Agasthya 5.3 Fading trail of Athri Maharishi …
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Tucked in the north eastern part of KMTR is the Athri hills, clad in evergreen forests right from the base to its higher reaches. This contrasts the southern parts where low elevation starts with thorny scrubby jungles. The gap in the Athri hill range allows more moisture from the western side to enter the region all year around which has resulted in dry evergreen forest even in the lower elevation. The dry evergreen forest is considered to be rich in medicinal plants, which has brought here many ‘siddhars’ (siddha medicine practitioners) in search of plants for their practice. The access to these hills is still through a bridle path which crosses the Kallar river, and the lack of a good jeepable road so far has kept it away from the glare of tourists. Legend has it that Athri Maharishi and his wife Anushiya made these hills their home, raised their two children and hence the name Athri hills. It is also believed that Sage Athri created the "Ganga River" for his ardent disciple Korakkanathar in the form of a spring in these hills. Even today, we see this perennial spring which bears water all through the year. At the center of the spring stands a Ganga Devi idol, which was installed by the Athri followers in his memory. Although the installation is estimated to be about 1,200 years old, other deities have been added over time. The villagers now call it Murugan temple and the legend of Athri seems to be slowly fading away. Also, another deity, Karupusamy whose idol is about five km away from the site is hardly remembered. In 2004, the quaint place close to the spring was replaced by a concrete structure and also got consecrated with a pompous festival. Chitthirai pournami (new moon in the first month of the Tamil year) is the main festival of this temple which draws 2,500 people who camp inside the forests for a night. With mounting pressure from the forest department the camping has been abandoned recently. Apart from this, on every full moon and new moon days about 200 to 300 people gather here. With festival comes garbage accumulation. Fortunately for the forest, the Ulavaarapani group from Ambasamudram, a nearby town, along with a few motivated individuals from V. K. Puram collect the garbage on every first sunday of the month and move it to the plains. Strangely, below this temple in a lime stone cave formation, lies a mosque which came into existence about 300 years ago. Today it attracts 2,000 people during Kanthuri festival. Recently a new mosque was added close to it. All the devotees visit both holy shrines without any conflict. However, it is important to regulate the crowd as any religious gathering has the natural tendency to blow out of proportion, as we have learnt from Sori Muthian Kovil (SMK) and Sabarimalai. These holy places came into existence in remote areas for devotees to experience ‘being removed from their routine life’ by facing hardships and sacrificing their luxuries. Today, these values are eroding with increasing paraphernalia of facilities that are associated with any popular tourist area. In addition, this site is being promoted to encourage increase in commerce. SMK stands as a testimony for succumbing to such a trajectory in the landscape. We hope, Athri hills retains its charm, as the sage had seen it, for the many years to come.



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

Volume 5,  Issue 3
      November 2011

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

Fading trail of Athri Maharishi …
-M Soubadra Devy
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