Nikethana reports on our recent team trip to the inspirational Keystone Foundation in the Nilgiris, Western Tamil Nadu. From May 20 to 23rd 2017, 25 people – 12 women from the Nadukuppam Women’s Enterprises and 13 members of the Pitchandikulam Team (and three of their children!) – visited Keystone Foundation in Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu. Keystone Foundation has been working for more than 20 years in the Nilgiris with indigenous communities on eco-development initiatives. The Foundation’s work has been concentrated in the areas of apiculture, micro-enterprise development, non-timber forest produce, land & water management, revival of traditional agriculture and other issues concerning indigenous communities.
The trip was incredibly inspiring, with the team spending a day in Ooty visiting the Botanical Gardens and the Flower show, followed by a visit to the Greene Shop and Place to Bee, a slow food restaurant, both running under Last Forest Enterprises, a marketing initiative of Keystone.
The next day, we left on jeeps into the hills to visit Bangalapadigai Center, a production unit of Last Forest where a local Irula women’s group collects non-timber forest material for a fair price from the communities around and creates value added products like Amla candy and chips, Shikakai powders, silk cotton bedding, beeswax balms and candles, and coffee powder. It was a wonderful exchange between our Nadukuppam women and the women from this unit, each sharing about the benefits and challenges of their work and lives.
On our last day with Keystone, we spent the morning at the Foundation’s base, exploring the work and chatting with the staff. In the morning, in a collaboration with Eco Femme, a social enterprise in Auroville, the women from Pitchandikulam team and Nadukuppam spent an hour with the Keystone women staff discussing sustainable menstruation.
Simultaneously, some of the other Pitchandikulam staff helped with some hands on work in Keystone – digging a mini-dam for Keystone’s rain water harvesting expansion initiative and planted some trees in the campus!
The morning continued with the team going on a tour around the offices, exploring various aspects of Keystone’s work on conservation and livelihoods, research into water, biodiversity and human-wildlife interaction, community health and wellness, the indigenous peoples program, and the work on community newsletter (Nilgiri Seemai Sudhi) and Community Radio (Radio Kotagiri 90.4 MHz) that links the various indigenous communities in the region.
The afternoon saw the group making a brief visit to Coonoor exploring Sims Park. The day ended with a wonderful sunset walk up the slope on the Keystone campus.
A reflection circle after dinner with two of Keystone founder directors Sneh and Pratim, and Abhishek (a Keystone team member who completed our December Ecovillage Design Education course) saw a conversation about further collaborations and exchanges between the two organizations.
The People and Nature Fund hosted by Keystone made it possible for our women’s group to go this exposure visit. We thank Keystone Foundation and its members for their warm hospitality and generosity in time and resources!
Pitchandikulam’s latest building rises eight meters above the forest floor, carried by the trunk and embraced by the branches of an old tree.
My name is Anaïs Schendekehl, a Weltwärts volunteer in Pitchandikulam Forest since August 2016. For me living in a tree-house is a childhood dream, one of these dreams that you have for so long that you don´t even know any more when you started having it and so far away you somehowunconsciously assume it would always just remain like that: a dream.
Almost one year ago I had to answer the question “What do you definitely want to do in Auroville?” for my volunteering application and I remember feeling somehow ridiculous when I answered that I always wanted to built and live in a tree house. I had absolutely no idea how this could be done! However somehow I felt if it wasn’t gonna happen in Auroville, it would never happen!
Surprisingly from the moment this wish was written down things just kept falling into place – like unconsciously grabbing my climbing gear during last minute packing – a friend telling me about Auroville’s tree house community that has planned on constructing five hundred tree houses all around the world by 2026 – and finding an amazingly grown tree right next to Pitchandikulam’s newly renovated community kitchen that was literally asking for a treehouse.
What was challenging was the question of finance and ideas varied from crowdfunding over starting activities to paying it off by renting. In the end Joss’s attitude of “If you really do a project that comes from the heart the money will somehow come to you!” was the last push to get the ball rolling.
