Gomal and Kaval lands of Karnataka
Gomal and Kaval are some of the commonly used terms for common property land recourses in Karnataka. These lands have various uses and were primarily set aside as provision for some of the common needs that nature could provide to the human kind such as mulch for agriculture and pasture for livestock. Once the symbols of the State’s wealth, these common lands were protected and the use of resources regulated thus also aiding conservation of wildlife. Agriculture, animal husbandry and culture of communities that depended on these lands blossomed together and thus, were intricately interwoven. These sites served to build the army and were sustainably used to aid food and economic security. Folklores like Junjappa kavya, studies on Ashmounds, volumes of Epigraphia Carantica and other inscriptions on hero stones (Turugol Veeragallu) of those who died while protecting the community wealth such livestock, revels the cultural and historical heritage of these landscapes.
Gomala and Kavals (Grazing lands)
These cultural and biodiversity rich landscapes were found to exist even during the times of different dynasties rulers like Kadambas, Gangas-Nolambas, Chaalukyas-RastraKootas, Cholas-Pallavas, Vijayanagara and Mysore who ruled over the maidhans of historical Kannada speaking Deccan plateau region, which was once widespread from the banks of River Kaveri up to Godavari.
Earlier days most of the settled village folks, who were normally engaged in agricultural and animal husbandry activities, also took part in the battles and wars as Part-time soldiers along with Full-time soldiers during the times of cattle riding (one of the recognised military activity done to capture the enemies states cattle’s), invasion and disaster mitigation. And as per the tradition and norms stated in scriptural mandates, towards responsibility for the animals as-To respect, To protect, and to take care of our nature, animal and Plants, The Rulers and chiefs of States, by means of benefaction or rewards, may have give away around 200 to 500 acres of grasslands or pasture lands in state control to the village community for their economic well-being and livestock-keeping to the settled village communities. Cattle’s, oxen’s, buffalo’s, sheep and goats, donkeys and horses were the common livestock’s reared in these lands.
Kavals, on other hand are the grazing place reserved in the maidhan regions of Deccan for special breed of live stocks viz cattle’s, Oxen’s, and Horses, and maintained by the state/rulers for the economic and security of their state. The erstwhile rulers of Mysore reserved special breeds of cattle to cater to the requirements of milk, butter and other dairy products of the royal family and especially to haul army supplies. They reserved grazing lands known as Kavals exclusively for rearing these breeds. MarcWilks in his book ‘Historical Sketches of S. India’ mentions that during 1672–1704, Chikkadevaraya Wodeyer established a separate department under the name Benne Chavadi in Kannada dialect that literally translates to “Department of Butter” for better management of cattle and Kavals. The ruler brought the whole Golla community – cattle keepers in the whole of Mysore state– under this office and reserved 240 Kavals consisting of 4 lakh acres of grazing lands in different climate zones for grazing Hallikar, Chitaldoor and other native breeds.
Livestocks of Benne Chavdi were raised under nomadic conditions due to seasonal variations in fodder availability. The reasons for this were mainly ecological. The rainfall in the Deccan Plateau of Karnataka is highly seasonal and as in many parts of the India, restricted to the three month monsoon where the average rainfall would be 500 mm to 600 mm. The Kaval lands of Bennechavdi were divided into summer, Rainy and winter Kavals according to the seasons of the year during which they were mostly used. Summer Kavals are generally beds of tanks in which grass springs up during the hot summer season, and in which there are trees affording shade to the cattle during heat waves.
These landscapes along with their rich flora and variety of native grass species also served as a nurturing place for the Great Indian Bustards, Lesser Floricans and several other grassland and scrub specialist species of birds, insects, reptiles and mammals such as leopards, wolves, jackals, hyenas, porcupines, wild bores, mongoose and hares. Most of the shepherding communities depending still on these landscapes from Challakere, Sira, Madhugiri, Kortagere, Pavagada, Hiriyooru even today follow the practice of moving towards the Kavals of Hassana, Mysore, Mandya, Chikkamagalooru, Davanagere district during winter and summer seasons.
Herding communities (Gollas, Kurubas, Lambadis and Banjaaras) with specialised animal husbandry practices and culture intricately linked to Gundthopu, Gomala, and Kavals blossomed within the landscape. They raised their cattle and animals with the help of their rich traditional knowledge honed to perfection over hundreds of years through observation of nature. World famous Amruthmahal, Krishna Valley, Killari, Dyavani, Hallikar, Deccani and Banoor sheep, are the gifts given by these communities to the humanity.
Even today, these resource-rich landscapes are called as Gomalas, Hullu banni, Billa, Hullu Baare, etc and Kaval and acts as a source of fodder, water, fuel wood, culture and religious significance to the local communities. To mention few examples Kavalbandamma of Bidirammanagudi Kaval Tiptur, Ajjiyanagudi of Kudapara Kaval in Chitradurga, and Amaragiri Rangiha of Rayasandra Kaval of Hassan are economically and culturally interlinked landscapes.
Presently these Kavals are found only in maidhans of southern deccan region of Karnataka. Most of the maidans of northern deccan region appears to have believed in pushed these lands into cultivation by the Nizam’s.
Though majority of the rural poor people are still depended on these Gomals and Kavals for the livelihood, these landscapes are widely considered to be the largely open access land rather common property of the village communities. In recent past, the government has inadvertently released these community lands to different industrial and institutional purposes without consulting locals. Such draconian decisions have caused irreversible damage to the sustainability of such landscapes and to the natural resource dependent rural poor communities . This has also resulted in the loss of several varieties of cattle breeds and other livestock as is evident in Kudapura, Varavu and Ullarthi kavals of Challakere in Chitradurga District.
The lack of a clear policy from the Government in protecting such unique landscapes causing disturbance and annihilation of various rights of local communities. Cultural practices which are intricately linked to such landscapes are eroded, and even lost. This in turn, incapacitates traditional herders in sustaining their herding practices, which form a critical component of traditional knowledge and wisdom protected by the Biological Diversity Act.
Now is the time we take conscious steps towards protecting these landscapes as important watershed sites and biodiversity havens. These landscapes must be protected as ‘Biodiversity Heritage Sites’ or Community Reserves based on an in situ model of conservation and management involving communities dependent on them for their livelihoods and survival.