forests in Indian Hinduism

A Road Runs Through It: Changing Meanings in a Sacred Grove in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu

Eliza F. Kent
Issued Date: 11 Jul 2010


In many Tamil villages, sacred groves are maintained in part because of the perception of the forest as an abode of forces both dangerous and crucial to the vitality of settled life. However, one scheduled tribe community, the Malaivazhmakkal Gaunders, or ‘Mountain-dwelling farmers,’ seems to have largely dispensed with such a view. In its place is a vision of nature dominated by pragmatism and rationalism, which regards as illogical and old-fashioned the taboos that once established the sanctity of sacred groves. Various historical forces have brought about this shift in mentality. Particularly powerful vectors of change, I would argue, are the tar roads constructed over the last twenty years that now connect Malaivazhmakkal villages to regional centers. These have created new opportunities and aspirations for the younger generation. Yet these same roads, with their democratizing influence, have also weakened the taboos that have historically limited human use of the flora of the groves.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsrnc.v4i2.213


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