They are age-old ecological havens - groves with thickly foliaged trees, shrubs, lizards and frogs in abundance and snakes like the cobra as the reigning god. Now these sacred 'sarpa kavu', or shrines dedicated to the serpent god dotting the Kerala countryside, are fast disappearing and the state government has stepped in to conserve them.
Thousands of these sacred serpent groves - small forests attached to temples surrounded by agriculture land - owned mostly by Nair and Brahmin families through generations are facing a threat to their existence due to collapse of the joint family system and the changing socio-economic scenario.
''The major threats to the existence of the sacred groves in Kerala are the disappearance of the old joint family system (tharavadu) and partition of the family property as well as the changing socio-economic scenario,'' says a state forests and wildlife department report.
Image: A Sarpa Kavu at Sakthanthamburan palace in Thrissur. (Photograph copyright Wikimedia Commons/Sanjeev Kochumon)