THOOTHUKUDI: A few metres south of Kayalpattinam Bus Stand, on the way to a cremation ground, stands a mammoth of a tree, with a circumference of 50 ft, next to an age-old temple in Paparapuli. Branching from it, are stories of centuries-old faith of the natives and a likely proof of the ancient trade route used by the middle easterners.
Fondly called by the locals as ‘Perumaram’, the tree is deeprooted in their spiritual faith, as several families of Asari community in Kayalpattinam have been offering worship to it, believing ‘Isakki Amman’, a goddess, dwells in it. As its name, the temple — Sri Petchiamman Sri Bramasakthi Amman ‘Perumarathadi’ Sri Isakki Amman Temple — has a centuries- long spiritual connection with the tree, which is believed to be there for around 2,000 years now. “It is the ‘kula deivam’ (ancestral deity) for a few people,” said Sudalai, the temple’s dharmakartha (trustee). “The devotees believe the tree has a long life, as three goddesses — Petchiamman, Bramasakhi, and Isakki Amman -- dwell in its three big branches,” he added.
Every year, the villagers hold a consecration ceremony in July, when the tree yields fruit, which the devotees take home and keep inside the pooja room of their houses. However, right after the consecration ceremony in 2017, two of the three branches fell that midnight, which Sudalai said, “were the branches in which Goddesses Petchiamman and Bramasakhi had resided,” and termed the mishap a bad omen.
“We have planned to construct a new temple around the tree, and proposed a grand consecration ceremony,” he said, adding that they were awaiting a ‘divine sign’ to begin the construction. He had planted a branch beside the tree, but it is unsure whether the tree grows through stem cutting or seed dispersal.
Native to Africa Trees such as the ‘Perumaram’, commonly called Baobabs or Adansonia digitata — named after French botanist Michel Adanson (1727-1806) — are native to the African continent. The deciduous trees survive in dry, parched regions, and store over 1.2-lakh litres of water inside their trunks. Radiocarbon dating on one of the Baobab trees in Africa had revealed its life span to be around 2,450 years.
Several such trees could be spotted across the district, especially at SAV School campus, APCV Matriculation School campus, behind the Collector’s Bungalow near Trespuram, Muthaiapuram Pachaperumal Ayyanar Temple, Rasavinkoil village, and along the Deivacheyalpuram-Puthupatti Road; those in Kulasekarapattinam, Palayakayal, and on Thoothukudi Beach Road had fallen a few years ago.
Middle East link
Several historians, on the other hand, claim these trees connect the ancient trade route of the Arabs, as they could be spotted along the coastal villages frequently visited by Arab traders.
Historian and retired professor A Sivasubramanian, in a science journal, mentioned that Bishop Caldwell, in his book “History of Tinnevelly” (1881) had noted one such tree used to be present on Goan church premises (presentday Holy Trinity Church), opposite to the old harbour on Beach Road. It is believed that the tree was planted by Arab traders even before the church was built in 1725. The residents of Thoothukudi had called such trees as “nameless tree” for long, he said.
Connecting the places where Perumaram stands would reveal the ancient trade route, which follows Ramanathapuram, Keelakarai, Ervadi, Sayalkudi, Surangudi, Melmanthai, Kilathur, Thoothukudi, Muthaiapuram, Palayakayal, Tiruchendur, and Kulasekarapattinam, he added. The Perumaram tree, identified at Kayalpattinam, matches the trade route, as the area, said the historian.
The Arab traders plant the baobabs, because of their life span, to notify trade hotspots for ther traders, he added.
‘Need to be protected’
J Prabakar, an archaeology writer, said that the trees were found along another trade route, connecting Arupukottai, Ettayapuram, Kurukusalai, Puthiyamputhur, Pudhukottai, Eral,Kurumbur, and Tiruchendur. The route was later developed into “Mangammal Salai” by queen Rani Mangammal (1689-1704) of the Madurai Nayak dynasty.
A relatively young Perumaram is found at Puthupatti, which the villagers call “Ponthaimaram”, he said, adding that such trees need to be protected for their history.
However, such trees are dying rapidly in 21st century due to global warming.