History of the Shevaroys

For most people Shevaroys is an unfamiliar name they have not heard too often, Yercaud! Sure it rings a bell! Well to set the record straight. Yercaud is situated at an elevation of 4700' above MSL on the Shevaroy Hill range. The Shevaroy hills are a small outcrop of hills covering an area of about 385 sq.miles. There are 67 villages and 25 hamlets with a total population of about 60,000 of whom 45,000 are tribals.

  The elevation ranges from 2500 to 5200 above MSL The mean temperature ranges between 22° to 25°C. In winter temperature may rarely go below 10°C and on extremely hot days temperature may shoot upto 32°C. The average rainfall is about 45 to 60 from both the South West and North East Monsoons. In years when the North East Monsoon is active and rainfall distributed upto the first fortnight of December the summers are generally mild, comfortable and enjoyable and we are spared the misery of forest fires and water shortages. The soil is a laterite with generally poor depth compared to other coffee growing areas situated at an altitude of 4500 feet.

  The Taluk Head Quarters is located in Yercaud Yercaud town is situated at an altitude of 4700 feet. Yercaud has a number of seminaries and convents where brethren and sisters of various religious orders have their training Schools. The Montfort School and Sacred Heart Convent are situated here and are famous all over the World. The well known tourists spots are Lady Seat, Pagoda Point, Kiliyur Falls, Bears Cave, Shevaroy Temple and the Emerald Lake. This big lake you see as you enter Yercaud is a natural formation and the Ornamental lake in town is man made.

  The nearest Railway Station is Salem Junction which is half an hour by road. The closest Air Ports are at Coimbatore 200 Kms, Trichy 160 Kms and Bangalore 230 Kms. A number of hotels and Guest Houses cater to tourists with every kind of budget. Sterling Resorts, Grand Palace and hotel Shevaroys cater to the more well heeled traveller while Hotel Tamilnad, Select and Shoba cater to the needs of more basic travellers. In the Vaniyar Valley Teak is Grown by the Forest Department and adrive through this area is both refreshing and an eye opener to the beauty of this valley. Frequently Bison, Wild Boar and Jackals can be seen and vare occasions Black Bear sighted on the lowerslopes.

  A few enterprising college planters have branched out and cultivator Anthuriums and Gerberas on a commercial scale. The total acreage under Anthuriums is 5 acres and area under Gerbera is about one acre. The only industry in Yercaud at present is manufacturer of Hi Tech laboratory instruments and one manufacturer of hi fashion pullovers. Certain growers have also ventured into commercially raising and selling saplings of Pomegranates, Mandarin, Sweet Oranges, Large Nelli, Tamarind, Seville Lemon, Seedless Lime, Mini Orange, Mango and various ornamental plants. Horticulture Research Station at Yercaud run by TNAU is conducting a number of trials on crops suitable for cultivation in Yercaud under rain fed condition.

  There is an Orchardariam run by the Botanical Survey of India with a vast collection of Indian orchids and rare plants. Hill Development Society run by the State Government is also located at Lady Seat Road, Yercaud and caters the needs of small growers in Yercaud.

  The Salem District has recorded evidence of inhabitation from the neolithic age and on the Shevaroys polished celts, chiseled stones for use asa hammer, stone discs, slick stones a ring stone and a phallus stone were discovered by Robert Bruce Foote of the Geological Survey of India. The workmanship of celts in this region when compared to those found in other regions of the South is much better & points to a more organised society with better living standards & more leisure for creative pursuits. The Megalithic age followed which corresponds with the Sangam era which extended upto around 200 AD. Around this time the hill areas of the Shevaroys were exploited by the early hunting & pastoral tribes or Vettuvars who were mainly nomads. They harvested the honey, fruits & berries and sandalwood of the area. Also rare birds & animals were captured sold to traders on the plains.In 1987 silver coins of the Emperor Tiberius were discovered on the outskirts of Salem.

From around the 7th century there was large scale migration of the agriculturist Vellala into the hill areas. The Malatyalis of the Shevaroys are said to be the descendants of Periyannan who came originally from the Kancheepuram area either escaping persecution or in search of a promised land where they could freely practise their religion of worshipping Kariraman also known as Servarayan. They are essentially Vaishnavites with a trace of certain Saivite beliefs & customs such as their offer of meat & liquor to certain deities. They also worship Nadukals (Planted stones). These were erected in ancient times to honour a brave deed, a beloved person or to honour a person killed in battle, killed by a wild beast or one who has committed ritual suicide.

