Nakkasalem is neither a hamlet nor a town but a medium size village (population 3521 in 2009) situated almost at the geographical centre of Tamil Nadu state. The village is situated on a flat terrain at the foothills of a range of hills called Pachamalai (பச்சை மலை). Nakkasalem is well connected to the nearby towns of Thuraiyur (12 km) and Perambalur (21 km) by all weather motorable road (Tamil Nadu State Highway 142). The nearest major city is Trichy (Tiruchirapalli, 45km) which also has the nearest train station and airport. The village is about 290km south west of Chennai (Madras). Frequent buses conncet Nakkasalem with Thuraiyur, Perambalur, Trichy and beyond.
Farming is the predominant occupation of most people in the village. The village receives about 800mm annual rainfall mostly from North East monsoon between the months of October and December. Seasonal dryland farming dominates the agricultural activity although irrigated farming using water drawn from wells by energised pumps is also prevalent to some extent. Small onion (Botanical name: Allium cepa var. Aggregatum) is a unique crop to this region and is the most important cash crop grown in the fields around this village. Rice, sorghum (சோளம்), millets (கம்பு, கேழ்வரகு), groundnut (நிலக்கடலை), sesame (எள்), chilly (மிளகாய்) and a variety of legumes (துவரை, மொச்சை, பயறு வகை) are other crops cultivated either rainfed or with irrigation.
Small onion (சின்ன வெங்காயம்) is so much a part of this village history that there is an anecdotal story according to which when Periyar (the mentor of Tamil political stalwarts like C.N.Annadurai, M.G.R and M.Karunanidhi) once visited Nakkasalem on a political campaign in 1950s the villagers gifted Periyar his equal weight in small onion (எடைக்கு எடை வெங்காயம்!). It is said that Periyar was so happy with the villagers' gesture that from then on he added 'vengayam' to his every day vocabulary as his trademark word in speeches, mostly in a humorous sense (e.g. போடா பெரிய வெங்காயத்த கண்டுட்டான் இவன்! அது கெடக்குது வெங்காயம்! etc).
Small onion is the life blood of the people of Nakkasalem and is a source of their joy (when prices are high) or sorrow (when prices crash). During the small onion harvest season, the village transforms into a beehive of activity with scores of buyers, sellers, traders and brokers swarming around the village and farmers' fields. Lorries constantly ferry thousands of sacks of the shimmering red bulby vegetable to the wholesale markets in Trichy which eventually ends up in kitchens and mouth watering dishes people all over the world crave for and and cry for! On the flip side, for a wayward visitor the whole village can smell one hell of an onion stink, especially if it rains during the harvest season.
Hub of activity
Nakkasalem is not a major commercial centre or tourist spot. A high school, two primary schools, a post office, a bank branch, a cooperative society, a rice mill, a veterinary clinic, a couple of petrol stations, and a few brick kilns are the notable government and private business establishments in the village. Two private residential schools and an industrial training institute have recently come up near the village.The Thuraiyur - Perambalur highway that passes through the village is dotted with a few shops that also serve as recreational and hang around spots for the villagers engaged in lively conversations on politics, cinema and other hot topics of the day. The village is also the transport and educational hub for nearby smaller interior villages of Pudu Ammapalayam (புது அம்மாபாளையம்), Eachampatti (ஈச்சம்பட்டி) and Siruvayalur (சிறுவயலூர்).
Like other villages in Tamil Nadu, Nakkasalem has its share of temples. The village has small and medium-size temples for Shiva (சிவன்), Vishnu (பெருமாள்), Vinayagar (பிள்ளையார்), Mariamman (மாரியம்மன்), Chelliamman (செல்லியம்மன்) and Ellaiamman (எல்லையம்மன்) (the village guardian deity at the eastern entrance of the village). The Ellaiamman temple houses a unique, huge and fearsome statue of Virabhadra (வீரபத்ரர் war deity) with a large curved moustache and holding a sharp sword on one hand and burning embers in the other hand. According to a popular village folklore, the deity was not to be take out on festive processions. However, once the villagers apparently ignored this tradition, the result was the village incurred the wrath of the deity, causing large fires. The deity was never again taken out of the temple. The village also has a small temple for Hanuman (சஞ்சீவிராயன்) at the foot of the hills. Nearby Chettikulam (செட்டிக்குளம் 5 km) is a famous local pilgrim centre with a large Shiva temple is the town centre and a large hill top Murugan temple which draws a huge number of devotees during the festivals of Thai Pusam and Panguni Uthiram. T Kalathur (து களத்தூர் 4 km), another nearby village, has a large Dargah, a place of worship popular with local Muslims and also people of other faiths.
