Agasthya 6.3 Oasis in Theri landscape
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Tinnevely (old name for Tirunelveli district) covered major natural habitats ranging from coastal vegetation to high altitude grasslands representing all the five ecological landscapes of Sangam period. Stuart, a British Collector aptly called Tinnevely the epitome of Madras presidency . Diversity of elements to be endowed by the southern districts of Tamil Nadu should be attributed to Agasthyamalai mountains and the rivers that originate in these mountains. The River Tamirabarani is the aorta of southern Tamil Nadu, otherwise a largely semi - arid landscape supporting Acacia and Palmyrah palm trees and open grasslands. Through the network of canals and ponds, the river irrigates the arid plains where paddy and banana are extensively cultivated. At the tail end of the Tamirabarani, an oasis called 'Sunai' needs a special mention as it is an emerald stud at the edge of the desert with red sand, called ‘Theri’ locally . It is a small pond with unique fresh water swamp vegetation and rarely goes without water even during summer.

The name for the tank 'Sunai', meaning spring in Tamil, is apt one as the nearby large lake dries off during summer whereas the Sunai does not. All year round, the pond has water with trees such as Samuthira paalai, Punnai, Naaval, Thazhai, Koarai Pullu, reeds and various species of water plants which are either submerged or floating. Barringtonia racemosa (Lecythidaceae) will be able to grow only in the well drained loamy soil with standing water. Locally it is called as Kadambamaram. The festoon of crimson colored flowers hanging from the branches in the back ground of green leaves is spectacular to see. The seeds fall in the water, float and get drifted to the shore where it germinates on the slush. The whole pond brims with diverse plant and animal life. This kind of freshwater swamp vegetation is very unique to the Coromandel coast of southern India. Few such remnant fresh water swamps are found along the East Coast Road and few could be seen between Marakkanam through Pondicherry till Chidhambaram. These fresh water swamp vegetation are part of the vast agricultural lands and they are cleared for paddy cultivation. In Sunai, we noticed encroachments in the form of cultivation of coconuts, banana etc. Developing infrastructure facilities around the temple could also be a threat to the existence of the Sunai and its vegetation.

The Sunai not only supports biodiversity but also a rich cultural heritage through the Aiyanar temple. The deity Aiyanar is worshipped by the clan of people living in close by villages and by those who migrated to other parts of southern Tamil Nadu. There are heaps of stuccos in the base of a tree indicating the offers in appreciation of deity's blessings which range from children, cattle etc. Aiyanar, is revered as the savior of the villagers and their property from the marauders. Today the Sunai and the temple are the insignia of the past landscape intact with its vegetation, people and the culture.



Editorial Team
Editor: Allwin Jesudasan
Associate editor: Rajkamal Goswami
Editorial Review: R. Ganesan, M. Soubadra Devy, T. Ganesh
Design and presentation: Kiran Salagame

Volume 6,  Issue 3
      November 2012

A S H O K A   T R U S T   F O R   R E S E A R C H   I N   E C O L O G Y   A N D   T H E   E N V I R O N M E N T

Oasis in Theri landscape
- R Ganesan
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