First of all the wood needed to be sourced from the forest get cut into planks and beams. Already the following week the construction could start and I was happy to leave the office and join the treehouse gang: Luke and the amazing team from the Treehouse Community, Auroville. First steps were to set up ropes to safely operate in the tree and lift up beams and trunks for the first platform and the staircase. I quickly realised that building a treehouse requires a really good team work and coordination between the “ground team” that prepares the materials and sends up whatever materials are needed for the “hanging team” to safely operate at the top. The efficient workflow these guys have is really impressive and shows their knowledge and experience. Getting the floor to be straight and fixing the wood safely without hurting the tree require a lot of know-how. Moreover, a good imagination and abstract thinking capacities are necessary to build around and integrate the natural forms.
It was amazing to see how the huge piles of planks and pillars were slowly disappearing as the first platform was step by step getting reachable via the staircase while simultaneously the second platform evolved from carrying belts to a first skeleton and then became the floor of the house. Every day we could reach higher into the tree and after an amazing three weeks of work I couldn’t believe finding myself standing on top of the roof structure already starting to cover it with the traditionally woven coconut palm leafs. I remember how I enjoyed the sun and the cooling breeze up there while joking with the guys in sheer amazement of what we had created.
Since the treehouse is finished it has turned into a highly requested accommodation. Most of the participants of the ecovillage design education course (EDE) spent a night there. Experiences varied from deep and restorative sleep with dreams of being Peter Pan in Wonderland to adventurous encounters with local wildlife.
Now that the course is finished it will be my accommodation until coming August. Finally, I get to spend a night in the house of my dreams.
The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) Auroville desk based in Pitchandikulam Forest has just successfully hosted a 5 week Ecovillage Design Education Course running from 4th December 2016 to 7th January 2017!
With 35 participants coming from Auroville, its bioregional villages, from SriLanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, South Africa and many countries in Europe, the group was incredible diverse and rich in age, culture, history and knowledge.
Recognised by UNESCO,Ecovillage Design Education was specifically designed to enable people and communities coming together to reclaim responsibility for their living situations – at local and regional levels. The EDE is a comprehensive course in the fundamentals of Sustainability Design. It is organised as a mandala that we call the sustainability wheel, encompassing what we perceive to be the four primary interweaving dimensions of human experience – Worldview, Ecological, Social and Economic aspects.
We started the course with the Social week, exploring social dimensions of community building looking at partly the complexity of the Auroville social landscape, its history and current layers. We also explored conflict resolution, governance and decision-making models, leadership in both a general and Auroville context. This week we also touched on Tamil social structures, rituals and art forms though kolams and stick dances. All through the 5 weeks we regularly had ‘council’, a powerful method of connecting a group, getting to know each other, and truly listening.
The second week, the Ecology dimension was very much a site visit week where we visited many different spaces focusing on local, organic food and farming, through Solitude Farm and Auro Orchard, green building particularly with Earth and Bamboo Technology visiting Sacred Groves, Earth Institute and Bamboo Centre, exploring solar energy, a visit to the bioregion looking at remnants of ancient forests and temples and the immense challenges of rampant development in the modern world, and really engaging with possibilities of restorative ecology through the work of Pebble Garden, Sadhana Forest and Pitchandikulam.
In the third week, the economy dimension, we engaged with the complexities of world economy, looked critically at Auroville’s local economy with site visits to the local cooperative – PTDC and Nandhini, Auroville Paper Factory and Aquadyn, dabbled in local Indian economy with site visits to the Sustainable Livelihood Institute, Auroville Village Action and surveyed a few local village enterprises, looked at the social enterprises (later on a visit to Nadukuppam) and explored gift economy and other alternative economic systems in other ecovillages.
The fourth dimension we explored was ‘worldview’ looking at various structures and beliefs that shape our world views, our consciousness, our actions and the way we address reality. This was done thorugh an afternoon exploring ‘invisible architectures’, by regular body practices such as Awareness Through the Body and Kalaripayattu (a traditional Kerelan martial arts practice), through an introduction to Ayurveda – an ancient Hindu system of medicine, by exploring the Aurobindo ashram and school, a retreat to Nadukuppam for two nights where the group engaged with shadow work, deep ecology and the culture of a traditional south indian village. We experienced music, dance, men’s/women’s circles and fire rituals as well along the 5 weeks.
