History & Culture

The romance of Kurinji

DINDIGUL, 11/08/2018 : For Tamil Nadu Desk : The Kurinji flower (scientific name: Strobilanthes kunthianus) to bloom after 12 years at Kodaikanal in Western Ghats in Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu on Saturday. Photo : B.Jothi Ramalingam / The Hindu   | Photo Credit: B_JOTHI RAMALINGAM

What she said

Bigger than the earth certainly,

Higher than the sky

More unfathomable than the waters

Is this love for this man

Of the mountain slopes

Where bees make rich honey

From the flowers of the Kurinji

That has such black stalks.


Kuruntokkai 3

(Poems of love and war selected and translated by A.K. Ramanujam)

For the rolling hills and the rocky slopes of Kodaikanal, 2018 has been significant for they came alive with the mass blossoming of the Kurunci (pronounced as Kurinji) flower. The flowering happens every 12 years, a phenomenon known as Plietesials. Strobilanthes kunthiana is endemic to the upper Palani High Ranges and to the upper ranges of the South Western Ghats.

Sangam literature has documented the Kurinji in its Agam or love poetry. From ancient times, the Kurinji flower became part of the religious beliefs, traditions and folklore. The terrain being presided over by “the red speared God of War, youth and beauty” – Murugan — Kurinji and the deity have become synonymous. Certain tribes of the hills believe that Lord Murugan married Valli (daughter of a tribal chieftain) by garlanding her with Kurinji flowers. So they do not touch the flowers when they are in bloom, but wait till it withers, to use the wood as firewood. It is their way of conserving them.

Honey from Kurinji

According to R.T. Govindarajan of Poombarai village there had been a practice of offering honey obtained from the Kurinji flower and tinai ( foxtail millet) to Lord Murugan. As the poem mentions, a delicately flavoured honey, which is obtained from the Kurinji blossom with black stalks has high medicinal value. The mass blossoming attract bees and jungle fowl who feed on the seeds.

Kurinji remains an icon of the Shola grasslands, and the blossoming denotes a healthy ecosystem. The waters that flow from the pristine Shola grasslands is vital for the people of the plains — “the health of the hills is the wealth of the plains.” After all the sea begins in the mountains as the saying goes.

But the people of the villages point out that large tracts of the grasslands are being cleared for the plantations and agriculture and this eventually has led to the diminishing of the Kurinji flower and along with it the vanishing of the traditional beliefs associated with the flower. Inspired by this tiny blossom, a raga in carnatic music has been named after it. The flowering period is also associated with a girl attaining puberty. A 56-year old man of Kilavarai village recalls how her grandmother used to count her age from the flowering of the Kurinji.

“She was 72 years old when the Kurunji last blossomed in 2006. She is no more,” says he adding pensively: “ I wonder whether I will see the next blossoming.”

The mountains await the next flowering of the Kurinji — in 2030. Also environment lovers hope for an awareness, which would make the hills conducive for the rare blossom, which has a rich history.

“Under the Jackfruit tree

The wandering minstrel

Panan bears his drum

The bear which is nearby

Turns it’s ears to catch the music

On the mountains of Arthivan

That is full of Karun Kurinji”

- Purananooru, stanza 374

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 2:02:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/kurinji-the-icon-of-shola-grasslands/article25389335.ece

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