Human habitation in the Palani Hills in Kodaikanal is supposed to date back to 3000 BC and the dolmens point to this. While Kodaikanal town is old, the agrarian villages around Kodaikanal, such as Poombarai, Poondi, Kilavarai, Mannavannur are much older than Kodaikanal town. The villages of Kodaikanal are full of families who speak Tamil and Telegu. During the 16th and 17th centuries either in search of work or to escape from the oppression. The spoken history of their origins is not available. But according to legends and folklore, there is a connection to the Mahabharata, the Indian Epic dating back to 3000 BC or even before that. While the authenticity of this is not sure, what can be noted is that many of the villages in Kodaikanal are fast losing the tradition of oral songs and stories. Several folks in some villages especially Kodaikanal's Poombarai village have leaf manuscripts made of palm leaves of treatises on medicine or astrology. If a researcher was serious he or she could get a lot of information, before these manuscripts and memories fade away.
Lately but definitely before the Christian time, Tamil Literature talks about the beauty and the splendour of the hills of Kodaikanal. Ladies tell their consorts about the sound of waterfalls which sound like so many drums playing together, of secret pools in the forests of kodaikanal which animals drank from which were sweeter than the sweetest food in the plains.
Palani near Kodaikanal has references in Sangam literature and is associated with the King Belgian about whom we have proof that is only from literary sources. We do have more evidence through dolmens and kistavens that are scattered across the hills of Kodaikanal. A dolmen normally has a central stone which is known as a capstone, and this is placed across one or more stones usually horizontal. Dolmens are usually memorials or graves for those deceased. Excavation of dolmens in Kodaikanal led to findings of skeletal remains and shards of pots. These artifacts are some dated between 4000 and 3000 BC and they are displayed some of them in the Shenbaganur museum in Kodaikanal. Though we know nothing much about these people we do know that the mountains of Kodaikanal were inhabited by humans from age old times.
Tolkapiyam is a work of dated 2000 BC and its a work of grammar. It speaks of Vettuvar or Kuravar tribes of hunters, who lived in Kurunji in Kodaikanal. The poems in the anthology Ahananooru split the lands of the Tamil area into four areas. 1. Kurunji the mountains and hills of which some include Kodaikanal. 2. Mullai the forest. 3. Marudam the pastoral and 4. Neital the sea shore. Tolkapiyam refers to these tribes growing fruits and vegetables and collecting honey in the mountains of Kodaikanal and selling them to folks in the plains. Their drum instrument was the Kurinji Parai, their string instrument was the Kurunji Yaazh and their preferred song the Kurunji Pann.
Tolkapiyam speaks about animals found in Kurunji such as elephants, monkeys, and bulls which could mean the wild Indian Gaur which is found in Kodaikanal a lot. The main flora include bamboo, jackfruit, and venkai. (Pterocarpus marsupium) and topographical features such as waterfalls and fast flowing rivers and black and red soils mixed with rocks, stones and pebbles.
An interesting story. One of the earliest folklore surrounding the Kodaikanal Palani Hills goes back to the time of the Mahabharata which they say was written before 3000 B.C. The epic talks about the fight between the five Pandava brothers and ther cousins the Kauravas, all princes of the Kuru industry. The battle that followed is the background for the Bhagavad Gita, which contains the essence of the Hindu philosophy of Advaita. Legend speaks that Arjuna one of the five brothers visited on of the Palani hills in Kodaikanal during his trips. Apparently he put down his bow and arrows and rested in the forest there. This place is called Vilpatti village in Kodaikanal. (vil = bow; patti = village)
There are two other stories. These stories are placed near Vellagavi and Manjampatty villages in Kodaikanal. They say that the Pandavas and the Kauravas gambled using dice at Dolphin's nose in Kodaikanal. This nose in Kodaikanal is also called Joothadumparai (jootham = dice game; adum =playing; parai = rock) rock where dice was played. In Manjampatty, about 15 km from Mannavanur in the Upper Palani Hills of Kodaikanal, ther is a small pond named Nanju Polkai (nanju = poison, poikai = pond). Villagers believe that Nanju Poikai is the pond that the Kauravas were supposed to have poisoned to kill their cousins, The Pandavas.
The main theme of poems in the Kurunji area is the joining of lovers. Tamil works of literature such as Maduraikkanchi, Ahananooru, and Kurinjipattu, from the Sangam age (2nd century BC to 3rd century BC) talk about the beauty of the Kurinji Flower in Kodaikanal. It was named because it only came to flower in the hills Kurunji in Kodaikanal. Stanzas of poetry describe in detail of the night with its cooling air improving the love mood. The best references can be found in the poems of Kuruntokai, the second book of Ettutokai. The Kurunji hills of Kodaikanal are the setting of a romance between Lord Muruga and Valli, who was the daughter of a man who kept bees.
Though the hilly region of Kodaikanal is called Kurunji in Sangam literature, there are just four songs that mention the flower. The poets and bards talk about the flowers blooming in on dark stems in the mountains of Kodaikanal. Narrinai has a much longer description. The God of Kurunji is Muruga. He is also known as Cheyan which means the red one. Today he is depicted as a plump boy with his ride being the peacock. But before he was shown as a strong warrior god with a strong spear, whose vehicle was an elephant and wanted regular animal sacrifices. He was so revered that a spear would be put on top of the hill and the hill would be worshipped as Muruga.
In the age old village of Poombarai in Kodaikanal, which is 25 km from Kodaikanal, there is an amazing temple that is for Lord Murugan. The houses in that village, architecture is very interesting and shows the age of the village in Kodaikanal. Palani which is close to Kodaikanal is a city which also has a holy shrine to him but its not as old as the shrine in Poombarai in Kodaikanal. Palani is a more famous place for pilgrims.
Kurunji Flower which blooms in Kodaikanal every twelve years
There is a tribe called Maduvar. They live around Valparai in Tamil Nadu and Munnar (Kerala) in the Western Ghats. They calculate age with the blooming of the Kurunji which blooms every twelve years.