The final week, the design week, saw the formation of smaller groups working on various personal projects exploring in particular the tools of dragon dreaming. Projects included designing a role play game exploring interconnectedness in ecology, designing ‘The Hive’ a real Auroville-based project-a youth learning and experimenting space,starting a community exploring the ‘Joy of Impermanence’ in Auroville and creating a center inspired by Pitchandikulam’s work. The week culminated in a final presentation to the Auroville community at Unity Pavillion, giving the group a time to reflect on the 5 weeks of this course and to share it with the people present.
In this time of post-course reflection, we are quietly going to be looking at what the new year brings for the Auroville GEN and NextGEN (the youth-led branch) desk . With the support and guidance of Pitchandikulam Forest and YouthLink we aim to follow up on the seeds that are emerging from this journey and help guide the manifestation of some of these design projects in the local landscape.We would like to humble express our immense gratitude to: the Pitchandikulam/Nadukuppam forest, community and team, the members of YouthLink, our partner in enabling the participation of local youth, to Auroville for sharing its wisdom, to all the volunteers, mentors and donors in and outside Auroville for their generous support to help realize this journey.
This short video by Serena Aurora is a little taster on what we did, a longer documentary will come soon…keep your eyes peeled! https://youtu.be/OqIPd2oa5V0
This is a large moth with a wingspan of 13cm. It is found over much of South and Southeast Asia and quite often seen in Pitchandikulam at certain times of the year (there is a preserved specimen in the reference collection). It is a member of the family Sphingidae (hawkmoths, which are distinguished by their ability to hover) and one of three species of Death’s Head hawkmoths – A. lachesis is the largest member of the genus, hence the name ‘Greater’.
Acherontia moths are also known as ‘bee robbers’ because they feed on honey. Their proboscis is very stout and strong, enabling them to pierce wax cells and suck out honey. In addition, they are adapted to their unique way of life as they can mimic the scent of bees so that they can enter a hive unharmed to get at the honey.
The epithet ‘death’s head’ is because of the vaguely human skull-shaped marking on the thorax. Its defense behaviour is unique – if disturbed while resting, it raises its body from the surface and partially opening and raising its wings emits a startling squeak.
Eggs are laid on a variety of host plants of the families Solanaceae, Verbenaceae, Fabaceae, Olearaceae and Bignoniaceae among others. Mature larvae (caterpillars) attain a length of 12cm and occur in green, yellow and brownish grey forms with oblique body stripes and a tail horn. It is said that the tail horn is venomous but this still has to be verified. When molested the caterpillar throws its head from side to side and produces a repeated clicking noise – it doesn’t seem to use its tail horn in defense. The larvae are predated upon by parasitoids like the Ichneumon wasps and Tachnidae flies which lay their eggs in / on them and their young once they emerge begin feeding on the living host, keeping them alive until they complete their metamorphosis.
Parasitoidy is one of the six major types of parasitism and a very complex phenomena that ranges from a living animal having organisms gradually destroying particular body functions (primarily reproductive and intellectual), through anaesthesia induced creatures being slowly eaten alive to near overt predatorism, but not exactly being so. If one is so inquisitive about the phenomena one can google it, but there is much more to it than meets the eye – in fact the most interesting facts have been hidden away from prying eyes (by whom?) as it does not benefit human / animal rights. Self exploration will benefit those inquisitive enough to delve deeper into the phenomenon and bound to be illuminative at the very least.
Principal Investigator (Faunistics)
In a rapidly transforming world, we as humans are being constantly challenged to grow in both thought and action in this universe. A key question to ask ourselves is: how do we behave in relation to the immense challenges posed by human existence on this planet?
The Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) curriculum was developed by the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) and Gaia Education as a response to this question, in recognition of the immense potential for growth in human consciousness and behaviour. Recognised by UNESCO, the EDE was specifically designed to enable people and communities coming together to reclaim responsibility for their living situations – at local and regional levels.
