The Muduvar tribe, which inhabits the mountain ranges around Valparai (Tamil Nadu) and Munnar (Kerala) in the Western Ghats, estimates its age with the blossoming of the Neelakurinji. This legendary flower blooms just once every 12 years and is due to enliven the mountain escapes, once again in the coming year.
In the Western Ghats, at the height of approx 1,600 meters, in the region of grasslands and shoals, the Kurinji flourishes as a gregarious flowering shrub. From the High Ranges to the Sayadhri Mountains, diverse ranges of the Kurinji flourish in valleys, in gorges and in slopes. All of them have a periodicity from 8 to 12 years. After blossoming, the plant wilts. Though most of the varieties are blue, there are some yellow varieties as well.
The Best Kept Secret of Western Ghats, India
Many Geographers 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 around Munnar, the Kurinji grows in large quantity. In the region around Anaimudi also the plant thrives.
Anaimudi is in Kerala or the Elephant Peak is the peak point in South India, being some meters higher than the well-known Doddabetta close to Ooty. And the region around it is now famous as the Eravikulam sanctuary. The Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary in Coimbatore region of Tamil Nadu is adjacent to the Eravikulam sanctuary.
Exploring The Roots Of Neelakurinji
Though Neelakurinji has been a common subject for poets and for the hill folk, in current times, two British botanists who traveled around the Palni ranges named as Robert Wight in the year 1836 and Captain Beddome in the year 1857. They documented the details and let the whole world get to know about these flowers. The Neelakurinji found in the Nilgiris and the Palni ranges are famous as Strobulanthus Kuntianum. The Catholic clergy in the Shenbaganur institution in Kodaikanal kept cautious notes of the flowering of the Neelakurinji.
In the Nilgiris, it was only from the year 1858 that we have records of the years of the plants blossoming. Mr. Cockburne an inhabitant of Kotagiri, had particulars of those days. His father was an established settler in the Nilgiris and grandmother of Cockburn who talks to the Todas and Kotas.
They are responsible for writing down facts on Kurinji. Thus the information from three generations is available. Around the Nilgiris, this flower is famous as Nilakurinji and is rich in the Mukurthi sanctuary. Over the years, the Pondicherry-based Salim Ali School of Ecology has been learning the blossoming of the Kurinji.
In the poems of Tamil Sangam, there are hardly any references to Neelakurinji. In works like Maduraijanchi and Agananurum, the plant is similar to as “Karungal Kurinji”, meaning the Black branch flower. When it is in the flourish, the honey is placed from the beehives in the locality which is high value. One poet praises an emperor as “the one who rules over a nation where the Kurinji honey is in abundance”.
Neelakurinji: Symbol of hills and forests
However, the dwelling of the Kurinji, is still inviolate for paradise. It is under damage beyond refurbishing in the past ten decades. Range after range of pristine forests is empty for cardamom and tea plantations and for timber wood. To endorse the leather-belted industry, wattle is a major in the spirit of Kurinji country.
Plants of Eucalyptus were grown to offer raw material for paper and rayon. Trees completely alien to this soil were brought in and initiated, devastating the flora and fauna. Hydroelectric projects submerged huge stretches of virgin rain forests. Now in the small space that is left, in step gorges and valleys, the Kurinji bushes are struggling for survival, similar to many other life forms of the region.