Sacred Landscape

In 1885, the Swiss-German missionary, the Rev. Hermann F. Moegling described the landscape of Kodagu as follows: “The aspect of Coorg presents an entire forest. The long and narrow cultivated valleys encased in it serve but to render the vast woods more striking. The whole of the eastern boundary exhibits an almost uninterrupted and impervious forest from the Brahmagiri hills to the banks of the Kaveri.” The wilderness they inhabited, the savage beauty of the forests and hills, the clear streams full of fish, the abundance of wild game captured the Kodavas’ imagination, inspiring a deep love for their land; it coloured their poetic imagination, infusing compositions with nature imagery which found expression in traditional songs known as bāḷo pāṭë. The Kodava identity was shaped by and reflected in this richly forested landscape which was held in reverence, and treated as scared. Clear highland streams designated dævaḍatoḍë teemed with fish that were neither trapped nor eaten; forest shrines were attached to every village, sequestered within sacred groves, dævaḍakāḍë, dedicated to various forest deities, where no trees were felled and human access restricted. This immense respect for nature was reflected in one of the greatest concentrations of sacred groves in the small area that constituted Kodagu. Hunting, a sacred community activity was bound by strict rules that ensured the preservation of wildlife, while accepting with gratitude the bounty provided by the forest. The land itself belonged, in traditional Kodava belief, to the mother goddess Kaveri: the people considered themselves custodians of the land on her behalf.