Cardamom, the aromatic spice that has captivated civilizations for centuries, has a history deeply rooted in the ancient forests of the Western Ghats. In this article, we delve into the fascinating journey of cardamom cultivation, from its wild beginnings to the organized plantations we see today.
Ancient Roots: Cardamom in Prehistoric Times
In prehistoric eras, cardamom was not a cultivated crop but a wild plant thriving in the dense forests of the Western Ghats. It was the indigenous tribal communities residing in these forests who first recognized its value. During their movements within the woods, they harvested this precious spice, which soon caught the attention of nearby traders living in villages under the rule of powerful kingdoms.
The Reign of Kingdoms: Taxation & Control
Cardamom's high demand, coupled with its scarcity and the challenges of procurement, made it a heavily taxed product even in ancient times. The concept of 'cardamom hills' emerged, pioneered by the Travancore Kingdom in present-day Kerala. These hills were strategically demarcated east of the River Periyar and north of the Kumily Ghat, recognized as prime cardamom cultivation areas.
The Birth of Cardamom Plantations
Under the visionary rule of Rani Lakshmi Bhai of Travancore, the cardamom hills were further divided into divisions like Poopara, Udumbunchola, and Vandanmedu. Local representatives, known as Tahsildars, were appointed to facilitate cardamom cultivation. The forest department played a crucial role in overseeing the plantations, ensuring the preservation of trees and the overall forest ecosystem.
The Cardamom Hill Reserve (CHR): A Turning Point
In 1896, Travancore Kingdom allowed individuals to plant cardamom in government lands, paving the way for the Cardamom Hill Reserve (CHR) in 1897. This reserve, spanning approximately nine thousand acres, was solely dedicated to cardamom cultivation. The forest department administered the CHR, ensuring the preservation of this precious spice.
Modern Era: Evolution of Cardamom Hills
Post-independence, Kerala was formed in 1956, leading to the integration of the cardamom hills and the CHR into the revenue department. The meticulous records and procedures that were put in place continued, shaping the modern landscape of cardamom cultivation in the region.
From the wild plant in ancient forests to the organized plantations of today, the journey of cardamom is a testament to human ingenuity and determination. The spice that once grew freely in the Western Ghats now graces kitchen shelves worldwide, reminding us of its rich history and cultural significance.