You may have read JLR Explore’s article on Devakad – sacred groves of Kodagu, highlighting the importance of nature worship as an integral part of Indian culture. Extending this concept are daivyvanas. In 2011, The Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) launched the tree park and daivyvana projects to protect green spaces, increase green cover and create awareness about trees amongst citizens. The KFD conducted a study and documentation of tree parks and daivyvanas; this article is an excerpt from the study of daivyvanas, while our earlier article was on the Tree Parks of Karnataka.  We thank the Karnataka Forest Department for giving us an opportunity to explore and document these spaces.

The chariot used during local festivals adds colour to the entrance of Sri Guru Gangadhara Bakkaprabhu Sukshetra daivyvana, Gottamgotta, Chincholi. Pilgrims also trek down from this daivyvana to visit three other shrines, when the water level of the Chandrampalli Dam has receded.

The shrine ensconced within radiant greenery at Ayyapadevaru Devarkadu, Virajpet.

So, what does a typical devotee’s itinerary look like? Visit a temple, pray, and stretch legs in the temple campus. Things become much more interesting though, if one gets to munch on goodies from a picnic hamper, and maybe even relax before heading back home. The daivyvana project provides an ideal setting to get re-energised under the shade of a tree. A daivyvana is a wooded patch of land associated with a temple. Visitors are usually familiar with typical ‘temple trees’ such as Peepal, Banyan and Neem. But daivyvanas attempt to take devotees on a different trip, extending their spiritual journey into the realm of nature.

Steps leading up to the Sri Dhenugiri Lakshminarasimhaswamy temple at Avalabetta daivyvana, Chikkaballapura.

Temple inside Yellammana Gudda daivyvana, Saundatti.

These green spaces give visitors an opportunity to learn about trees in a unique manner. The project seeks to revive the practice of respecting trees, by employing several distinct themes. What particularly caught our attention was how these themes connected people with trees, spiritually and personally.

The Svasthyapatha, or health route, at Karinjeshwara daivyvana, Bantwala, was so alluring that even we could not resist taking a walk.

For instance, the theme of a Rashi Vana, a zodiac garden, aims to attract people’s attention towards trees. There are twelve rashis in Hindu astrology. Much like the concept of birthstones associated with a zodiac sign, ancient scriptures associate every rashi with a tree, considered to be lucky for people of that rashi. A plantation of this mix of trees makes a Rashi vana.

 

Rashi

                                  Tree name

Kannada

English

Scientific

Mesha

Rakta chandana

Red sandalwood

Pterocarpus santalinus

Vrishabha

Maddale

Indian devil tree

Alstonia scholaris

Mithuna

Halasu

Jackfruit

Artocarpus heterophyllus

Kataka(Karka)

Muttuga

Flame of the forest

Butea monosperma

Simha

Paadri

Fragrant padri tree

Stereospermum chelonoides

Kanya

Mavu

Mango

Mangifera indica

Tula

Ranjalu

Indian medlar tree

Mimusops elengi

Vrishchika

Kaggali/Kachu

Cutch tree

Acacia catechu

Dhanu

Arali

Peepal tree

Ficus religiosa

Makara

Beete

Indian rosewood

Dalbergia latifolia

Kumbha

Banni

Rusty Acacia

Acacia ferruginea

Meena

Aala

Banyan tree

Ficus benghalensis

 

The popular belief is to circle around these trees – especially the ones corresponding to your own rashi – to achieve good health, get rid of troubles, and attain great results in life. Planting a tree of your rashi or birth star (nakshatra) and nurturing it is believed to bring health and happiness. After all, that is exactly what we get by growing trees, don’t we?

Rashi vana at Karinjeshwara daivyvana, Bantwala. Every rashi has a tree, and every tree has a board with an explanation.

Nakshatra vana at Sri Banashankari daivyvana, Nagaral, Bagalkot.

There are many interesting stories woven into the making of other vanas. The arrangement of trees in a Shiva Panchayat vana takes a leaf out of Choodamani Purana, a mythological story. Shandilya, a poor Brahmin, worshipped Ganapati, Ambika, Soorya, Vishnu and Shiva. These five gods relate to the five principles or elements of nature – earth, wind, fire, water and sky. By worshipping them, he was reborn as Emperor Jayadatta. This vana helps people believe that worshipping or respecting these trees could help them overcome hurdles in life.

A touch of astrology, a sprinkle of mythology, and a dash of astronomy make a weary traveller’s rest interesting and educative. Science is not left far behind, though. Oushadhi vanas are plots of collections of plants, shrubs and trees of medicinal value. In all these vanas, information boards give out much-needed trivia.

An oushadhi vana of medicinal plants, Kaginele daivyvana, Haveri.

In a Smriti vana, you can plant a sapling in your own name or in memory of someone. KFD installs a board stating whose name or memory the sapling has been planted in.

A sapling planted by the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Sri Siddaramaiah, in the Smriti Vana at Sri Chamundeshwari daivyvana, Chamundi Hills.

With a gentle breeze in the air and leaves whispering around you, ask any local for stories of that region. They will regale you with anecdotes from history, folklore or mythology, transporting you back in time. We learnt about Kanakadasa and India’s Bhakti movement in Kaginele, how bonnet macaques and Lord Rama established their everlasting bond near Bantwala, and the connection between 101 oxen and 101 bilvapatre (Aegle marmelos) trees at Amalapura in Bellary.

Temple within the daivyvana at Amalapura, Bellary.

You could just get lost in the beauty and grandeur of some daivyvanas. If you do manage to come out of the reverie, daivyvanas offer many more interesting experiences. Melukote’s Cheluva daivyvana, for instance, has interesting rock formations. Climb a few steps to soak in breathtaking views from Dhanushkoti, which itself has an interesting anecdote associated with it. You could go to the town to visit temples, and also spend time at the museum, which was once the humble abode of the Kannada literary great Pu Ti Narasimhachar. The visit is best ended by feasting on lip-smacking Puliyogare and Sweet Pongal.

A local steps into an open well (kalyani) at Cheluva daivyvana, Melukote. The KFD has restored this centuries-old well, which now provides water for trees and saplings within the daivyvana.

Trekking, rock climbing and exploring caves are popular activities at Antaragange daivyvana, Kolar.

Amenities like this pavilion attract tourists and locals. Location: Sri Chamundeshwari daivyvana, Chamundi Hills.

It is not just the locals who delight you with stories; all you need to do is ask, and the KFD staff is more than willing to share information on trees and shrubs. They are passionate about their vanas and well-versed in identifying trees.  They help visitors understand the uses and importance of flora. They actively participate in KFD’s ‘Chinnara Vana Darshana’ programmes, educating students and inculcating a spirit of conservation in them.

Plantation drive at Rameshwara daivyvana, Honnavara.

School children on a nature walk at Amareshwara daivyvana, Lingsugur.

Tree planting at Hatyala Narasimhaswamy Betta daivyvana, Tiptur.

Karnataka houses 22 daivyvanas across the state. Explore them and treat yourself to the greenery. Daivyvanas give us a gentle nudge and a reminder to start loving and respecting trees; the only result we can ever get from it is a great life.

View of River Tungabhadra from Singatalur daivyvana, Gadag.

A map of Karnataka showing the locations of daivyvanas.