Agasthya 5.3 Whisperings of Amma from the 'grey jungles'of Agasthyamalai
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Centre for Excellence in Conservation Science
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Trekkers, naturalists and researchers who have treaded Agasthyamalai landscape could not have missed the 'grey jungles' of Dohnavur fellowship. The fellowship was founded in 1901, at the foothills of Kalakad range by an Irish Christian missionary Amy Carmichael, who fought against devadasi ‘and’ built an asylum for young female children who were forced into prostitution. As with any British, Amy had a fascination for the hills and the wilderness. This drew her to the forest bungalow in Sengaltheri with all her inmates, particularly during the peak summers every year when the plains were scorching. She soon realized that the foundation required a similar place of its own and acquired ‘Naraikadu or the grey jungles’ in 1917 against all odds. Today the ‘grey jungle’ stands as a testimony of how private sanctuaries can match or even excel some of the state efforts. The 'grey jungle' lies entrenched inside the tiger reserve, and was never annexed like other private holdings. This exception has been based on the efforts of the fellowship to restore and conserve forests. It is also a model of how a religious establishment can be in harmony with forests around them while contrasting situations exist elsewhere within the region.

A strenuous trek up the hill from the Thirukurungudi village close to Kalakad town takes you to the ‘Jewel house’ built by Amy, her companions and co-workers. It is located amongst a hill stream, pools and waterfalls. Frank Houghton, her biographer, says that 'Amma' (mother), as Amy is reverently addressed , maintained a forest log of events and experiences. One of her entries observed that “There was room in the forests for all creatures as well as ourselves”. Amy made it to the ‘Jewel house’ year after year and until she became too weak. Amy had sat in the forest house and written many books and composed many poems on nature. The inmates of the fellowship have ever since made this journey to the forest in the hills and for many, it is here that ‘His voice is heard in the cool of the forest'. They see God in the serenity of the grey jungle.

The fellowship has attracted Webb Pepelope, a naturalist who went on to write about the mammals of Tirunelveli hills and Ian Lockwood , a well known nature photographer has eternalized many scenes from the ‘grey jungle’. Several researchers, naturalists, and nature lovers continue to visit the grey jungle. In a recent conversation with Jeremiah Rajanesan, who is currently heading the fellowship, informed us that their forest log book is a treasure trove of information such as tiger sightings which needs to be coded and analyzed.



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

Whisperings of Amma from the 'grey jungles'of Agasthyamalai
- M Soubadra Devy
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