Arunachala Greening

Arunachala Greening is a project done by Ms. Apeetha Arunagiri and Mr.John Seed from Australia . We continue to work towards restoring a healthy ecosystem for all sentient beings in the area surrounding Arunachala – the sacred Mountain in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu.  Ms. Apeetha founded the Annamalai Reforestation Society (ARS) , Arunachala Greening and Australia Greening Arunachala (AGA).  These are registered non-profit based in Australia and Triuvannamalai.

Arunachala Greening 11 Welcome

A recent revolution in my perspective presents considerable potential for a more pervasive sustainable contribution towards a healthier ecology by focusing entirely on community understanding and involvement in the plain surrounding the mountain through presentation of films clarifying those issues surrounding ClimateChange. Arunachala means ‘Fire Mountain’ in Sanskrit.  In the fourth century a shrine newly created at the eastern foot of this mountain was the companion to an earlier shrine on the north-west in Adianamalai; the former eventually grew into the largest temple complex in all of India – Tajulingam Arunachaleshwar, revered internationally as one of the five main Shiva temples.  Tiruvannamalai town gradually spread to surround this temple complex but since being designated District Headquarters two decades ago, it faces ever-increasing population growth fueled primarily by tourism, pilgrimage and burgeoning religious institutions.    The Thiruvachakam – an ancient Tamil religious and literary work of great repute, refers to Arunachala as a hill where animals – including elephants – lived in large numbers.  Such a rich forested habitat can only be imagined now since centuries of unsustainable agricultural practices and unrelenting demand for fuel and fodder had – by the mid-eighties, entirely denuded this area.  The majestic mountain rising in the center of a plain accentuated the environmental degradation for all to see.


                                                                           Background Ecology Like all mountains, Arunachala has the capacity to be a sponge, soaking up seasonal rainfall and gradually releasing it into the underground basin.  This happens only if the mountain is forested; then the roots of plants retain the rainfall and prevent erosion of valuable soil on the slopes, whereas on a deforested mountain precious rain runs off taking soil with it and hence further contributing to the problem of erosion as well as the fact that much of the water stagnates and evaporates near the surface in low-lying fields.

The lowlands immediately surrounding the mountain provide testimony to the high value ancient inhabitants held for water, by the deep rock-lined tanks hand built adjacent to the hill-round-roadway surrounding Arunachala.  Such ancient water conservation strategies need to be re-established with the reforestation of the mountain and surrounding flat lands in order for us to effectively manage the water resources for the monumentally larger population of today.


The indigenous vegetation of this area is of dry deciduous forest that rustles with the dry crackle of seed-pods of spring and bursts forth the confident new green bloom in mid summer despite temperatures in the forties sustained for several months.  An intimate acquaintance with a nearby beloved dry deciduous forest can be found on the Sonagiristories blog under the title Swansong to an Old Forest: These forests provide countless medicinal uses, they clean our contaminated air and – in sufficient plenitude, they will increase and regulate rainfall also.


Many voices are congratulatory about the recent spread of green on and around Arunachala, and after a good monsoon the hill certainly does display the verdant brilliance as you see in the image below:


green fire mountain Welcome


nevertheless this image captures a not infrequent play of light after a night storm at the height of the monsoon; in relation to every-day aspects of Arunachala, these conditions stand as the wishful prognosis for the every-day of a restored eco-system in the future.


The reality is however that after thirty years of perseverance in the endeavor to reforest the sacred monument, only a small fraction of the total surface area is now ‘tree-covered’.  Reforestation of any kind in this area has always been swimming upstream. A major reason for this is that for many years in recent history, the backwoods character of the local rural population was part of our ecology along with the depleted soils, the eroded slopes, the water-table moving from gray to black.  This was all we had to work with here.


Degradation Depreciation Degeneration.


