Repository of local flora

A look at Banajalaya, a unique herbal museum located in Kodlutota near Sagara

Some of the exhibits on display at Banajalaya.  Photo by Anitha Pailoor

Wish to know more about our local plants, but don’t know where to start? Well, look no further than K P Ramesh’s Banajalaya, a unique herbal museum that offers insights into some of the plants that are grown locally and their uses. An indigenous medical practitioner, Ramesh opened the museum at his home in Kodlutota, a small village near Sagara in Shivamogga district.

When one steps into his home-cum-museum, one is greeted by various designs made using leaves and seeds, and a viper snake on one of the walls! While it looks real, it is only upon closer inspection that one realises that it is a herb that is commonly used for controlling snake poison. Other creepers such as kugalu balli, ganape balli, seege balli, etc are hung from the roof and look like snakes at first glance. In fact, many of the exhibits here are displayed in unique shapes that can scare the visitor! However, many of them have also been shaped like flowers and decoratives.

One can see walls, windows and roof of the museum, which is set up on the first floor of the house, covered with a wide variety of barks, seeds, nests, dried flowers, leaves, stems and roots. While some have been crafted artistically, the manner in which the exhibits are arranged is aesthetically appealling. As one walks through the museum, one gets amazed by the multiple uses that many of the plants have, including in medicine. “There are over 4,000 items on display here,” shared Ramesh as he took me around the museum. 

Humble start

The museum had a humble beginning. During his walks to the forest to collect medicinal plants, Ramesh noticed that unsustainable harvesting, disproportionate cutting of bark or branch, and overuse of plants led to the disappearance of many varieties. Disturbed by this trend, he decided to bring the ‘remains’ back home. Slowly, he began to turn these plants into something unique. Gradually, the collection grew and became a museum.

Though it is easy to classify this museum as a herbarium, it is much more than that. One can get the medicine needed here as the museum supports his indigenous medical practice. “All of the plants displayed here have got medicinal properties. To keep a track of the plants I have collected, I maintain a diary. In this, I keep notes of where I brought the plants from, when I got them, the forest’s name, the plant’s uses, the required quantity for medicine, and the address of the forest guide,” said Ramesh. “Having this information at hand enables me to give accurate information to people who visit the museum.” As he does not use any chemicals to preserve the roots, seeds, flowers and barks on display, these often decay. With the help of his diary, he can ensure that he brings more to exhibit. If they have become extinct, he makes a note and takes a look at the ways the plant can be revived. 

Most of the medicinal plants on display are locally grown. If some are not available in the nearby forest, Ramesh collects the seeds and makes them into a seed ball. This is then thrown into his soppina betta (backyard forest) where they grow naturally. While the museum is a collection of various plants, his backyard can be considered to be a living museum.

Seeds of plants like putranjiva, ashoka, bilimbi, kodasige, rampatre, chandrike, and wild nutmeg, and plants like edamuri, daddala, haluvana and somari gida can be seen here. Additionally, Ramesh has collected and conserved plants that are on the verge of extinction in his backyard forest. These include haladi kodasa, mungaraballi, nelagumbala, kaduhesaru and indigofera.

Guardian of the forest

Ramesh’s expertise and collection at the museum have attracted people from all across the State, including students, scientists and farmers. In fact, many students have come here to do extensive research on traditional medicine. Professor Divakar, a botanist with Bangalore University, visits the museum every year with his PhD students to do workshops on biodiversity, medicinal plants, herbal medicine, etc. “A visit to this museum can enable students to learn about the diversity of the region easily,” he said.

As they move around the museum, Ramesh patiently describes each exhibit in detail, its name, and the medicinal values of the collected materials and plants. It is at moments such as this that one comes to admire the wealth of information that Ramesh has collected and his desire to spread knowledge. In fact, G Krishna Prasad, a biodiversity enthusiast, appreciated the work that Ramesh has put in to develop the museum and referred to him as the ‘guardian of the forest’. Apart from sharing his knowledge through the museum, Ramesh also visits schools and colleges to talk about how people can protect forests and local biodiversity. 

A visit to the museum leaves one refreshed and more knowledgeable about our local plants. To visit Banajalaya, one can call Ramesh on 9535245767. 

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