Udhagamandalam (TN): A centuries old Peepal tree or Ashwatha in Sanskrit or Arasa in Tamil, in Kunda Kotagiri is still revered and worshiped as "God" by the Kota tribe, a native group of Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu.
The tribe, with a population of nearly 3,000 and women outnumbering with 1,700, in seven villages, perform poojas in front of this 250-foot tall tree for any auspicious occasions, whether a marriage, new construction or housewarming.
Even the villagers used to confess or take pledge before the tree, Bellan, the chief of seven villages, says.
The tribals used to go to the peepal, said to be planted over 10 generations ago, and pray for removing obstacles and protect from the evils, Bellan, who is a retired post master, said.
The diameter of the tree was so huge that some 50 persons have to form a human chain around the tree, he claimed.
Kotas worship fire, moon and nature and perform poojas in front of the peepul after lighting fire for every single occasion and festivals.
People usually do not wear chappals or shoes in the villages and also near the tree and women were asked to keep a distance from the tree, considering its sacredness, he said.
Despite having temples in all the seven villages, some 70 kms from here, bordering Kerala, with Ayyanoor Ammanur as presiding deity, the villagers` foremost belief was the tree and visit it first before conducting any function.
Tourists or general public were not not allowed to stay for long near the tree and asked to leave immediately after paying obeisance, Bellan said.
Kotas, blacksmiths by profession, making agriculture equipment and weapons for war has a distinction that there was no intercaste marriage or conversion from the community, he claimed.