KANNUR: With no aura of sacredness around and hardly any government initiative to protect them, Kanams, small evergreen groves with perennial riverfeeding streams, found on the slopes of laterite hills in north Kerala are being ravaged by quarrying and dumping of waste.
In government records, Kanams of Kannur and Kasargod are marked as revenue wasteland and there are no official statistics on their number, area and biodiversity. The state government itself, on several occasions, has distributed Kanam land to beneficiaries of various schemes and for public purposes.
Researchers say there are at least 15 big Kanams and hundreds of small ones dispersed in revenue and private land, varying in size from one acre to 15 acres. “Kannur and Kasargod districts together boasts of 19 out of the total 44 rivers in the state.
All rivers except four or five among them originate from Kanams; they also account for several small rivulets,” said Dr E Unnikrishnan, who wrote ‘Utharakeralathile Visudhavanangal’ (Sacred Groves of North Kerala), a pioneer study on Kavu.
Surangams, the unique water harvesting method practised in Kasargod district, and now globally renowned, are originally sustained by Kanams.
“The Dravidian word Kanam, meaning forest, is more ancient than Kavu or Kadu (forest). Originally, they must have been ancient eco-cultural landscapes where early human habitats thrived. It has references in Sangham literature,” said Dr E Unnikrishnan.
Researchers recently identified a new species of plant Rotala khaleeliana from Kanayi Kanam.
The Kanam in Kanayi, an unassuming village ten kilometres from Payyanur town, hides a small lake under a thick canopy of a variety of Madhuca trees and ‘Chedavally’ (Dalbergia horrida), a climbing plant with strong curvy thorns. A small waterfall cascades down into the lake and flows towards Vannathippuzha, a few kilometres downstream.