Oorani is a tiny hamlet off the East Coast Road, just before entering Puducherry, which is known for nothing but a tiny shrine and a sacred grove. The grove is actually a fragment of forest, arguably the last surviving example of its kind in the region. This unique forest ecosystem now goes by the name, Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF). Until recently it was thought to be scrub jungle and much of it was enthusiastically razed for cultivation or replaced with commercially attractive 'social forestry' projects. Scientists and researchers now agree that it is an ecosystem all of its own, unique to the eastern coast of India and perhaps in greater danger of extinction than the sholas, the endangered high altitude evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. The vegetation here is thought to occur nowhere else. It is held that elephants and tigers inhabited these forests as recently as two centuries ago. The presence of the shrine has no doubt protected the grove from the fate that befell it across the rest of the Coromandel Coast. But the future looks uncertain.
Images: AZHAR MOHAMED ALI
Text: BIJOY VENUGOPAL
Read the article: In the secret sacred grove
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