EDE Auroville 2016
At GEN desk in Auroville currently based in Pitchandikulam Forest we are developing an effective and relevant curriculum for an EDE training course for different contexts, whether rural or urban, but particularly for Global South challenges, using Auroville and bioregional experiences as tools for transformation.
This EDE will be 5 week course for youth from Auroville, its Bioregion, India and the World aimed to:
Discover the cultural heritage and richness of the Indian subcontinent.
Experience one of the world’s largest & oldest Intentional Communities.
Immerse in Pitchandikulam Forest as a host site with over 40 years of experience in Restoration Ecology andIntegral Rural Development.
Engage in personal self-exploration and worldviews by examining our connection to self and place.
Investigate ecological experiments in Water Retention, Agro Forestry, Natural Farming and Appropriate Technologies.
Explore the diversity of over 50 nationalities and the ideal of Human Unity.
Design projects and develop capacities for integrated ecovillage design.
Empower through building capacities in youth as future trainers.
Date of activities
Main Course: 4th of December – 8th of January 2017
Tentative Training of Trainers: 30th of January – 4th of February 2017
Participants & Selection Process
We aim to bring together between 25 – 30 participants. Half of them will be from Auroville and its bioregion, and the rest from India and the rest of the world. We are seeking people deeply interested, motivated individuals active in community, sustainable living, holistic education to come engage in a deeper setting created through the EDE.
Select the option ‘Other’ and please specify ‘GEN EDE 2016, Pitchandikulam’
Bank transfers from within India:
State Bank of India Auroville Township,
IFS Code SBIN0003160,
Account name: Auroville Unity Fund,
Account number: 10237876031,
Specified: GEN EDE 2016, Pitchandikulam
Donations from India are eligible for exemptions under section 80 G of Income Tax Act.
Bank transfer from abroad:
State Bank of India Auroville Township,
Branch Code 03160, Swift Code SBININBB474,
Account: Auroville Unity Fund,
Account number: 10237876508
Specified: GEN EDE 2016, Pitchandikulam
Pitchandikulam Forest Virtual Herbarium is a unique online catalogue of plants from the native evergreen forests of the coastal area of Tamil Nadu. Here we introduce the beautiful and sacred Arjuna tree, one of the nearly 200 species currently available to view in our collection.
Botanical name: Terminalia arjuna
English name: Arjun Tree
Indian names (phonetics):Tamil : Marudha maram; Hindi : Arjun;Kannada : Maddi, nirmatti; Malayalam : Nirmarutu; Marathi : Arjun, jamla; Sanskrit : Arjuna;Telugu : Erramaddi, vermaddi
Sharing its name with the warrior hero of Mahabharata, one of the most iconic figures in ancient Hindu mythology, Arjuna is a truly remarkable tree. With its majestic presence and a broad, oval crown, it is widely planted in parks and avenues for its large shade and beauty. It is often found and planted along river banks and helps to reduce soil erosion.
Considered to be one of the sacred trees of India, it is mentioned in many ancient stories and legends, and has a symbolic significance in Vedic astrology- it is associated with the constellation Swati, whose presiding deity is Vayu (the lord of the winds, the father of Bhima and the spiritual fatof Hanuman). It is believed that those born under the Swati star should plant and take care of Arjuna trees. The leaves and flowers of Arjuna tree are offered to the lord Vishnu and Lord Ganapati on several religious occasions.
A native of the Indian subcontinent, the Arjuna is also found eastwards in Myanmar and southwards in Sri Lanka. It occurs along the river banks and streams in north and south India. The generic name Terminalia is derived from the Latin ‘terminus’ or ‘terminalis’ (ending), referring to the habit of its leaves being crowded at the tips of the shoots. The name ‘Arjuna’ for the tree occurs in the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda and means “white” or “bright”, probably denoting its creamy-white flowers or the shining quality of its bark. One of the tree’s Sanskrit names is ‘Kakubha’ which, inter alia, means “beauty” or “fascination”; it also means “several flowers held together in a cluster”.
