Olga Vasilevna Okuneva, In Search Of The Sacred Grove…
A well- known Russian visual artist with several exhibitions and honors behind her, Olga’s journeys through the land of myriad cultures finally brings her to the Sacred Grove of the Serpent God | By Shameem Faruque
On Nov 18, 2011


"Hey..heard about Olga Okuneva," my friend Sreekesh called me one morning though he was not sure how the surname is pronounced. "She is conducting an exhibition of her work at the Russian Cultural Centre. And you know what? She is very much interested in Kavu (Sacred Groves). Why not meet her? We can even show her our Kavu." His excitement seeped into me too.


 Olga Okuneva


Olga from Russia, now living in Holland, is in search of the abodes of our Serpent Gods. Tipped off by Sreekesh, I looked up the article on Olga. We both hurried to the Russian Cultural Centre only to find out that our bird had flown! But from her illustrations in the name of 'Hortus Botanicus', I understood her passion for trees and how much she values them. There was an element of nature in all of them and it reaches out to you. I called her, spoke to her and felt the sacred grove spreading its canopy under which Olga and we would meet.


The next afternoon as I was watching, as if a documentary, the employees of Vikas Bhavan carelessly throwing their waste near a toppled red big bucket serving as a waste bin, washing their lunch boxes like school kids and each one gargling and spitting in their own unique style and some blowing their nose with all might right outside the wash basin as part of the ritual, Olga called. “I am at the Russian Cultural Centre. At what time shall we meet?” I was glad but as I was caught up at this place waiting for my mom to finish a meeting, we fixed 3’0 clock as our time. However, I met the  tall  and beautiful Olga before the appointed time, impatiently waiting at the Centre.


 Olga next to the serpent god


We started off immediately, first hopping into a taxi and through our rough roads towards Oruvathilkotta and our sacred grove. I could see that Olga’s eyes were eagerly taking in the life on both sides of the road “It is so nice to watch the people and their lives,” she remarked. Soon we were walking through a small lane with its green and rustic simplicity, towards the grove. I had to explain as we were moving amidst walls that concrete walls are fast dividing open lands and instead of frolicking through a wide expanse we now have to squeeze our way through narrow lanes.

“Wow!” came the Russian’s voice as Olga stepped amidst coconut trees and overgrowth and the fresh breeze leading towards the lake and to the Kavu. Her eyes widened in wonder. “I’d better click,” she hurriedly took out the camera and soon I was also made still as part of the greenery, by its lens. I searched for ‘The Sentinel’ of the Kavu, the 90 year old Bhavani in her one room ‘home’ but all I could find were her clothes, her precious idols and the locked door. So we proceeded to the Kavu which Olga was going to see for the first time.



For Olga who has spent many hours on the Mahabharatha as well as the groves, Kavu has a much wider meaning beyond beliefs. It’s ecological relevance and the bio diversity has swept her off her feet when she read about it for the first time in a Russian magazine about India. The Serpent God in an ancient ambience of huge trees standing guard like wise and hoary sires welcomed the Russian beauty into their midst.  “It’s a miracle!” she exclaimed. “My plans of visiting a kavu actually got cancelled. That is when you called me and suggested coming here!” I was not surprised as we were standing right in the middle of a space where myth and reality overlap and sprout into miracles.


 where once magicians and their secrets held sway...



As clouds darkened and thunder grumbled, Olga moved excitedly around with her aching knee, hurt while exercising; talking about her life as an artist, her passion for travelling, the friends she made on the way and how her love for India has brought her to its soil for the tenth time! “I want to see Mannarasala. Maybe we can go there too.” Olga asked. I could understand her need to see the ancient abode of Vasuki where the eldest woman of the family is the chief priestess. The wild creepers of the sacred grove would carry us further, I felt. Fulfilled in her dream of seeing a Kavu, we took leave of the sacred soil and lo, bumped into Bhavani ! So Olga met Bhavani as if destined.


 Olga all smiles while Bhavani gets serious on not getting her share of coconuts!


We proceeded to an old ancestral home which took Olga into its eerie silence and the rain soon sprinkled its water on her. We walked around the lone home, peeped in to see the ‘Nalukettu.’ And Olga whispered “Hey, Magicians...I am a good girl. Please heal my leg.” I nodded my head. I had mentioned that in the house once lived powerful magicians  with their mantras and rituals. The rain got stronger but the magic had already started working. A school van came by the gate and we asked for a lift and hopped in. A drenched ride home, a nice hot cup of tea and Olga was ready to take leave. “The magic is working. My leg is feeling better.” Why not? After all ours is a land steeped in legends, myths and miracles and this beautiful Russian artist just got a taste of it.

Report Abuse    Report Error    Comments SMS/E-Mail
Bookmark and Share
Hi Olga This is just to let you know that Bhavani passed away today in the morning at about 9 AM. She was very active till November 24th, when she had a fall and fractured her hip bone. She succumbed to her injuries. Your article about Bhavani is a beautiful tribute to her. Thanks for writing this article about her. I live near by her home where she passed away.
Vimal, on Dec 11, 2012 09:06:54 PM
News Features Columns