PALANI HILLS A SACRED NATURAL HERITAGE SITE

M. Amirthalingam
CPREEC

Palani hill is a sacred hillock situated in Dindigul district of Tamilnadu state. It is associated with the Dhandayuthapani swami temple and it occupies a special place. Palani hill is regarded as one of the arupadai veedu (six sacred places). Swamimalai, Tiruchendur, Tiruttani, Tirupparankundram and Pazhamudirsolai are the others.

Palani hill is a part of an eastern ridge of the Western Ghats with an elevated plateau around 1,800-2,500 metres high; its eastern half is composed of hills 1,000-1,500 m high and the area spread over 2,068 square kilometres. It adjoins the Aanamalai and Cardamom Hills and forms an impressive range of mountains in Dindigul district. It is one of the oldest mountain ranges in India, made up of pre-Cambrian gneisses, charnockite and schists rock.

The origin of this temple dates way back in time, although much of the temple structure as seen today is a result of building activity over the last seven hundred years. Epigraphs are found from the 14th century A.D., which belong to Pandyas and Vijayanagara kings. While renovating the temple, the earlier inscriptions must have been lost. It is believed that Palani is the Samadhi Sthala of the sage Bogar, who was instrumental in making the idol. Bogar was one among the 18 Siddhars. He was born in India and visited China among other places and gained knowledge of medicine, astrology, spirituality and yoga. As an expert in medicine, he prepared an amalgam of 9 medicinal minerals in appropriate proportion, using about 4448 rare herbs. Using this amalgam (nava bashanam) he made the main idol (moolavar), which is currently worshipped in the temple.

Daily abhishekam is performed to the main idol with the panchamirtha (mixed fruit jam with medicinal properties) which is taken as prasaada by the devotees. It is a mixture of five different fruits and is used for special occasions, which when consumed by devotees is believed to benefit them considerably.

According to the sthala purana of the temple, Shiva announced a contest, and the contestants were his two sons Ganesha and Muruga. The contest was that one who could circumambulate the world first, would get the fruit. Soon Muruga perched himself on his mount the peacock and rushed with great speed to overtake his fat brother. But, Ganesa in his infinite wisdom simply walked around his parents once and got the fruit. Muruga after going round the world came to his father only to find the fruit in his brothers hands. Lord Subramanya felt that he was deceived. He renounced his family and came to this hill. Goddess Shakthi and Lord Shiva rushed to the hill and tried to pacify their son and henceforth called him, pazham nee [which in Tamil means you are the fruit (of wisdom)]. Hence this place came to be known as Pazhani or (Palani).

Significance of the mountain
The temple is built on a hilltop, which can be reached by steps. An aerial ropeway has been provided for those who find to climb difficult. There is a road running around the hill for pradhakshina (Circumambalate). Often devotees bathe and walk with bare feet, chanting sacred hymns and go round the hill first and then climb the temple.
Vyapuri koman mandapa, Idumban kovil, and Kumara Vadivelar kovil are found on the way to the main shrine. There are 659 steps with the names of the donor. It is said that the East India Company erected the Mayil Velayudasami temple on the north eastern side as a token of their gratitude for saving them from internal strife.
There is a Baravel mandapa which greets us with fine sculptured pillars with a relief of fighting Arjuna and purusha mriga (man-deer). This mandapa leads to the Navaranga mandapa guarded by two gigantic dvarapalakas. Twelve pillars, three clustered in one support the ceiling. Here too portrait images of Nayaka chiefs adorn the hall. This is the hall where devotees stand on either side of the barricade and have darshan of Lord Muruga.

Festivals

palani
There are regular poojas performed six times a day. The golden chariot of the Lord goes round the prakaram at the top of the hill in a ceremonious procession along with the traditional Naadhaswaram, Tiruppugazh song and other temple paraphernalia at 7 p.m on all Karthikai days and as per the request of the devotees. Panguni utthiram (March April), Thai poosam (January 15 to February 15), Kandha sashti in Aippasi (October November) Agni nakshatram (April May), Vaikasi visakham (May June) and Thirukkarthigai (Nov 15 to December 15) are also celebrated.
Biodiversity of the sacred mountain

Palani hill is a source of water for the parched plains below and has a unique genetic diversity. One of the most interesting features of the vegetation is the wet and temperate ever green shola forests from which many perennial streams originate. Sholas are the refuge for endangered species of flora and fauna e.g. Loya, Orchids, Nilgiri tahr and the Grizzled giant squirrel. It is a shelter for wildlife and a prime watershed.

There are four major vegetation types viz: the scrub forests, dry and moist deciduous forests, montane evergreen forests also known as sholas, and native grasslands, a unique feature of the Western Ghats ecosystem which nourishes the upper Palani Hills. The native grasslands are famous for the kurinji (Strobilanthes kunthianus) flowers, which blossom once in 12 years. Besides providing habitats to several important species of mammals such as the Nilgiri tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius) and the Grizzled giant squirrel (Ratufa macroura) that are endemic to the Western Ghats, the Palani Hills are home to many endemic species of plants, amphibians, butterflies and birds. Besides, it is the source of important streams which flow into the Vaigai and the Amaravathi rivers.
Environmental Problems of Palani Hills

During the summer season (January to April), the local people set fire to the dry grass in order to clear the land for new grass to come up. This leads to the death of young saplings and indigenous trees perish, leaving the hills bare.
Increasing habitat pressure, as a result of development, encroachment and tourist inflow have taken their toll on the hill, which has lost much of native flora and fauna.
Poaching of large herbivores (gaur and sambar) is also reported.
Problem of solid waste management in the pilgrim town of Palani (around the mountain) is growing.
Plantation of exotic species such as eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), wattle (Acacia mearnsii) and pine (Pinus patula) has caused a considerable loss in water flow to the plains and a decline in the biodiversity Conservation effort

The Anglade Institute of Natural History in Shembaganur has been documenting the flora and fauna of the hills for more than 100 years. Palani Hill Conservation Council made a clear connection between natural forests and water security and coined the phrase: The health of the hills is the wealth of the plains. Ecological restoration of native vegetation is revived in an area damaged by human activities. It seeks to reverse past invasions of non-native species through a well-planned strategy of culling exotic vegetation and replanting native species.

Preserving the Palani hills in their present state will solve only part of the problem. A programme to restore the hills to their pre-colonisation state would go a long way in encouraging the hills biodiversity and increasing the water supply to the plains. Ecological restoration in upper Palani is an idea that will require more than a lifetime to implement. It will need further studies and patience, but it is certainly something that needs to be attempted for the sake of the hills, their wildlife and the human communities that depend on water from the hills.

In a drought-prone area, one of the strongest reasons to protect the Palani Hills is its critical role as a watershed. In fact, there is a proposal that the Palani Hills be called both a biodiversity reserve and watershed reserve in recognition of its important role in providing water to surrounding drought-prone plains. At the same time, the sanctuary or national park will help conserve rare biodiversity.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.