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History of Kodaikanal, TamilNadu

Kodai has been put on the anthropological map by the presene of prehistoric remains scattered around the Palani Hills. Some of these may date to 5000 BC in the Stone age: others are more “recent” , a mere two thousand years old. Walking around tge gaint stone slab dwellings (how on earth did they lift them?), the low box-like structures, the mysterious circles of stones perched on bare promontories, questions bubble in the mind. What sort of people were these? How did they live, what did they ear? What, or whom did they fear?

There is plenty of room for this sort of speculation because very few studies have been done on these fascinating ruins. What we do know comes from the work of the Anglade Institute of National History in Shenbaganur. A. Anglade, after wrote, it 1954, “These crude stone structure, dolmens, cists, stone circles, were the work of an agricultural people with fixed ways of habitation. They built their dolmens on the high spurs of the hills, while they cultivated the lower valleys. Hunting, fishing and gathering forest products skilled potters. They were good masons too, able to build strong perfectly vertical walls with rude unhewn stones and without ay cementing material.

“They lived in days when hey must have had to struggle for their life, against wild beasts and men and tribes. Then, the old men, children and women had the shelter of the dolmens higher up, and when they were safe within the strong walls, the men would fight to keep the invaders at bay.”

There are two types of structures: dolmens, some of which were dwellings or hiding places as well, and kistaven’s or burial sites. It seems, however, that it was the person’s possessions and not the body which were placed in these. Students from the Anglade Institute have found copper and brass implements and ornaments. Hopefull the stone habitations of our ancestors will not be totally destroyed before further academic light is shed on their life and times.

Kodaikanal Tribal settlements

Several thousand years later, two tribews migrated into the Palnis, the Palaiyans and Puliyans. History books suggest that they were fleeing persecution on the plains, and found sfety in the uninhabited hills, Of the two, the Palaiyans seem to have been the real jungle people. Kukkal, Caves, some 40 kms form Kodai, show traces of Palayan occupation. They wore dresses made of grass and leaves, ate roots , wild fruit and honey, and smoked out flying squirrels from trees.

They made fire using steel and quartz and by lighting floss from silk cotton seeds. Compared to them, the Puliyans were a tame lot. But they were probably the first architects and builders of the hill terraces which characterize the lower slopes around Kodai. Early missionaries reported that their social customs were simple and practical; Divorce, for instance, was a quick little ceremony.

But happy times were over when, in the 14th century, there was another migration to the hills. This time it was the kannuvar Vellalans, farmers from the Coimbatore plateau. Energetic and industrious they took over Pulaiyan lands and made them their slaves, The 17th and 18th centuries saw further invasisons during vijayangar, Maratha and Muslim rule. Heavy taxes imposed by alien rulers, cholera, famine and the persecution of the lower castes drove more and more people hill-wards, soon to form the first settlement of the upper palnis, Vellagavi.

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