Dodda Sampige

“If a tree falls in a forest and lands on a politician, even if you can’t hear the tree or the screams, I’ll bet you’d at least hear the applause.” – Paul Tindale

The way events are unfolding, there may not be any forests left in India, for trees to grow and eventually fall on politicians!

Would it be asking for too much from our Chief Ministers, Prime Minister, President?

But I guess saving the very source of our continued existence on this planet is not a ‘progressively developmental’ outlook for our country’s fiscal stance. And anyway, once the gifted wilderness is gone our true natural wild-self will be too busy feeding on each other for any song of lament to be sung. So, I greatly value any opportunity to walk any forest before the last of our wilderness is callously wiped-out by an absolute lack of political will.


Forests invigorate me. I breathe, feel, walk, listen and live better. All my senses pulsate and I remain enthralled by the magic that surrounds me…and I am at peace.

Last year, I travelled a little over 240 km by road from Bangalore to visit the Biligiri Rangana Hills (literally meaning – Lord Ranganath’s White rock hill). Also known as the Biligiriranga Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary or simply BRT Wildlife Sanctuary.

This magnificent site was recently declared a Tiger Reserve. Many indigenous people of the area will be forced to move out and to hell with the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the Wild Life Protection Act (WLPA) which was amended in 2006 to make conservation fairer to local people. It is mandatory to recognize and settle the rights of local communities and obtain their written consent before declaring a tiger reserve. Yet, forest departments have declared several new tiger reserves with scant regard for the FRA protocol.

“The latest example of this high-handed and short-sighted approach is the notification of Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Sanctuary (BRTS) into a Tiger Reserve. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) gave it (along with four other areas) ‘in principle’ approval in January. Strangely enough, this was done without calling a full meeting of the NTCA, and over-riding the objections of at least three of its members including tiger expert Ullas Karanth (who felt that Kudremukh in Karnataka was a better choice). More seriously, it happened despite strong protests by the Soliga tribal community, whose settlements dot the sanctuary. The Soligas have co-existed with the tiger, elephant, wild dog, and other wildlife for centuries. Research carried out over a decade by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) has revealed that Soliga knowledge and practices related to the forest are second to none, and that on the contrary some forest department practices could be leading to the area’s ecological decline.”

For hundreds of years, this region has been the home for the Soliga tribe who call the tiger ‘Dodda Naayi’. The Soligas inhabiting this region were originally nature worshippers and the hills have many sacred sites.

Where will the Soligas go? Why should they go? And, will the ‘powers that be’ ask the coffee estates to ‘move out’ or in some inexplicable way these estates will fall just outside the tiger reserve?


The Soligas revere a large Champaka tree (Michelia champaca), called Dodda Sampige in the local language.

The Hindu Shaivite myth of the Dodda Sampige tree:

There was once a rishi called Jamadagni, who lived with his wife Renuka and their seven sons in the forest. Every day, Renuka would visit the nearby riverbed to make a matka in which she could carry water to her husband for his prayers. She would balance the pot on her head using a coiled snake.

One day, she saw a Gandharva and an Apsara bathing playfully in the river, and was momentarily filled with a longing to do the same with her husband. But knowing it was incorrect of her to have such thoughts; she pushed it out of her mind. However, that day, no matter how much she tried, she was unable to make a matka and the snake also refused to coil and slithered away. She went back empty handed, and did not give any explanation to the rishi for her behaviour. Jamadagni used his powers as a rishi and learnt the truth. He decides that she needs to be taught a lesson. So, one by one, he asks his sons to cut off their mother’s head. All but the youngest refuse, and are turned to ashes by their father.

The youngest, Bhargaram follows his father’s wishes, and is granted three boons. First, he asks for his mother to be brought back to life. Second, he asks for his brothers to be brought back to life. And third, he asks for his father’s anger to recede forever. All his wishes are fulfilled.  But Bhargaram is disturbed by the fact that he had severed his mother’s head. He decides leave home to observe penance for several months. On his way, a bird (Krauncha pakshi) defecates on his head, and Bhargaram finds three seeds in the bird’s excreta. He keeps the seeds with him.  One falls on the way where he rests for a while, and gives rise to Chikka Sampige (small sampige). When he finally sits down for his penance in the forest, one other seed grows into Dodda Sampige (big sampige). The third seedling is unaccounted for.  Bhargaram’s mother misses her son, and she turns into a river (the Bhargavi), and flows down to where he sits.

In the meantime, Jamadagni has a cow called Kamadhenu, which gives its owner anything that it is asked. Kaushikaraja, a king, has his eyes on the cow, and asks the rishi to give it to him. The rishi refuses, and there is a battle. Since the rishi has given up his anger, he is defeated easily and killed. Renuka’s cry of grief breaks Bhargaram’s penance, and in three circumnavigations of the globe, he kills with an axe all the kings he finds in his way. That is how he gets his other name, ‘Parashuram’ (parashu: axe).


Hope the imposing ‘Honnametti Kallu’ will continue to balefully watch-out for those politicians and pig-headed policy makers!



11 Responses to “Dodda Sampige”

  1. 1 sacredfig
    March 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. 2 Anisha Chacko
    March 16, 2011 at 7:18 am

    “Forests invigorate me. I breathe, feel, walk, listen and live better. All my senses pulsate and I remain enthralled by the magic that surrounds me…and I am at peace.”

    My sentiments exactly. I don’t understand why this sentiment isnt shared by everyone on earth. I guess that is my stupidity. I wish there was something we could do. BRT is one the most beautiful forests I’ve been to. Ironically untouched by tourism thanks to Verappan!!! Makes me wonder whether what we need to protect our forests, is brigands!!

  3. 3 mustardseed
    March 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Great post and what a beautiful place!

  4. 4 amishi
    March 19, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    thanks for this.

  5. 5 sacredfig
    March 22, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Don’t think the earlier comment sufficiently expressed our enthusiasm – what I meant was awesome photos, really funny quotes and nice story – so, thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. August 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Dear Arun,
    Your article and images are so inspiring! I hope to visit the BR Hills this winter to meet Dr. Sudarshan and the Soliga. I’m a filmmaker living in Edinburgh and now researching more into this issue. I stumbled across it when I was in Mysore last winter. Travelling through India was an amazing experience!
    In order to raise funds to go back and visit the BR Hills, we have the possibility to showcase our idea in the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. The are just now organising an exhibition called Forgotten Forests. In order to present our idea, we need photographs that show the forest and I was wondering if you would be so kind to let us use one of your Dodda sampige tree photographs? We will of course put a link and your copyright in it! I’m looking forward to hear from you soon, as this is very urgent! The exhibition starts in the end of September.
    Ask me for any further questions!
    Many greetings from Edinburgh
    Sabine Hellmann

  7. 10 Ganesh N
    April 18, 2015 at 10:38 am


    this post is informative. we are planning to visit br hills shortly. so plz tell me how to reach honnu metti kal location And how far it is from temple…ASAP

    • April 19, 2015 at 6:45 am

      This is not a travel/travel-tips blog….but just this once.
      Honnameti Kallu can only be reached after obtaining a permit from the forest department. And there is no guarantee that it will be given. it is 15-20 km from the temple.

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