The Salem district has recorded evidence of inhabitation from the Neolithic age. On the
Shevaroys polished Celts, chiseled stones for use as a 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 compared to those found in other regions of the South is much better and points out to a more organised society with better living standards and more leisure for creative pursuits. The Megalithic age which followed corresponds with the Sangam era which extended upto around 200 A.D.
Around this time the hill areas of the Shevaroys were exploited by the early hunting and pastoral tribes or Vettuvars who were mainly nomads. They harvested honey, fruits, berries and sandalwood of the area. Also rare birds and animals were captured and sold to traders on the plains. In 1987 silver coins of Emperor Tiberius were discovered on the outskirts of Salem. From findings at that spot and other literature it is known that even 2000 years back the Romans came to buy forest produce from these hill ranges.
From around the 7th century there were large scale migration of the agriculturist Vellala into the hill areas. The Malaiyalis of the Shevaroys are said to be the descendants of Periyannan who came originally from Kancheepuram area either escaping persecution or in search of a promised land where they could freely practice their religion of worshipping Kari Raman also known as Servarayan.
They are essentially Vaishnavites with a trace of certain Saivite beliefs and customs such as, their offer of meat and liquor to certain deities. They also worship Nadukals (planted stones). These were erected in ancient times to honour a brave deed, a beloved person killed in battle or by a wild beast or one who had committed ritual suicide.
Between the beginning of the Christian era and Salem District coming under the East India Company’s rule in 1790, the district was ruled by the Pandyas, Pallavas, Chozhas and Hoysala’s. In the 14th century the area was captured by Malik Kafur. 55 years later the area was taken over by the Vijaynagar empire. In the 18th century the Salem Fort was lost to Hyder Ali and finally with the defeat of Tippu Sultan the British Rule of Salem was established in 1772.
David Cockburn, the Scottish collector of Salem between 1820 and 1829 can rightly be called the “Father of Yercaud” for developing the resources of the Shevaroys and for introducing the cultivation of coffee, pears and apples. Expansion of coffee to the Nilgiris and other coffee growing areas of Tamil Nadu is said to be from The Shevaroys. The first survey of the Shevaroy Hills was done in 1827. Elephants were common in the Kolli and Shevaroy Hills and disappeared by the end of the 19th Century.
In the meanwhile there took place at Salem a very unusual turn of events when Mr.G.F.Fischer ban European of German origin purchased the Salem Zamindar in 1836. He was the first and only European zamindar in the presidency. The area in his zamin was 1,25,000 acres.
The Shevaroys as per the local inhabitants consisted of Selanadu (area south and east of the Shevaroyan Temple) Muttanadu (land in and around the Shevaroyan Temple) and Moganadu (area north of the Shevaroyan Temple). In 1842 on the death of the pattakarar (Tribal Chief) of the Shevaroys there was trouble between various Malaiyalis. This struggle for succession finally resulted in the British bringing this area under their rule in 1842.
The Grange, Yercaud was built in the 1820’s by M.D.Cockburn and after the Indian mutiny in 1857, fearing trouble at the Grange, Yercaud was fortified and ramparts built to accommodate gun placements and cannons were installed. An underground cellar to store food for more than 6 months in the event of a siege was also built and stocked. All Europeans in the area were to assemble at the Grange in the event of an upspring.
In 1866 David Arbuthnot, Collector of Salem granted land for coffee cultivation to a large number of Englishmen. He was responsible for demarcating village boundaries and village land for establishing village greens exclusive to the Malaiyalis so that plantations may not encroach upon their land.
During these years the approach roads to the shevaroys was through the following bridle paths:-
- Kannankurichi – Guntur – Tipperary
- Danishpet – Sorakapadi – Kolagur – Nagalur
- Bommidi – Veppadi – Karadiyur – Nagalur
The Mallapuram or Bommidi railway station was built on a grand scale to handle the forest produced from the hills. Suramangalam station which is the present Salem Railway Junction came into prominence several years later. Planters travelled by bullock carts to the foothills and from there walked up and they were carried up in Dholies for a sum of Rs.6/- in the 1920’s.
Road work on the shevaroys was first started in 1872 and the present ghat road was completed around 1903. The road became motorable in the late 1920’s. It was designed and built with a slope of 1 in 22 to cater to the train of 15 – 20 bullock carts that would leave Salem at around 8 P.M. and would 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 and Rs.5 down hill and Rs.3 for children. Electricity became available in 1930 after the completion of the Stanley Reservoir at Mettur in 1929. The first electricity connection in Yercaud was subscribed by The Montfort School.
The residents saw their first motor car in 1931 reportedly owned by Mr.C.D.Rile. This car was supposed to have been burnt down by angry locals at Grassy Banks Bungalow, Yercaud. The second car in Yercaud was owned by Mr.Medra and the third by Mr.Sydney Dyer. The first local driver in the Shevaroys was one Devidass and was taught to drive by Mrs.Fennet.
Some interesting facts on Yercaud
The first hotel in Yercaud – The Regent Hill Side Hotel owned and run by Ms. A.Lincoln
The second hotel in Yercaud – Fair Lawns Hotel
The third hotel in Yercaud – Brynhyfred House
1918 – The first motorcycle to reach the Shevaroys. It was owned by Fr.Capell
1926 – The first gramophone and 35 mm hand driven magneto projector to reach Yercaud
1928 – The first wireless radio imported by Bro.Octavian on December 17th 1928
1928 – A wind and aero pump was installed in Montfort School. Similar wind driven pumps also worked at the Ornamental Lake and Emerald Lake. The one in the Emerald Lake was used for pumping water to the Mundagambadi Estate on the 20th hair pin bend
1930 – A cinema hall called The White and the Green Palace starts functioning behind Western Stores
1933 – Panther shot dead near the Ornamental Lake
1933 – The ghat road was washed away in the heavy rain and was unmotorable between 15th December 1933 and 1st March 1934
1941 – Yercaud receives a record 21” of rain and again the ghat road is washed away and it becomes unmotorable
The number of trees in the Shevaroys compared to 55 years back say 1953 is at least 3 fold now. Both large plantations and tribal holdings have resorted to large scale tree planting. It is unfortunate that government controlled reserve forests and public areas lack proper care and security and these forests are getting denuded. The number of forest fires during the summer months is playing havoc with the lower scrub and brush jungles in the lower elevations, leading to land slips and soil erosion.
Water has always been a shortage on these hills and it has been imperative that steps are taken to harvest the rainfall and retain the same in large storage ponds or lakes.