Arjuna is an important Ayurvedic plant and has been used in traditional medicine since ancient times. All parts of the tree -the bark, leaves, flowers, and fruit – are known to have medicinal value, although the bark is most commonly used therapeutically.
Terminalia arjuna infloresence
Terminalia arjuna fruit
Terminalia arjuna seed
Terminalia arjuna is a large-sized deciduous tree growing up to 30-35 m high. It has a massive and fluted (sometimes buttressed) trunk and a large and spreading crown.
Bark: Smooth, pale greenish-grey, flaking thinly to reveal colours varying with the size of the tree and time of year.
Leaves: Smooth, leathery, dully shiny, arranged opposite each other or nearly so. Blunt or only slightly pointy at apex, shalowly heart-shaped at base. Margins often faintly, bluntly toothed.
Flowers: Tiny, creamy yellow, crowded in long spikes, no petals; flower cup and long stamens prominent. Some people notice a pleasant honey-scent- others wrinkle their noses at the smell!
Fruit: An ovoid, fibrous woody nu up to 6sm long, with 5 thin, flat ‘wings’ running along its length. Green at first, ripening deep brown, tinged with rust.
The bark of the Arjuna tree contains calcium salts, magnesium salts, and glucosides. Juice of its leaf is used to cure dysentery and earache. Arjuna helps in maintaining the cholesterol level at the normal rate, as it contains the antioxidant properties similar to the Vitamin E. It strengths the heart muscles and maintains the heart functioning properly. It also improves functioning of cardiac muscle. Arjuna is used for the treatment of coronary artery disease, heart failure, edema, angina and hypercholesterolemia. Its bark power possesses diuretic, prostaglandin enhancing and coronary risk factor modulating properties. It is also considered as beneficial in the treatment of Asthma.
The use of Arjuna bark powder as an astringent and diuretic finds mention in Charaka Samhita. Vagbhata, a disciple of Charaka, was the first to recognize the cardioprotective property of the bark in his treatise Ashtānga Hridayam some 1200 years ago. Traditionally, the drug has been administered as an alcoholic decoction of the stem bark (asava),or taken with clarified butter (ghrita) or boiled in milk (ksheerpaka).
Other uses of Arjuna
In addition to its sacred significance, incredible health uses, and the beauty of its shade, this versatile tree has many other practical uses.
Timber: Sapwood (peripheral wood in which living cells are active, and the sap still flows) is pinkish white; heartwood (core part which has no living cells, and in which the sap has stopped flowing) is dark brown, very hard, lustrous and coarse-textured. Timber is mainly used locally for carts, agricultural implements, water troughs, boats, tool handles etc.
Sericulture: Arjuna leaves constitute one of the major feeds for the tropical tasar silkworm. Tasar silk production is believed to be very ancient since there is a
reference to it in the Ramayana: Rama’s nuptial gifts to Seeta included tasar silk!
Fuel: Wood makes excellent firewood and charcoal, with calorific value of 5030 kcals/Kg(sapwood) and 5128 kcal/kg (heartwood).
Tannin: The bark (22-24%) and fruit (7-20%) are sources of tanning and dyeing material.
In the ancestral texts of Ayurveda, one chapter is dedicated to the changes that occur during the seasons throughout the year. It is called Ritucharya (the knowledge of the seasons). Changes happening in the atmosphere and the environment will have a direct effect on the body (gross and subtle) and the mind. Both have to adjust while passing from one season to the next, which is called Ritusandhi-the junction of two seasons, where the body is more vulnerable and likely to experience imbalances, discomfort or symptoms.
In the Ritucharya chapter, each season is described thoroughly and how to adapt food and habits according to the specificity of the season.
During the summer or Grishma season, which in Tamil Nadu occurs mostly between April and June, the body struggles to keep its inner temperature to a cool 35-36°C when outside temperatures can rise well above.
Now that the peak heat of the summer is over, thanks to the summer rain that cooled down the atmosphere a little bit, we notice that days are warm, almost hot but nights can be slightly chilly. Those who are sensitive to the variations in the atmosphere will notice that during the night they need to cover themselves with thicker bed sheets or even blankets.
