ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The 'Kurinji' Blooms ...

While looking around Kate's Point, Mahabaleshwar (120 km to the south of Pune, Maharashtra, India) day before yesterday, we saw several clumps of a shrubby plant with clusters of deep blue flowers. Leafing thru Shrikant Ingalhalikar's delightful field guide "Flowers of Sahyadri" (which we religiously take along on all such trips), I felt a sharp pulse of electric excitement: "Neelakkurinji!"

Back home, I revisited Theodore Baskaran's collection of Nature Essays, "The Dance of Sarus". It contains a short piece: "When the hills turn blue" about the Kurinji phenomenon.

'Kurinji' (its Tamil name) or 'Neelakkurinji' (Malayalam) blooms in the highest reaches of the Western Ghats, above 1500 meters of altitude - once in 12 years according to tradition - and entire hillsides are said to turn blue with the flowers. Baskaran tells us, even the ancient Sangham texts (almost 2000 years old) talk about Kurinji - indeed it is taken as a marker for one of the five ecosystems or regions - 'Tinai's - that they divided Southern India into. Baskaran goes poetic thus: "Murugan, the presiding Lord of the Kurinji Tinai, offered a garland of Kurinji flowers to his bride Valli". However, in these troubled times, with deforestation, the Kurinji habitat is under severe threat. The best place in the South to enjoy the beauty and purity of this realm said to be an 80 km trail from Kodaikanal to Munnar along an east-west ridge in the Ghats.

Baskaran informs us that Kurinji is not a single plant species: there are several dozens of 'Strobilanthus' species (family: 'Acanthaceae') and all of them share the 'blue flowers blooming once in several years' character. Ingalhalikar lists about 6 species and says flowering happens once in 7 years rather than 12. My best guess, based on details in this work, is that what we saw at Kate's point (and later at Lodwick point) was Strobilanthus Sessilis (also called Pleocaulus Ritchei); I don't remember reading in any newspaper that the Kurinji is in bloom nowadays so there is some chance that I may be barking up the wrong, well, shrub!

I also (very apologetically) plucked a single Kurinji flower and and deposited it before a picture of Murugan we have at home.

Note 1: The Kurinji is called 'Karvi' in Marathi - not sure if the kind of romance associated with it in the South is shared by Maharashtra. Perhaps it blooms in the foot hills of Himalayas also and (just a guess!) the 'Karbi' people of Assam took their name from this flower.

Note 2: We took an offbeat path out of Pune - down Sinhagad Road past Donje Phata, Khanapur, Paybe Ghat, Welhe and Nasrapur on the Satara Highway to join up with the 'normal route' to Mahabaleshwar. The road condition is not great but is bearable. From the crest of the Paybe Ghat, one gets a breathtaking panoramic view of Rajgad and Torna forts - and this stretch abounds in wild flowers!

Note 3: Sorry Sumesh, I still dont have a digi-cam so cannot post proper images. And Ravindra, you ought to have come along!

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