The origin of the village name Nakkasalem is not known. The name definitely has two syllables - Nakka and Salem. Being a village in the geographical centre of Tamil Nadu, it's natural to imagine the name Nakkasalem is of Tamil origin. The Tamil meaning for Nakka is lick. But the word Nakka is probably of Telugu origin meaning Fox (Nari in Tamil). The nearby Pachamalai hills definitely is home to plenty of foxes. The existence of a large Telugu speaking Reddiar community in the village also provides support to the Telugu origin for the word Nakka.
Similarly, the word Salem is also not a traditional Tamil word, most likely a Tamilised form of the Sanskrit word 'Chalam or 'Sailam' meaning hills. For example, Arunachalam and Arunachaleswar refer to Shiva temple in Thiruvannamalai hills, Thanigachalam and Thanigaimalai refer to Murugan temple in Tiruthani hills, Venkatachalam refers to Tirupathi hills and Srisailam is a famous hill temple in Andhra Pradesh. It's to be noted that the large city of Salem in Tamil Nadu also probably got its name from the nearby Yercaud and Servarayan hills.Therefore, it can be assumed that in Nakkasalem the syllable salem probably refers to the nearby Pachamalai hills.
It is not uncommon in Tamil to substitute the hard 'Cha' with soft 'Sa'. For example, the written word Chettiar is usually pronounced in Tamil as Settiar, Chennai is prnounced as Sennai, Chandran is prnounced as Sandran etc. Therefore, it is not illogical to believe that 'Salem' is the Tamilised oral equivalent of 'Chalam' or 'sailam'. Based on the above explanation, Nakkasalem will mean a 'place of hills inhabited by foxes' (Nakka=நரி, salem=மலை (Nakkasalem=நரிகள் வாழும் மலைகளுடைய ஊர் ).Telugu origin is not unique to Nakkasalem, a number of other village names in Tamil Nadu have Sanskrit, Telugu and Kannada origins, just as many places in other states have names of Tamil origin (e.g. Tirupathi, Turumala, Nellore, Kuppam etc in Andhra Pradesh).
Nakkasalem was once a typical laid back village, the kind of village you used to see in Barathiraja's films. The village folk lived a simple, peaceful and contented life. The village never witnessed 'caste' clashes which afflict many Tamil Nadu villages. Things, however, have changed a lot now. Nakkasalem, like most other villages in India, has been caught up in the 'development' frenzy. Most people now seem to have mobile phones, children don't play local games any more on the village streets, womenfolk do not seem to assemble at 'Thinnai' (திண்ணை, front porch) for leisurely gossip or a game of pallanguzi (பல்லாங்குழி), instead preferring to watch favourite television serials inside their homes. While bicycle was a raity and luxury in the past, many households now seem to have a motorbike or scooter. Days are not far when bullock carts parked at the front of most people's homes will give way to cars.
Nakkasalem has always been a progressive village, ahead of its neighbours in many spheres.The village was well conncected to nearby Thuraiyur, Perambalur and Trichy towns even in the 1950s. Village elders nostalgically talked about the first buses that actually ran on coal! The village indeed boasted quite a few wealthy families that owned half a dozen buses until the 1970s. The village was fortunate to have well run public schools with some excellent and dedicated teachers, which ensured most kids in the village had atleast a good school education. People passionately discussed politics in meeting places. The village even had a couple of khadi wearing Gandhi followers who participated in the freedom struggle and went to jail during India's independence movement.
Each generation who grew up in Nakkasalem had own memories and stories to tell. 1950s and 1960s were some of the best and eventful years. This was the age when the villagers knew phones only from films and computers were never heard of. Any one who had been to Madras was treated like an astronaut returned from moon. When electricity frist reached the village in 1966, curious kids followed the elecrical engineers with awe, watching them erect and connect the concrete electric pillars one after another along the village streets. It was one of the most memorable moments for kids and adults when the first street light bulb in the vilalge was switched on on one magical evening. No one knew which ones glew brighter on the night in the village, the electric bulbs or people's eyes.
When the first public community radio made its entry in the village in late 1960s (a loud speaker placed on the tower of the Pillayar temple), people used to turn up eagerly to listen to the favourite local and national Tamil news bulletins at 6:30pm and at 7:15pm. Late sleepers stayed on to listen favourite Tamil film songs (உங்கள் விருப்பம் or தேன் கிண்ணம்) from Vividh Bharathi after 8:30pm.
