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Vol. XXVII No. 10, September 1-15, 2017

Sacred groves in Kolli sholas

S. Gopikrishna Warrier

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The temple at Ayyanarpatan Sholai, which seems to be a megalithic dolmen

The villagers at Veeraganurpatti in Selurnad of Kolli Hills did not permit us to visit the Kongliamman temple in a forest patch (locally called shola) on the ridge that drops on its western side into the Namakkal plains. The old priest at the temple, whose son performs the worship at present, had died that morning.

K. Saravanan, a village senior, explained that the villagers follow the traditional practice that does not permit people to pass through a mourning village into a sacred grove. The villagers believe that Kongliamman, the reigning deity of the temple, has come from the plains near Erode. She followed a farmer from the village who had gone to sell his produce in the market at Erode, and then sat down in the shola. “From then on, our village had a samy shola (sacred grove),” he observed.

Saravanan’s recital of the local beliefs was colourful, and he would have heard them from his elders during childhood. Just as there is a saviour deity, there is also a villain deity in the village. He pointed towards a mound overgrown with thickets and said that Thokkan’s statue is there. “This deity was mischievous and threw stones at the village women,” Saravanan said pointing to the mound. “Kongliamman tied his legs and made him sit there.”

We climbed the mound, parted the thickets to see an idol, which looked like a Jain icon. Next to it was another idol, smaller and in feminine form.

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Karuppusamy Sholai with agricultural fields all around it.

“The sacred groves of Kolli Hills of which there are references in Sangam literature, have a few different forms of worship,” said EDI Oliver King, principal scientist at the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), who obtained his Ph.D. studying the biological and cultural diversity of the hills. MSSRF is one of the very few agriculture and rural development organisations working in the Kolli Hills, helping villagers strengthen their agricultural income and climate resilience. “The sacred groves have deities that are from Saivite, Vaishnavite and Amman cult worship traditions. In addition, there is ancestor worship in places and there are deities who would have originally been Jain icons in the past.”

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P. Arapalli in front of Chinnammal Sholai

There are more than 250 sacred groves in the Kolli Hills, according to King. This is a high number considering that the mountain block itself is only 440 in area (at the base), accommodating 304 settlements/villages in 14 panchayats. Only recently was it declared a revenue taluk.

The population in Kolli Hills consists mostly of Malayali tribals (translates to ‘people of the mountains’, and not to be confused with the Malayalam-speaking people of Kerala State). According to the 2011 Census, in Tamil Nadu, only 1.1% of the population are tribals. Among the districts, Namakkal has a relatively high tribal population, which is 3.3% of the district’s population of 17.26 million. In Kolli Hills, the tribal population constitutes 95.55% of the total of 40,479 individuals. – (Courtesy:

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