Between the beginning of the Christian era Salem District coming under the East India Company's rule in 1790 the district was ruled by the Pandyas, Pallavas, Cholas & Hoysalas. In the 14 century the area was captured by Malik Kafur.55 years later the area was taken over by the Vijaynagar Empire. In the 18th century Salem fort was lost to Hyder Ali &T finally with the defeat of Tipu Sultan the British rule of Salem was established in 1772.

David Cockburn, the Scottish Collector of Salem between 1820 1829 can be rightly called the "Father of Yercaud" for developing the resources of the Shevaroys and for introducing the cultivation of coffee, pears & apples. Expansion of coffee to the Nilgiris and other coffee growing areas of Tamilnadu is said to be from the Shevaroys. The first survey of the Shevaroy hills was undertaken in 1827. Elephants were common in the Kolli Shevaroy Hills and disappeared by the end of the 19th century. Very strangely in 2002 almost a century later a Wild Elephant strayed into the Shevaroys and had to be captured with the aid of trained Elephants And escorted back to the Mettur forest region.

In the meanwhile there took place at Salem a very unusual turn of events when Mr. G.F. Fisher an European of German origin purchased the Salem Zamin in 1836. He was the first & only European Zamindar in the Presidency. The area in hisztamin was 1,25,000 acres.

The Shevaroys as per the local inhabitants consisted of Selanadu(Area south and east of the Shevaroy Temple) Kuttanad (Land in and around the Shevaroy Temple And Moganadu (area North of the Temple) In 1842 on the death of the Pattakarar (Tribal Chief) of the Shevaroys there was trouble between the various Malayalis. This struggle for succession finally resulted in the British bringing this area under their role in 1842.

In 1866 David Arbuthnot Collector of Salem granted land for coffee cultivation to a number of Englishmen. He was responsible for demarcating village boundaries & Villageland for establishing village greens exclusive to the Malayalis so that plantations may not encroach upon their land.

During these years the approach to the Shevaroys was through the following bridle paths
Kannankurichi - Guntur - Tipperary Danishpet Sorakkapatti - Kolagur - Nagalur Bommidi - Veppadi - Karadiyur - Nagalur.

The Mallapuram or Bommidi Railway Station was built on a grand scale to handle the forest produce from the hills. Suramangalam station which is the present Salem Railway Junction came into prominence many years later. Planters Travelled by Bullock cart to the foothills and from there walked up or were carried up in Dholies for sum of Rs.6/-in the 1920's.

Road work on the Shevaroys was first started in 1872 and the present Yercaud Ghat Road was completed around 1903. The road became motorable in the late 1920's. It was designed & built with a slope of lin 22 to cater to the train of 15 to 20 bullock carts that would leave Salem by about 8 p.m. reach Yercaud lake by 3 a.m. From there people went by Dholi (carried by 2 people) or the luxury of Munch (carried by 4 people) to their respective destinations. The first commercial transportation available was the Sydney Dyer Lorry Service introduced in 1925. The fare was Rs.6 - per adult uphill & R$5 downhill R3 for children. Electricity became available in 1930s after the completion of Mettur Dam In 1929.

The residents of Yercaud saw their first motor car in these parts 1931 reportedly owned by this car is have burnt out Grassy banks, Yercaud. The second car in Yercaud was owned by Mr. Medra and the 3rd by Mr. Sydney Dyer. The first local driver of the Shevaroys said to be one Devidass taught by Mrs. Fennet.

In the last two decades the growth of Yercaud has been rapidly corresponding with the growing fortunes of the people in Salem, Namakkal, Erode surroundings. Granite has been resorted to The tourism industry is slowly making headway and hotels resorts are coming up all around Yercaud.

The number of trees on the Shevaroys compared to about 30 years back sau 1953 must be almost fivefold. Both large plantations tribal have resorted to large scale tree planting. It is unfortunate that Government controlled Reserve forest public areas lack proper care security & these forests are getting denuded. The number of forest fires is playing havoc with the lower scrub & brush jungles in the lower elevations, leading to landslides soil erosion. Finally leading to poor regeneration of original tree More to be made to promote the growing of various species of trees, instead of monoculture of Silver Oak which seems to be prevalent today.

In the years to come higher wages, increasing cost of inputs such as fertilisers, chemicals & pesticides and shortage of man power to do these manual & labour intensive jobs is going to be a great strain on the planting community. The present depressed prices for most estate produce is a will have to cope with and adopt and improve for greater hardships and shortages in the years to come. Hi-tech horticulture, tourism and resorts seems to be the future of the Shevaroys.

Water has always been scarce on these hills and it is imperative that steps are taken to harvest the rainfall and retain the same in large storage ponds or lakes. By increasing the quantum of shade on the plantations and more ecofriendly cultivation the humidity can be raised lowering the requirements of water and vastly improving the ENVIRONMENT.


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