Three types of gardens in Kerala


Traduit du Discours des remèdes

A tangle of fruit trees, vegetables and aromatic plants grow in the gardens surrounding Kerala houses submerged by coconut palms; a large part of the medicinal material, beginning with pepper, is a product of gardening, and not of gathering. Malayalis have several ways of referring to gardens, depending on whether they refer to the agricultural production, or to the habitat, or more widely to the geographic framework. The English word garden corresponds in Malayalam to three different words: tōṭṭam (the usual term), purayiṭam (the garden which surrounds the house) and paṟampụ (the higher grounds).

If testimonies based on etymology (always fragile indeed) are to be believed, the word paṟampụ was at first used to designate “high land or dry land arranged in terraces,” then applied later to “all fields too much sloping to be apt for rice cultivation,” and eventually to “orchard, garden”; in other words, the first gardens in Kerala were the terraced gardens on the well-watered slopes of the Western Ghats, where jackfruit trees are growing, mango trees, areca palms and other fruit trees and palms whose bark is rough enough to enable pepper and betel vines to cling and climb up around their trunks, thus getting support and beneficial shade. paṟampụ is the noun which used originally to designate the gently sloping versants where common garden crops were grown.

Nowadays everyone grows all those in his garden, and the generic term applied to this type of land is purayiṭam. This word means compound in Indian English, that is to say, the whole of the house and garden surrounded by an enclosure (enclosing fence and thorn bushes like, for example, bougainvillea). Compound comes from the Malay kampong, enclosure; in India as in Malaysia the borders of the house extend up to the end of the garden. The house is really complete only when surrounded by certain trees invested with a series of cultural and religious values. In Kerala these are coconut palms, mango trees and, of course, pepper vine.

It is in an economic perspective that one would say tōṭṭam when speaking of the garden. tōṭṭam designates the family enterprise of wholesale production of vegetables and spices. Historians of rural economy use the word to designate a type of polyculture combining varieties of beans like horsegram, oil seeds like castor and sesame, spices and chillies, tapioca and tobacco, the latter having been introduced recently into India. On the well-watered slopes of the Ghats as in the dry lands of Kongunad, the Coimbatore region, one finds in part the same vegetable cultivation but, while in Kongu land wells are required to irrigate the tōṭṭam gardens, in Kerala rains are enough for the purpose.