The Muduvar tribe, which inhabit the mountain ranges around Valparai(Tamilnadu) and Munnar (Kerala) in the Western Ghats, calculates its age with blossoming of the Kurinji. Neelakurinji , This legendary flower blooms once in 12years and is due to enliven the mountain scapes, once again in the coming year.
In the Western Ghats, at an altitude of about 1,600 metres, in the region of shoals and grasslands, the kurinji flourishes as a gregarious shrub. From the High Ranges to the Sayadhri Mountains, different varieties of the Kurinji flourish in valleys, in slopes and in gorges. All of them have a periodicity from eight to 12 years. After blossoming, the plant wilts. Though most of the varieties are blue, tjere are some yellow varieties too.
Geogaphers refer to the ranges south of the Palghat Gap as the Palni ranges and those to the north as the Nilgiris. In the Palni ranges, in Mattupatti and Gundumalai aroud Munnar, the Kurinji grows in abundance. In the area around Anaimudi also the plant thrives. Anaimudi(in Kerala) or the Elephant Peak is the highest point in South India, being several metres higher than the better-known Doddabetta near Ooty. And the area around it is now called and Eravikulam sanctuaty. The Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary (in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu) is contiguous to this sanctuary.
Though this flower has been a familiar subject for poets and for the hill folk, in modern times, two British botanists who explored the Palni ranges-Robert Wight in 1836 and Capt. Beddome in 1857 - documented the details and let the wider world get to know about this plant. The Kurinji found in the Palni and the Nilgiri ranges has been christened Strobulanthus kuntianum. The Catholic clergy in the Shenbaganur seminary in Kodaikanal kept careful notes of the flowering of the Kurinji. In the Nilgiris, it was only from 1858 that we have records of the years of the plant’s blossoming. A resident of Kotagiri, Mr. Cockburne had details of those years. His father was a pioneer settler in the Nilgiris and his mother (Cockburne’s grandmother) had talked to the Kotas and Todas and had written down data on Kurinji. Thus data from three generations is available. Around the Nilgiris, this flower is called Nilakurinji and is abundant in the Mukurthi sanctuary. In recent years, the Pondicherry-based Salim Ali School of Ecology has been studying the blossoming of the Kurinji.
In Tamil Sangam poems there are quite a few references to this flower. In works such as Agananurum and Maduraijanchi, the plant is referred as “Karungal Kurinji”, meaning the Black stemmed flower. When it is in bloom, the honey gathered from the beehives in the vicinity was valued highly. One poet praises a king as “the one who rules over a country where the Kurinji honey is in plenty”.
Symbol of hills, forests
The Sangam groups of literary works divide the landscape into five categories. The mountainous area was known as Kurinji, after the flower. Murugan, the god fo the Kurinji area, wore a garland of Kurinji flowers when he married the tribal girl Valli. This blue flower that blossoms stands as a symbol of hills and forests. The other forms of landscape described are mullai(jasmine)which stands for forests, marudam(a tree)which stands for pastoral area, Neythal (an aquatic flower)which denotes costal area and Palai(a tree)which represents arid area. In poetic works, each of this form of landscape stands for an emotion or a state of mind. The Kurinji symbolizes clandestine love or premarital romance. At least one literary work. Ainkurunooru has 100 poems dedicated to each of these forms of landscapes.
The home of the Kurinji, which had remained inviolate for millennia, was damaged beyond repair in the last 100 years. Range after range of pristine forests was cleared for tea and cardamom platations and for timber. To promote the leather-tanning industry, wattle was plated in the heart of Kurinji country. Eucalyptus was grown to supply raw material for rayon and paper. Trees totally alien to this land were brought in and introduced, devastating the ecosystem. Hydroeslectric projects submerged vast stretches of virgin rain forests. Now in the little space that is left, in step valleys and gorges, the Kurinji bushes are battling for survival, like many other life forms of the area.
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