Simply articulated the reasons for the environmental damage that so acutely effected the ecosystem in this area during the decades following the mid-eighties are typical of other raped ecosystems: ignorance and greed.   However the dynamics of the transition from a very dry and hot arena with sufficient water for the needs of a small population austerely utilizing ancient ecologically sound practices imposed by necessity – as it was until the early eighties, to a fast-growing population flagrantly wasting water with no heed to the future – as it was by the early nineties, required a certain confluence of changes beyond immediate human control:


•  Agricultural practices: free electricity for farmers and a low-interest loan scheme for the provision of pumps in the rural community.  This resulted in


-  Widespread change from dry crops to water-greedy rice


-  Indiscriminate sinking of bore wells


•  Massive rise in residential population: caused by the designation of District Headquarters, coinciding with the rise of the Middle Classes following the entry of India into globalization and


•  Massive influx of tourist population: caused by huge rise in influx of pilgrims, due to a freak Bollywood film that regurgitated an ancient belief that wishes are granted to pilgrims who walk around the mountain at full moon.  This resulted in


- unmanageable numbers of visitors


- increase in unhealthy but lucrative practices, and


- a discernible devaluation in basic human values other than monetary including a reduction to the attention to respect for natural processes.


As is the case in many other ecosystems, these changes have all transpired within the era of the earliest indications of Climate Change: regular failure in seasonal patterns of rainfall.


Effort Accomplishments


A handful of friends and I formally began introducing awareness of the ecosystem in the community in the early eighties with performances of puppet theater in schools and the employment of a small group of planters. Michael Layward from England contributed his masterful puppeteering skills and Dev Gogoi, Kasivishwanathan, Paneer, Joy from Lucky Radios in town, Anandhi, Priya, Shanka, Palani and Small Murugan were among the team involved with Madhan, Giri and Jayaraman and friends providing encouragement and critical comments as rehearsal audiences. Before long the nursery was upgraded from my daughter and my residence on the roof of the Chemistry Professor’s house to a plot on ashram land and eventually into the Big Temple compound while the administration of the project was upgraded to a Registered Society with Executive members – all professional men, mainly brahmana caste. These two friendly photos below were taken about fifteen years ago when the nursery was in the outer prakaram of the Sri Arunachalaeswar temple compound.ars nursery big temple2 Welcome


ars with abdul khadar in temple complex2 Welcome


At the back of Sri Ramana Ashram is a splendid flourishing forest these days as you see in this image taken last year:


ani with subra on mountain path23 Welcome The Greening of Arunachala  – an arduous process, will require many more years no doubt as well as the transformation of the community, since the restoration of the ecosystem requires the psychological involvement of the vast majority of the population.

nursery work with seetha1 Welcome Early in 2011, we began planting on barren flat lands, public lands surrounding the mountain. Shadow puppet workshops were conducted at the Tiruvananmalai Village Schools – which has a strong ecological orientation.   I have confidence that with the encouragement of the staff of this wonderful school the children will become proficient in spreading environmental awareness in their area; this is the very best way to influence a community in a healthy direction. Two of the principal staff members of the school provided a Michael and I with an eager audience when they were boys. shadow puppets avs1 Welcome Below you’ll find the images of land transformed into gardenselvapuram first grave1 Welcome

Details and Projections

The following is a list of the trees were cultivated in our nursery: Hardwikya Binata(Acahan), Dalbergia Sisoo (Kattu Vagai), Ptercarpus Marsupium (Iyalwagai), Delonex Elata  (Mayil Kondrai), Tamerindus Indica (Puliya Maram), Azaradica Indica (Veppa Maram), Derica Indica (Punga Maram), Cassia Nilotica (Sara Kondrai), Casia Siamia  (Manjal Kondrai), Agle Marmelous (Vilva Maram), Mimusop Elengi (Magila Maram), Albezia Amara (Thuringi Maram), Maduka Indica (Illuppai), Writia Tinctoria (Veppalai), Milingtonia Hortensis.

Our Resource

The incoming funds diminished over the years so substantially that twenty planters in 2003 reduced to two last year, and even that on half the local demanded wage, used simply to maintain the nursery of approximately ten thousand saplings. Whenever possible we always employed seasonal workers for the planting season only. The permanent planting group was actively engaged in preparation activities for the most of each year since only two months could be relied upon as planting season: Preparation and maintenance of nursery site: –     Collection, cleaning, sorting, drying, preparing and storing of seeds –    Preparation of compost:  phosphobacteria, vermiculture, collection of leaf mould, cow manure and collection/cultivation of nitrogen-fixing plants –    preparation of seed beds and clay nurturing pots Preparation of plantation site: –    digging of plantation pits –    preparation of mulch –    preparation of protection against predators –    creating rainwater catchment channels. Preparation of surrounding populace: –    preparation of audio-visual resources –    creating community awareness and support –    networking with community interest groups and other like-minded organizations. Undertaking courses/workshops to extend one’s own experience. children of the present Welcome

Grow Well





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