It may sound strange; but it is a fact. A majority of the elderly men at Devarayaneri Colony near Thuvakudi, housing Narikoravas, have remained shirtless for decades. Some of them have not worn shirts in their lifetime.

Many elderly men of the colony say that as per their community custom they always preferred a half dhoti and a ‘thalaipagai’ (headgear). Even biting cold could not force them to wear shirts. They have been travelling across the State as nomads for marketing garlands prepared using gypsy beads. Some of them are regular visitors to north Indian States. Whether they remain in their colony or in any part of the country, their customary dress was only half dhoti.

“I don’t remember wearing a shirt in my lifetime,” recalls 65-year-old Pattanamdurai, a native of neighbouring Perambalur district. He has settled down in Devarayanari after a colony exclusively for Narikoravas was set up a few decades ago. “I was born inside the forests and spent a major part of my life in hunting animals. We should not wear shirts while hunting animals, as they may easily identify us with shirts and flee from the scene,” Panttanam Durai says. “Why should I wear a shirt, when I am comfortable with my customary dhoti and thalaipagai?” he says with a smile.

M. Seetha, 37, his daughter, confirms that she has not seen her father wear a shirt in her life time. “During festival days and special occasions such as marriages, we do purchase new shirts for our father. But they remain in the trunk boxes forever,” she adds.

S. Mittai (70) of the same colony says that even during his marriage, he did not wear a shirt.

Many of the elderly men and women of this community had seldom visited hospitals for treatment of ailments. Pattanam Durai and Mittai say they use herbs in their daily food.

“We were given all sorts of natural herbs and the meat of jungle animals when we were children. They have kept us in good stead even now,” they say with a sense of pride on traditional medicine system.

The Devarayaneri colony on the Tiruchi-Thanajvur national highway houses about 300 families of Narikoravas.