The secret sacred grove of Oorani

Oorani is a tiny hamlet off the East Coast Road, just before entering Puducherry, which is known for nothing but a tiny shrine and a sacred grove. The grove is actually a fragment of forest, arguably the last surviving example of its kind in the region. This unique forest ecosystem now goes by the name, Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF). Until recently it was thought to be scrub jungle and much of it was enthusiastically razed for cultivation or replaced with commercially attractive 'social forestry' projects. Scientists and researchers now agree that it is an ecosystem all of its own, unique to the eastern coast of India and perhaps in greater danger of extinction than the sholas, the endangered high altitude evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. The vegetation here is thought to occur nowhere else. It is held that elephants and tigers inhabited these forests as recently as two centuries ago. The presence of the shrine has no doubt protected the grove from the fate that befell it across the rest of the Coromandel Coast. But the future looks uncertain.

Images: AZHAR MOHAMED ALI
Text: BIJOY VENUGOPAL

Read the article: In the secret sacred grove
Follow Azhar and Bijoy on The Great East Coast Road Drive, live from August 2 to 13




Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

The last surviving Tropical Dry Evergreen Forests, these woods are lovely, dark and deep. But it is we who have promises to keep.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

Sky trickles from the latticed canopy of lianas and dense tree crowns at Oorani sacred grove off the East Coast Road.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

Tendrils snake out into the sky, looking for a clasp on another tree trunk.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

For the longest time these forests were treated as deciduous forests and scrub jungle. In truth, some of the evergreen trees here are found nowhere else.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

The forest, though quiet, is not silent. It is buzzing with life.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

Termite mounds on the terracotta earth. Some of these may have tenants. After all, this is Russell's Viper territory.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

No, this isn't an IT park. Some trees wear identification tags that have been strapped on by researchers studying them.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

The numbered codes surely make sense to somebody.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

But for these necessary intrusions, interventions rather, the forest is relatively inviolate. But is it inviolable?

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

Selli Amman, deity of the Oorani sacred grove. Whether the temple venerated the grove or the grove sanctified the temple is a question to ponder.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

Offerings to Selli Amman, goddess of the grove.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

Less than 200 years ago, real tigers roamed these forests. As did elephants. A leopard could easily hide here for weeks, feasting off village dogs.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

The lemons on the points of the trident are fresh. Which means Selli Amman gets the daily reverence she is due. The same can't be said of the forest.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

The shrine to her grace has stood here for years, perhaps in many forms. Its presence has no doubt protected the grove from the fate that befell the rest of its ilk across the Coromandel Coast.

Travel Great East Coast Road Drive TDEF Oorani Sacred Grove

When she inherits the Oorani legacy, what will she choose?

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