INDIA: Reweaving Shiva's robes


John Seed & Ruth Rosenhek, Tiruvanammalai

Tiruvanammalai is a bustling city in the state of Tamil Nadu near the south-east tip of India. Dominating the landscape is the sacred mountain Arunachala, which, according to Hindu mythology, is the form taken by the supreme god Shiva after the other gods complained of being dazzled by his previous form.

A mighty temple was built at the base of the mountain more than 1000 years ago, and over the centuries, millions of pilgrims from throughout India have thronged there. In the late 1980s the Rainforest Information Centre (RIC) in Lismore received a request for help from an Australian woman, Apeetha Arunagiri, who had been living by the mountain for some 20 years. She explained that, while when the revered Hindu sage Ramana Maharshi had lived at Arunachala in the early years of the 20th century, the mountain was covered with forest, and home to tigers, now nothing remained there but thorns and goats. She asked us for our help.

RIC volunteer John Button, with Heather Bache, spent most of the next seven years working on this project. They helped Arunagiri form a local non-government organisation, the Annamalai Reforestation Society, and began the immense task of reweaving Shiva's tattered robes by planting trees up and down the mountain.

Planting trees under these conditions proved incredibly difficult and labour intensive. At one time, there were more than 500 people working there following the monsoon, which is the only time when trees can be planted. Rivers of mud come pouring down the mountain after the rain and blistering hot winds from the desert planes come scorching up the side of the mountain in the summer.

It was necessary to build individual rock walls surrounding each seedling. In January, we visited Arunachala, where we were greeted by the beginnings of a lush forest, parts of it now 15 years' old. Several new non-government organisations have sprung up around the mountain, including the Village Forest Plantation, a grassroots effort that stresses worker participation, founded by Arunagiri.

At the bottom of the mountain where there was once a trash heap, a children's playground is being built. Where once there were barren rocks, now trees abound and as you walk up the mountain, the path is shady and cool. New fire breaks have been strategically constructed in hopes to minimize the huge impacts that fire has had in the past. And in the surrounding villages, there are tree planting projects sprouting up along the roads, around the lakes and surrounding small temples. Our job now is to further support this work.

[RIC founder John Seed will be presenting workshops to raise funds for the India projects in Melbourne March 2-10, Wollongong April 8-10 and on the sunshine coast on April 15-17. RIC director Ruth Rosenhuk's "Deep Ecology Bandwagon" involving workshops, talks and walks, will travel through Tasmania from March 3 to 16. On April 6 she will host a workshop at the Women, Earth and Change Conference in northern NSW. Both will be at the Two Fires Festival on March 18-21. For more details, check out the Activist Calendar on page 23, or visit <eco/schedule.htm>.]

From Green Left Weekly, March 2, 2005.
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