Sivaranthagam Sacred Grove (Pondicherry aka Puducherry)

Nurturing the National Tree of India!!! 
Shooting location of Life of Pi!!!
I'm pretty sure, you've heard of the movie 'Life of Pi'. It won Oscars in 2013. A major portion of this movie was shot here in India, esp. in and around Pondicherry aka Puducherry. One of the shooting location was a sacred grove in the quaint little village called Sivaranthagam, which has a huuuuuge banyan tree!  
Pic Courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/LifeofPiMovieUK
This is the pic taken during the making of the film with the hero Suraj Sharma and director Ang Lee! See the banyan tree at the background? That's what I'm talking about... I tried finding the video clip from the movie, but I couldn't. Do let me know if you come across it...
Recently I came to know of the location of this tree through The Hindu newspaper and set out to this place. Its located enroute to Villupuram from Pondicherry. So my first destination was Pondy and from there I took a local bus to a little town called Villianur. Enquiring here, revealed me that there's a once a day town bus to Keezhur that went via Sivaranthagam which I felt was pointless to wait for. Autos are aplenty here. I took one and thank God, the driver knew of this sacred grove pretty well. 
Maheshwari's grandson in the old temple structure
The present structure of the temple
Puravi - Terracotta Votive figures of Horses
Btw, what does Sacred Grove mean? Sacred Groves are little groves or woods or mini forests that belong to a temple or has a religious significance. So what's the religious significance here? Yup, there a mini temple below the huge banyan tree. The temple is called Ponni Amman Temple. The original temple has been here since the past few decades. However the present structure was built in 1994.
More than the temple, the tree is what totally took me by awe. More than the tree, it was the tree's care taken who took me by awe all the more. She is Maheshwari! Fondly called Amma!!! She is simple, clad in a saffron shirt and skirt and her matted locks wrapped as a bun atop her crown!
How minuscule is she beside the tree!!! 
She came here when her son was a toddler and this tree and temple has been her home ever since. The donations by the devotees are the only source of livehood for her. When she arrived here decades ago, the tree was little too, like her son. She nurtured the tree. Nurtured is a simple word to say. What she did was PHENOMENAL. 

Its a banyan tree and the essential characteristic of the tree is the aerial prop roots. The roots emanate from the branches and grow towards the ground. What she did was to wrap each aerial root with soil and manure, in a bag, in rainy days and help them grow soon. Once it hits the ground, she dug pits and planted them, again with soil and manure and placed a few heavy stones upon them, so they don't spring back. 
Once the roots hold on to the soil and ground, she removes the rocks! She ties up the roots that are closer to the stem, along with the main stem. She applies wet mud between them, so they hold on well!!! She has been doing this for decades and has planted several hundreds and may be thousands of roots! 
When she came here the tree was hardly 3 metre circumference at the stem. Today its 36 metres!!! The area the entire banyan tree covers - I have no idea!!! Its huge, covering several grounds of land! The number of birds, insects, snakes surviving because of this tree - may be millions!!! 
There are quite a lot of ant hills within and around the tree. Many a times abandoned ant hills become homes of snakes. She says there are 3 big snakes inside the main stem of the banyan tree which comes out at night! There are several smaller ones too!!!
With her daughter-in-law & grandson
Today her son is a strong young man and does manual labour in the nearby town and is married.  They have a little 10 yr old boy. Her son's family lives in the nearby town to facilitate his work and the kid's schooling. But she has made the tree her home... She has built a little house beside the temple and that's her home. When I went there, the daughter in law and grandson were there, thanks for the summer school holidays! 
 
I really didn't feel like leaving the place. I could stay there all day long - the chirps of the birds, hustle of the leaves, 2 awesome stray dogs that she takes care of, a few cocks & hens, cooling breeze, significantly lower temperature than the outside world!!! She was such a loving lady who almost hugged me when I was leaving! I never wanted to leave!!!!!
With my mom & our auto driver!
Do visit the temple. No matter what's your religion, the tree and the lady are worth the visit! And as I always say, as I specified in the Traveler Tips page (Temple tour section, Pt. 2), give her generously. If you do not want to give in cash, give her in kind like grains, spices etc. Its not just for the temple. Its for her. Its for the tree. Its for Mother Earth. Its for the Rain. Its for the several millions of living things that depend on that tree!!!
P.S.1: Where has my Puma El Ray been??? It was here..... I know it sounds Greek & Roman! Check out my other blog, Fashion Panache to know what am I talking about. 
P.S.2: Check out here to know what I wore for this trip...

TO GET THERE:

From Pondicherry: 18 km via Villianur, Vadamangalam, Ariyur towards Keezhur.
From Villupuram: 25 km via Kolianur, Valavanur, Ariyur towards Keezhur.
From Villianur: 9 km via Ariyur towards Keezhur.
You're in the right track if you spot Sri Venkateshwara Medical College & Hospital when you come from Pondy and you've overshot when you come from Villupuram.
Several town buses are available from Pondy to Villianur.
A few buses are available from Villianur that goes to Keezhur via Sivaranthakam, but its pointless to wait for it unless you know its timings. Even if you know, returning from there would get difficult. Best way is to hire an auto for a round trip. Ask the auto driver for Ponni Amman Koil at Sivaranthagam. They will all know it!

Dedicated to my mom!

Bhushavali N

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

17 comments:

  1. Wonderful . The pictures tells it all. Lucky you ! I have been told by the residents and auto drivers in Pondy that this tree has fallen down and it is no more , so i couldn't check in to this place last month. Anyways, thanks for sharing this which made me feel like as if I visited this place. Will visit this place very soon.

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    1. So sad you couldn't see the place yourself. May be you were given the wrong info coz you asked in Pondicherry city itself. If you ask at Villianur, the next big town, the locals, auto drivers know of the place and take you there...

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  2. I guess tree is a wrong word to describe it...seems like an ecosystem by itself

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  3. interesting post Bhusha...keep it up

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  4. Appreciate your sprit to explore and find such locations. Keep it up!

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  5. beautiful photos and nice writeup

    thanks for sharing this nice information

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  6. Awesome! Sounds like Puduchery's answer to Adyar Aalamaram! Shall definitely visit this sacred spot next time I go to Pondy. -Kothai

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    1. So true! This one is more endearing as its taken care of by a single lady, single handed-ly!!!

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  7. although living here in Pondicherry for over 7 yrs & trying to find it out , only now i'm this lucky to know in detail thru you. Great Job, putting it so picturesquely! thanks.

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  8. Wow, I'll have to watch the Life of Pi again. The history of the tree is incredible, it must have been fascinating finding this out first hand! Do you mean it's best to get there by Autorickshaw from Villianur?

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  9. Hi, I hope this google map link will help. I spent by childhood very near to this place. I will surely go and explore.

    https://www.facebook.com/Wealthcultivator-134677179966690/?ref=bookmarks


    https://www.google.co.in/maps/dir/villianur/Sivaranthagam+Rd,+Sivaranthagam,+Puducherry/@11.8981298,79.6897862,14z/data=!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x3a53606c8e619b75:0x9c4aee2d54a63d57!2m2!1d79.7589194!2d11.9088805!1m5!1m1!1s0x3a535fa0158f20c7:0x1ddba47a3a034652!2m2!1d79.6980536!2d11.8968687

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