Referring to the Ritucharya chapter, we can find many similarities with the Sharat season which in the rest of India occurs after the monsoon period (October/November). Here in Tamil Nadu, the monsoon comes much later in the year. The summer rains cool down the atmosphere, bring some humidity in the air that is felt more at night. Pitta dosha, which is dominated by the fire and water elements, will be in a state of aggravation, impaired, where the water element will start taking over the fire element. When it remains balanced, it will give a sense of freshness or comfort in the body, and all of a sudden we can stand the heat much better. If it’s aggravated, too much water element in the Pitta dosha, then Pitta will show signs of acidity, sourness or strong/foul smell in the body and some kind of bitterness or impatience, frustration, anger in the mind.
Not to worry, it’s only Pitta inside the body and mind that needs a little booster to come back to its balance.
With the food, Pitta comes back to its equilibrium with the bitter, astringent and sweet tastes. It is a good time to chew some neem leaves, drink coconut water, eat any green leafy vegetables of the season, and take light dishes made with mung dal. For those who are non-vegetarian, it is better to eat white meat. In terms of sweet items, it’s not adding more sugar to the food and desserts but take some carbohydrates, cereals that are a source of energy, fuel for the body such as amaranth, barley, cooked oats, granola, rice. Other sweeteners like honey, date syrup, sugar cane juice are good for this time of the year. And ghee used in the cooking keeps Pitta and Vata well balanced.
For energy, we can use Ayurvedic herbs such as guduchi, shatavari, bala, amalaki (amla), saffron, aloe vera and licorice, and for the mind: bhringaraj, sandalwood, rose, lotus seeds, hibiscus.
Grounded, physical activities will help Pitta to remain in its seat in the small intestine or in the 3rd chakra: gardening, cultivating, weeding, cooking, walking outdoor in nature, Hatha Yoga, Pranayama, Meditation, observing the breathing movements in the abdomen, Yoga Nidra, Body Awareness, Qi-Gong, Tai Chi…
Any body massage or hand/feet/ear massage with coconut oil is also welcome and wearing pearls.
Some Ayurvedic treatments to keep Pitta healthy are Virechana (downward purification), Raktamoksha (blood letting), Nasya (Anu Tailam oil poured in each nostrils)
Do you know that we are in the process of mapping the bioregion?
Every day we are surrounded by a multitude of maps: street maps, political maps, world maps, geophysical maps, and so on. Maps can be powerful visual sources of information embodying an unchallenged truth. Bioregion resource mapping provides an alternative way of thinking about map production and use, adding information about the people who inhabit the land.
Our intention is to document the Kaliveli bioregion collecting village histories, folklore, archaeological information and traditional practices working with the villages to create community-made maps. Such resource mapping will be useful for planning, educational, community development, and cultural interpretation purposes.Our dream is that every village will have a knowledge hub with this map and its collected information, to be proud of its heritage and resources.
Bioregional maps are important alternative sources of knowledge. They can be used by a community for self-empowerment and to (re)develop a sense of place and a connection to the land. They can be tools of resistance, of education or of identity. They can be presented and distributed through schools, community meetings, museums, libraries and so on.
We have group of members from various units of Auroville working on collecting and sharing information. We meet once in a month (first Thursday of month) to share the information.
Current need: We need Tamil Speaking volunteers to go to the villages to work with the communities and collect mapping related information. If interested, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Parvathy Nagaraj has worked in Pitchandikulam and the bioregional villages for the past 17 years, focusing on community health awareness, traditional herbal practices, health camps for humans and cattle, women’s groups, empowerment, women’s health and hygiene, and environmental conservation. For the past three years, she has been concentrating on women’s entrepreneurship in rural communities. Parvathy has recently opened a forest herbal shop in Auroville, and she runs regular “Herbs for Health” classes here in Pitchandikulam Forest.
Here’s her story…
I was born in Nallure Village, near Nadukuppam. The village itself was my first and best teacher- I learned about agriculture, herbs and plants, animals, snakes, swimming, climbing trees, fresh water fishing, crafts… It also gave me courage and inspired me to take on women’s concerns and this has been the focus of my work for many years.
