Virupakshi Bananas of the Pulney's

- Shaker Nagarajan

Virupakshi, Musa Sapidisiaca, is a well-known banana of commercial importance grown in the Pulney's hills of Dindigul district in Tamil Nadu, under rain-fed conditions. The unique feature is that the cultivation of this variety is on a perennial basis unlike in the plains where only one crop is harvested in most varieties and an additional ratoon crop is allowed in certain varieties.

The colour of the ripe fruit is greenish yellow; over ripe fruits turn black. Fruits do not easily drop off from the pedicels and the keeping quality is good.

The fruits being very sweet and the pulp dry, Virupakshi is certainly a fruit meant for the Gods. The famous 'Panchamritham' of Palani temple is made with Virupakshi bananas as the main ingredient. The dry pulp acts as a natural preservative and this prasadam can be retained for a year. Such is the importance of Virupakshi.

In the mid and late nineteen seventies the dreaded bunchy top disease spread and wiped out Virupakshi cultivation in these hills. It was on the list of endangered varieties and the fear of it becoming extinct was on the minds of farmers dependent on this crop for a livelihood in the remote and hilly regions of rural India. These farmers got together and with the help of the agricultural scientists and the Government, they have brought about a revival.

The Tamil Nadu Hill Banana Growers' Federation was formed to bring back the Virupakshi banana. This has happened. Disease free planting material is available at the National Research Centre for banana, Trichy and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University's Horticultural Research Station, Thadiyankudisai. More area is being brought under the cultivation of hill banana and production is increasing.

The Tamil Nadu Hill Banana Grower's Federation has succeeded in getting Geographical Indications registration. The efforts of the Federation have paid off and with the continued support of the Government and the agricultural scientists, the Virupakshi banana has come back, to stay.