A report on Green Walk activities and how with presentation, promotion and preservation of historical sites it is able to take the people’s initiative forward

With a ‘Tree Fest’ under a banyan tree at the foothills of Samanarmalai, ‘Green Walk’ took a big leap this Sunday and consolidated its position among the nature guards and culture and heritage keepers of Madurai.

More than 600 people voluntarily gathered to show their concern for the ancient monuments and hillocks strewn around the Temple Town that are in danger of disappearing. The turn-out and enthusiasm of the people delivered a loud and clear message to vested interests that have been plundering the hills and trees in the past.

Green Walk is a people’s initiative that started three years ago with a small group of like-minded citizens with a common interest in heritage. On Sunday it befittingly celebrated its silver jubilee walk with an early morning trek to Samanarmalai. The Tree Fest showcased its growth and the progress still to come.

But the awareness it has slowly generated was there to be seen. The event drew archaeologists and historians, literary scholars and writers, folklorists and musicologists, doctors and lawyers, teachers and professors, businessmen and entrepreneurs, school and college students, environmentalists and activists who came out spontaneously for a common cause.

Political activist A.Muthukrishnan, the catalyst behind the maha event worked relentlessly backstage with his team of dedicated volunteers to make the programme a success. Supporters from various environmental organisations and action groups not only across Tamil Nadu but also Ahmedabad, Bangalore joined in. “You have to win over people first to educate them,” says Muthukrishnan, “only then an initiative turns into a people’s movement.”

And he did it right from the first walk to Yanaimalai, winning and adding more people along the journey who finally felt compelled to take over guardianship of their city’s heritage. The agitation by Othakadai villagers four years ago against the State’s proposal to crack the unique rock formation to develop a sculpture park in order to promote tourism was the kind of nature activism Muthukrishnan was determined to support. His article in “Uyirmmai” about the blatant stone quarrying and the damage to the historic hills generated a huge response forcing him to take a group of friends to show them the historical importance of Yanaimalai and the need to save it from damage by the mining mafia.

It left his friends hungry for knowledge about more such sites. And Green Walk was born to explore lesser known spots that hid many Jain abodes and natural caverns, cave temples and inscriptions.

Each of the two dozen walks spread over the last two years attracted old and new participants and was marked by a walk-the-talk and breakfast at the end. Those who found it difficult to reach the venue were picked up and dropped back, those who found it difficult to trek were even lifted and carried at times.

“We never sought publicity, says Muthukrishnan, “only the green walker each time was told to return with more friends for the next walk. And it worked,” says Muthukrishnan.

The same magic worked at the Tree Festival too. People came because they felt responsible and volunteered to take on tasks without being assigned jobs.

It was the informal set up that turned the event more into a cultural conference where a parallel camp went on for kids to keep them engaged. Care was taken to provide breakfast and lunch to all, a mobile toilet was stationed at the spot and first aid kits were kept handy.

“It is a wonderful family outing on a Sunday. You trek and get exercise, gain knowledge, meet people, eat organic food and return wiser, all free of cost. The bonding among like-minded people and with ecology and history is instant,” pointed out S.Rajan, an electrical engineer and nature enthusiast.

Anybody can join Green Walk expeditions without any participation or membership fee. The core group and the expanding band of motivated volunteers keep it running and inspiring others to align with such an activity. One could see it at work at the Tree Fest. Students came to join the early morning trek and ended up at the registration counter and the book and T-shirt sales desk, entertained the children with skits, singing and dancing or kept a watch on infants having a nap in the thotti or even cleared the ground of the garbage.

While the host of invited speakers reminded the gathering of the importance of historical sites and how the consumerist culture is eroding the value systems, how Tamil history, literature and traditions are embedded in these ancient monuments, the need to protect environment and heritage and develop a sense of belonging, it was the people’s power that lay bare.

Jayamani Ammal, the paruthi paal vendor at Samanarmalai, shared her moment of honour when she received the first copy of the book Madura Varalaaru brought out by the Green Walk Team. She is a key figure in the eco-heritage drive because to any tourist, pilgrim or trekker to Samanarmalai she offers the energy drink and also tells them about the importance of the site and what to see and not to vandalise.

Each one like her counts in such a movement and that is what makes Green Walk a success story.

Green bytes:

C.Santhalingam, Archaeological Officer (retd.), who has been on 23 Green Walks: “What I dreamt of but could never do during my service period, Green Walk has surpassed it. It has created real awareness among the people who now feel for their heritage. I am happy to be a part of Green Walk which has flourished into a peoples’ movement in three years.”

S.Kannan, Asst.Prof.History, Annamalai Univ. Madurai centre: “Even the locals are not aware of many historical sites. They have to be saved. Our education system is skewed and history has lost importance. We teach our children only about world and Indian history and neglect the local history.”

Thangarasu, Keezhakuyilkudi Panchayat president: “We were not aware about the significance of Samanarmalai hillock till people from Green Walk briefed us. Earlier we thought it was a Chettiar Temple, then we felt one of the sculptures resembled Buddha. Only now we realise our village shelters 2,000 year old history and that it is the hill of the Jainas.”

Tho.Paramasivan, Cultural scholar: “The 2,000 years old Jaina hills are the heritage assets of the Tamils. It is our duty to protect these monuments. I am happy to see that Green Walk is building into a mass movement and knowledge gets cherished through such gatherings.”

P.G.Saravanan, GW core member: “The next generation needs to know about the importance of our heritage sites. Instead of going to cinema or malls, one should take our children to these places. There is a social message in such an outing.”

Revathi Kutti, Feminist activist: “This is a perfect example of a cultural conference which is forging a new relationship among people on the same platform. I am confident the spirit will be sustained given the involvement of a large number of women.”

R.R.Srinivasan, documentary film maker from Chennai: “This as a green politics movement. If the Government gives adequate protection, locals can save their forests and monuments.”

The Journey so far…

Green Walkers have been on the trail of Jain caves at Yanaimalai, Arittapatti, Varichiyur, Mangulam, Kidaripatti, Keezhavalavu, Karungalakudi, Tirupparankundram, Kongarpuliyankulam, Muthupatti, Mettupatti, Vikiramangalam, Muttalankulam.

They have also trekked to Sellathamman Temple, Puttuthoppu Mandapam and Ramayana chavadi

Green Walk Logo

Madurai Superintendent of Police V.Balakrishnan released the Green Walk logo and appreciated the Tree Fest as a “novel idea”. “I impressed to see so many people from all walks of life joining hands. People should develop a bond with historical places rather than just visit as a tourist. In the past, rulers waged war on other kingdoms and looted the granaries of the enemies to deprive them of food and forcing them to surrender eventually. Now, we are looting our own granaries. Damage to environment is like committing suicide. People are the bodyguards of Nature.”

Green Walk Book

The book “Madura Varalaaru” (History of Madura – Voyage into Jaina Antiquity) brought out by the Green Walk Team was released by Tamil cultural scholar Tho Paramasivan

It is a heritage repository containing details about the past Green Walk treks to Jain sites in and around Madurai. The chapters elaborate the significance of Jain culture and tradition, how Jainism entered Madurai and the experiences of the green walkers to these sites.