During the first eight years of my life, I had a serious skin condition, and my father, mother and grandmother tried and tested many herbal remedies in order to cure me, countless herbs and even a millipede remedy! And finally, they found one herb that seemed to help, it was ground with oil and made into a paste that was applied on my body, and after a while I was cured. This was a great success, and during these years of research and trials on me, my father accumulated great knowledge of plants and herbal remedies that he decided to continue to practice herbal medicine to help others in our community. So my parents became the first herbal healers in our village, and this was the only healing system we had, as there was no official medical care.
At the time, there was a big problem with an infectious skin condition which affected especially the Dobhi community (washer people), and my father successfully treated this disease with local herbs.
As a child, I helped my father collect and prepare many different local medicinal herbs, so I observed and learned a lot at this time. But after finishing school my interests changed and I left my village to study further. This was very difficult as I come from a very traditional community where young women are often not allowed to leave the village to study, and many even leave school very early, without completing their studies. My family was also opposed to my studying but I was very determined and even went on hunger strike three times in protest! So finally they gave in and let me go. I first completed a BA in History, and later on two Masters degrees- one in Sociology and the other in Human Rights.
Eventually, I returned to herbal medicine. My first initiative in this came when one of my relatives had a problem with losing patches of hair, and he went to many doctors and healers but nothing helped. So I used my grandmother’s old book of home remedies and I collected and prepared some herbs which I used on my relative and the treatment was successful within one month. I was so excited and happy that it worked!
I first encountered Pitchandikulam when their team came to find local healers in my village, as part of their survey of local health practitioners and traditions in our bioregion. I also participated in a local healers conference, and this is how my relationship with Pitchandikulam started. I had never heard of Pitchandikulam or Auroville before. After this, someone came to my village to invite me to work in Pitchandikulam Forest. When I first entered the forest, I was a bit frightened- I didn’t know what was hiding inside the bushes and behind the trees! This was the first time I met Joss, and after a long interview he immediately gave me my first task- to read a huge project proposal which I did in the following days and I started working at Pitchandikulam.
For the first four years I worked on creating awareness about healing plants and local health traditions, going around villages, making simple demonstrations and also bringing groups of village nurses and other health practitioners to Pitchandikulam Forest to show them the work we do with medicinal herbs and conservation of local healing knowledge. During this time I learned so much, I attended many healers’ conferences, and I did many training programmes for local women, pilot studies, creating and testing herbal remedies etc. So when I got married in 2003 and I had my child in 2005, I had many family commitments but I still wanted to continue this work which gave me so much new knowledge and satisfaction. And then four or five years ago, I was part of the team that wrote the proposal and got funding to create the Sustainable Enterprise Development in the Auroville Bio-Region (SEDAB), and through this initiative we started several community women’s enterprises, based on local knowledge and resources, creating income through producing and selling local, eco-friendly products such as herbal medicine, spirulina, tree seedlings, craft products etc. The idea is that after the initial period in which we help to get enterprises off the ground, they become independent small businesses which the women themselves are running and benefiting from fully.
For the past three years, I have mostly focused on running two enterprises- Amirtha Herbal Medicine and Meera Herbal Foods, and supporting others such as Herbal Wellness Beauticians, Evergreen Spirulina and Nadukuppam Nursery.
All these years, I have been dreaming of opening an outlet to promote and sell products from all the women’s enterprises that we helped to set up, and finally three months ago I opened a shop just around the corner from Pitchandikulam Forest in Auroville. For now, I am concentrating on selling herbal produce from eight or nine forest based enterprises, and my shop is gradually filling up with herbal remedies, natural cosmetics, juices, spices, teas, oils, pot plants… I want these products to be used by everyone, not only visitors and tourists, I want local people too to come and be part of this- so there is a lot of work to be done to encourage local people to come and enjoy these products too.
