A group of youngsters got together to protect their culture from falling into ruins

Given India's ancient past, it is not surprising that there are sites of historical importance scattered even in small villages and remote areas. Often these areas are sadly lacking in historical consciousness leading to destruction and defacement of artefacts and monuments.

However, there are some places where local people have come together to preserve historical and natural landmarks. In Tirumalai Koneripatti, a village in Sivaganga district in Tamil Nadu, the local youngsters came together to save the records of a distant past.

Piece of history

The Tirumalai hills in the village are the site of pre-historic rock paintings that meticulously record many events of life on the walls, floors and ceilings of the hill caves. The majority of these paintings are in red ochre and date back to the 5th century B.C. There are also Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions from the Sangam Age, several Jain beds (pillow lofts) carved out of the rock floor of the caverns and a swastika sign incised on a Jain bed, not found in other Jain sites in the State.

A rock-cut temple of the 8th century A.D. of the early Pandya period and a structural temple of the 13th century of the later Pandya period are the highlights of Tirumalai.

The pillars and walls are replete with Tamil inscriptions of the Pandya kings Jatavarman Kulasekaran, Maravarman Sundarapandian and Jatavarman Parakramapandian, belonging to the 13th and 14th centuries. Historians and archaeologists claim that Tirumalai's temples belong to a chain that link the prehistoric with the medieval times.

However these paintings and inscriptions are being eroded by the continuing vandalism and had reached a stage of erosion when the ‘heritage conscious youth' of the village decided to protect the site.

Getting into action

In 2006, the village formed the Dr. Abdul Kalam Youth Welfare Association, now headed by Ayyanar, and were working to empower local communities by establishing reading clubs and helping poor students complete their education.

These reading clubs store a variety of newspapers and magazines so that the youngsters stay abreast of events and also share views and discuss various topics. Learning of Tirumalai's historical significance through a magazine in one of these sessions, the youngsters turned their attention to preserving the hill and protecting it from vandals.

They began by planting trees along the base of the hill and constructed a borewell to supply drinking water to pilgrims and visitors. They also installed lamp posts at two different points on the hilltop without damaging the rock.

With the help of the Department of Archaeology and the local media, the youth were able to spread awareness about the area's historical significance and also draw the attention of the State. In a recent development, official sources in the Department of Archaeology said that they were working to make Tirumalai a ‘protected site.'

As it is a dry area and the local economy is based on agriculture, this move may help draw tourists, which would in turn generate some employment for the youth said, Nagavalli Deivamani, Panchayat president.