Newspaper reading was a favourite pastime for any one who can read. In 1960s people eagerly awaited the only copy of Daily Telegraph (தினத் தந்தி) that arrived by the first morning bus from Trichy. There was invariably a virtual stampede for the newspaper. Kids wanted first to flip to page 2 to read latest adventures of Sindbad in Kanni Theevu (கன்னித் தீவு) cartoon serial, while elders wanted to stick to the front page for hot political news of the day, and the youth wanted to flip to the last pages for the latest release of their favourite film heros MGR or Shivaji Ganesan. Evetually a pecking order will be formed and the pages will pass from one hand to another. These were also the years when cinema theatres engaged bullock carts to advertise newly released films. The bullock carts were equipped with loud speakers and an announcer with a microphone would make attractive speeches about the films. Kids knew the arrival of the bullock cart from the songs blared from the loudspeaker and flocked to the cart and relentlessly pursued the announcer to hand out a pamphlet or two (துண்டு நோட்டீஸ்).
Those were also the times when cricket was not heard of in the village, most kids played local games of the season on the streets while some adults played khabaddi, volley ball or ball badminton in the high school grounds or outside the Perumal temple. Only a few homes in the village had clocks which were conveniently hung near the entrance for anyone from the village to see the time. People working in fields simply looked at the sun to estimate the time or memorised the daily timing of the buses that passed by to know the time. Those were also the days when it only cost 45 paise for a bus ride to Thuraiyur and you could watch a film for 25 paise in Thuraiyur theatres, if you didn't mind a seat on the floor.
These were also the days when the villagers simply called Trichy as Kottai (கோட்டை, fort, meaning Rockfort) and Chennai was fondly called Pattanam (பட்டணம்). When Tamil Nadu government first introduced a double decker bus between Chennai and Trichy in late 1960s people from Nakkasalem actually went to Alathur Gate (ஆலத்தூர் கேட்), about 10km from Nakkasalem and the nearest spot on the Chennai - Trichy highway to watch the novel red double decker bus. It only cost 10 rupees for a trip to Chennai from Trichy by the bus then.
It was also the era when the elected village council had a drummer on its payroll who walked around the village streets beating his drum and stopping in street corners to announce important events, such as the arrival of a doctor's camp to vaccinate kids or the monthly visit of the electricity bill collector.Everyone knew everyone else and there was real community feeling among the villagers, evident especially on occasions such as weddings, funerals, festivals etc. Before the days of piped water supply the community wells in street corners were the busiest places, day or night, and served as an important spot for the village women for a quick chat, gossip or even a quarrel with the neighbour.
Well, that is all past now. The community radio and loud speaker have vanished from the village square, the street lights do not excite the villagers any more and the community wells have fallen silent. Even the Pillayar temple has had a new coat of paint and the conch blowing temple priest replaced with an electrically operated bell and drum. Bullock carts have stopped their film advertising rounds, replaced instead by FM stations.There is no more mad scramble for the morning newspaper, people either get it delivered or probably reading it online at home. Phones are no more a rairty or luxury, everyone seems to have a mobile phone, even farm labourers. The village does not exude an air of innocence any more. Development and commercialisation have taken a toll on the village culture and community. All things indeed seemd to have changed in Nakkasalem.
Well, the village may have changed, kids may have got a college degree and left the village in search of high paying jobs in far away countries; families may have migrated to Trichy, Chennai or Bangalore hoping for a better life; but no matter where they are, Nakkasalem will always remain the place where their heart is.எந்த ஊர் ஆனாலும் சொந்த ஊர் போல் ஆகுமா.
- ^ "Tamil Nadu – List of Habitations". indiawater.gov.in. Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. http://indiawater.gov.in/IMISWeb/Reports/RWS/Physical/R10_11/ListOfHabitationsStatewise.aspx?Blockid=qUQgNfYi8fCJ5Gl4zjf5CQ%3D%3D&StateName=WUPhbVwJX56iPOFwklcPLQ%3D%3D&Stateid=TVenMrbg0jc%3D&FinYear=&Condition=Kv9r166B4x7VYgbavcVRfA%3D%3D&DistrictName=2jwpBw%2BHKy447ACreSsxPg%3D%3D&DistrictId=sjEsoFw%2FyOc%3D. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
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