My colleague Dr Pruthviraj a Naturopathy doctor and Ayurveda practitioner, who originally helped to create herbal recipes for Amirtha, encouraged me to open this shop and is working on bringing new produce to us, and promoting our produce in his shop in Hyderabad, so we can reach a wider area. He also offers Ayurveda consultations in my shop while he is here for about ten days each month.
The shop is now in its fourth month, and we’re slowly building it up, but this is my first time doing this kind of business and there is so much to do and learn. It is one thing teaching others to do it, but doing it ourselves is very different!
My plan is for my shop to also become a small café, selling freshly cooked herbal dosas, chutneys, smoothies and other quick but healthy, traditionally inspired items people can enjoy and that will use only the best organic produce and herbs from our forests. My dream is to have a little ‘herbal paradise’ and slowly, but surely, I will get there.
Parvathi’s shop is opposite Marc’s Cafe on Auroville Main Road, near Pitchandikulam (link on Google Maps is here).
Pitchandikulam Forest organized two workshops for the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) funded ‘Soul of WoMen’ gathering. These events focused on the exploration of womanhood, the struggles and strengths in the feminine.
For the ‘Soul of WoMen’ gathering, two workshops were organized:
GEN Auroville and Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG) hosted a 2 day Forum Theatre workshop on the 10th and 11th of June 2016 for a mixed group of 24 women from Auroville’s bioregion – half of whom were college going girls between the ages 16-20 and the other half were married women between the ages 25-40.
GEN Auroville and Pitchandikulam Forest hosted a 2 day workshop on the 1st and 2nd th of July 2016 for a group of 15 mostly married women from the Amirtha/Meera Enterprises in Nadukuppam who lived in two villages quite close to each other. One half of the group worked at Amirtha and the other at Meera, both social enterprises that have emerged from Pitchandikulam Forest’s work at Nadukuppam, a village in Auroville’s bioregion.
Through Theatre of the Oppressed games and activities, the women explored what it meant to live as a woman in their semi-rural Indian context, trying to unravel the narratives, the thought patterns and societal constructions of gender. What are the stories of our lives? If they can benefit from being told, can we change the story?
The workshops were held by Ms. Afshan Mariam, a psychologist working in education using tools of drama, farming and mindfulness.
The Theater of the Oppressed, established in the early 1970s by Brazilian director and activist Augusto Boal, is a participatory theater that fosters democratic and cooperative forms of interaction among participants. Theater is emphasized not as a spectacle but rather as a language accessible to all.
Forum Theatre, one form of the Theatre of the Oppressed is a short play or scene that dramatizes a situation, with a terribly oppressive ending that spect-actors cannot be satisfied with. After an initial performance, it is shown again, however this time the spectators become spect-actors and can at any point yell ‘freeze’ and step on stage to replace the protagonist(s) and take the situation in different directions. Theater thus becomes rehearsal for real-world action.
The first workshop culminated in a play for the community at Auroville Village Action. Themes that emerged were intensely emotional – of womenhood, fear, the prevalence of sexual violence in our lives, male privilege, the role of silence and community and some of the powerlessness of the situations women find themselves in.
The second workshop consisted of women whose needs were very different. The depth of sharing required to stage a forum play could not happen in just 2 days. The group was not ready. There was a shared history between them, one bigger than their personal histories. It was a collective history formed in their villages, their culture containing layers that need time to unravel. It stopped a safe space from emerging between them and seemed to prevented the women from truly opening themselves up to the wider group.
Afshan Mariam, the facilitator, observed that what was really needed were deeper inner reflective processes and the seeds of enabling a safe space within the group for the women to share what was on their minds. The workshop then changed and evolved with the group on the next day.
Instead of staging a play we hosted a series of body awareness exercises for the women to start the process of thinking about their body and its relationship to the women around and the space itself. It was recommended that this workshop be the start of a creation of a group process where the women can begin building relationships of trust with each other.
As a follow up of these workshops, we are now starting to regularly hold workshops with the women running enterprises in Nadukuppam working with them to build trust and awareness, but also to connect to the bigger picture of their relationship to their community and bioregion. We hope that the narratives that are emerging from the women themselves will help guide the vision of their livelihood development.