UPDATE (2nd July 2016)
About a hundred activists and concerned devotees assembled on the Girivalam Road on the morning of July 1st to halt the destruction of the beautiful old-growth forest which the authorities claim is necessary in order to widen the road. Forming a human chain, they resolved to transform the situation without resorting to violence. As a result of this concerted protest, the Collector of Tiruvannamalai, A. Gnanasekaran has suspended the order on felling these trees until he further investigates the issue. He has assured the people of Tiruvannamalai that he will explore the possibilities for alternative alignment. Although the protesters seek total withdrawal of the project, they welcomed the gesture of the Collector.
The project proposes to widen the road by 7 to 10 meter along the 14 km route around the Tiruvannamalai hill and apportion a lane for Girivalam devotees to walk around the hill. Though devotees circumambulate the hill every day, lakhs of people perform it every full moon day.
If you love Arunachala, Ramana Maharshi, Tiruvannamalai, the earth, our cosmos, or simply love the beauty of ancient foliage, please sign the petition (link given below) and share this as widely as possible so we can stop the murder of our gorgeous trees.
Here’s the message I received from concerned folks:
The proposed widening of the Arunachala Girivalam / Pradakshina road by the Tiruvannamalai administration will lead to an irreplaceable loss of ancient trees, forest lands, sacred groves, and cause considerable damage to sacred tanks and temples. The farmers whose lands will be acquired for the project will also be severely affected. Any relocation or shift of this ancient walkway, will also be an incalculable loss of our historical and cultural heritage to present and future generations.
The project, which in some places involves re-routing of the road, will cause irreparable damage to the Sona-Giri sacred grove, the only intact sacred grove on mount Arunachala. It is home to Spotted Deer, Langur, Indian Porcupine, Jungle Cat, Small Indian Civet, Palm Civet and more. Over 70 species of birds, monitor lizards, numerous snake species and the endangered Indian Star Tortoise can be found there. This rich number and diversity of wildlife, which is already protected under longstanding Indian laws, has been put in harm’s way by the proposed Girivalam Road expansion which will also adversely affect the two sacred thirtams within the grove.
The project will also lead to the loss of a number of ancient tamarind trees that provide shade to the barefooted pilgrims who undertake the Girivalam and many Sadhus who live under them. Even if new trees are planted in their place, they will take decades to reach a similar size and stature. Already some 30 tamarind trees have been lost as a direct result of the pavement construction on the left side of the Girivalam Road in recent years.
The present route of the Arunachala Girivalam path follows one that dates back centuries. It was formally marked during Pandya times centuries ago following a route already long in existence at this time. The marker stones laid down by the king were still visible until recently. Any change in this route will be a loss of cultural and historical heritage, cherished by pilgrims around the world.
The planned expansion of the path also cuts into a number of ‘Rest-a-While’ parks created by the administration for the benefit of pilgrims and local wildlife. These parks provide a tranquil resting spot for those doing the 13 km Pradakshina, and enhance the protective buffer for adjacent Reserved Forest lands.
Unchecked development around the Arunachala hill has already placed extreme pressure on the forest areas and the wildlife therein.
We appeal to the relevant authorities to immediately stop all tree felling, and devise an alternative plan that will preserve the irreplaceable existing forests, avenue trees, and sacred groves; to make improvements to the pilgrimage experience by regulating the vehicular traffic thus creating a peaceful atmosphere, without the loss of forest or revenue land around the sacred hill Arunachala.