Sarpa Kavu at Sakthanthamburan palace, Thrissur


Sarpa Kavu at Sakthanthamburan palace, Thrissur

Sarpa Kavu (meaning Abode of the Snake God) is a small traditional forest seen in Kerala state of South India. This untouched small forest usually have idols of Naga Devatas and Naga Devas (snake gods) and people would worship them. This was part of Nagaaradhana (snake worship) which was prevalent among keralites during past centuries. It has been practised by Nairs, Ezhavas, Arayas and many other tribal, non-tribal and costal communities all over Malabar Cost practises serpent worship in south India.


In Kerala almost every nook of big houses (Tharavadu)of rich families and temples, there was a thick piece of jungle called Kavu or Sarpa kavu (grove or serpent grove) which during the Buddhist period was the adjunct of a Vihara where the bhikshus used to sit in meditation or for their relaxation. The serpents peacefully co-existed with the monks and often attended as a type of watchmen for their meagre holdings. As Brahminism became prevalent, these Kavus were transmuted into abodes snake gods along with the worship of the fierce deity Kali where blood sacrifices and drunken bouts were every day affairs.Some of the groves became centers of nightmarish fear for the simple folk or people in general that if they interfered with them, they would become victims of incurable diseases and their family would be destroyed by the curse of the serpents and the wrath of Kali. Sree Narayana Guru urged the people to bring these groves under proper use and encouraged clearing the groves, sometimes under his personal presence to reassure village folk that no harm would befall upon them as a consequence of their action.

Most sacred groves harbored perennial water source and hence formed the vital support system of many villages. The age-old system of every village having a temple, a tank and associated sacred grove explains the ancient method of water harvesting and sharing.

As an ecosystem, the environmental significance of the sacred groves is a matter well forgotten. In fact, they even help in soil and water conservation besides preserving its rich biological wealth. The ponds and streams adjoining the groves are perennial water sources. These are the last resorts to many of the animals and birds for their water requirements, especially during summer. Sacred groves also enrich the soil through its rich litter composition. The nutrients generated thus are not only recycled Within the sacred grove ecosystem but also find their way into the adjoining agroeco systems.


  • Sree Narayana Guru By Moorkoth Kumaran
  • Historical Studies in Kerala: Indian History Congress by K.N.Kurup and M.G.S.Narayanan, 1976

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