Tiruvannamalai, Ramanashramam, Flora – 5

Madhaviah Krishnan (1912-1996), was a pioneering Indian wildlife photographer, writer and naturalist. In the year 1967, he once asked several university graduates to name two red-flowered trees or an exclusively Indian animal. Nobody passed his test and he wrote:

“is there something radically wrong with the education and culture of our young men and women that they should not know the answers to these reasonable questions, or is it that I have become a monomaniac and am therefore unable to perceive how unfair my questions are ?”

Here is another quote from him:

“…The average educated adult knows little or nothing of the teeming plant and animal life of the country, and cares less. Livestock does not interest him, and the world is to him a place which holds only human beings. He can never make friends with a hill or a dog, and if he has no one to talk to, no book to read, and no gadget to turn and unturn, he is quite lost. School education is solidly to blame for all this.”

Chew that thought…

Asked his view on a particular tree that was ablaze with flowers in the campus of Indian Institute of Science , Bangalore, he is said to have been quite cross about it, and responded by saying “you should uproot all those foreign trees, and plant some of our own.”

The tree that merited this frown, was one that belonged to the Tabebuia species, native of Central, South America, and the Caribbean. These are evergreen timber trees, known for their beautiful flowers. One of this species, the Tabebuia donnell-smithii , also known as the gold tree, has somehow found its way to the serene settings of Sri Ramanashramam, as a Western counterpoint of Gold flowers, to the very Indian konrai – the ‘Golden Shower tree’!

Which is just as it should be really, for Sri Ramanashramam is that kind of place – where one sees people of diverse nationalities and beliefs. It is not uncommon to find whitemen in Indian clothes sitting in deep meditation, or praying at the Ramana shrine… There is even a colony nearby where many Europeans have settled. Some years ago I came across a western lady who was staying in the mango tree cave in the Annamalai hill. The man who takes care of the Virupaksha cave in the hill, I think, is a Spaniard. He goes about bare-chest and wears a dhoti, and the sunburn of Arunachala has made him look quite Indian, very much a native of Arunachala.

So it is that Arunachala has been made home by many trees from overseas as well.

The Donnell-Smithii Gold-Tree is one such and can be seen right besides the Archives building at Ramanshramam. During the flowering season, the tree sheds leaves and fills up with abundance of golden flowers. Here is the picture of the tree, taken in March 2008, when the tree was in full bloom…


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2 Responses to “Tiruvannamalai, Ramanashramam, Flora – 5”

  1. Srinivasa Says:

    Gold tree is a nice photo.

    I have heard that Krishnan didn’t like the goldmohur trees in front of the IISc library. The red flowers of those trees were said to match with the (almost) red tiles of the low roofed lecture hall complex situated opposite the library. I think even this kind of co-ordinating color scheme is very western.

    The goldmohur despite being red looks somewhat lifeless and its leaves look rather alien. Many older Indians used to feel unmoved by goldmohur for that reason.

  2. gkamesh Says:


    Thanks Srini.

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