Autorickshaw driver T.Pandian’s love for animals and reviving neglected temples sets him apart

Since 1999, Pandian has trudged up the Thenparankundram hill bearing a load of bananas, boiled wheat, carrot, peanuts, dates and milk on his back. Once he got to the top he would call out or whistle and a troop of monkeys would swarm around him. “I love the animals,” he says simply. Unfortunately, Pandian developed severe back pain and had to undergo a spinal surgery. He had to sell his auto to cover his medical expenses. But more than that, the fact that he can no longer undertake the journey to feed his simian friends, makes him really sad.

“I see God in these animals,” he says.

Pandian is now on a mission of rediscovering lesser known temples and save them from neglect and ruin. “When my mind is at peace, my health will also be good,” he says. Thanks to him, the Siva temple at Sayalkudi, Ramnad, Murugan temples in Virudhunagar and Sivagangai district and other village temples in Thanichiyam and Vellaripatti near Madurai have been cleared of wild shrub growth. The temples have got a fresh lease of life along with the coat of paint for their compound walls. Damaged walls have been repaired and trees have been planted around the temples. People have started coming back to worship in these abandoned village temples. He is helped in this mission by his old school friends and fellow auto drivers. They go on frequent recces and identify the temples and the work that needs to be done on them. Then they go back there to carry out the repairs.

His years as an auto driver has helped Pandian build a wide network of friends and contacts who continue to help him. “There are lot of good people willing to donate money and other things. I draw up the action plan and with everybody’s combined effort, I execute it,” he says.

Wherever he goes, he ropes in the villagers to carry out the restoration work. He talks them into planting more trees and undertaking other development works in the neighbourhood. He also meets the young students in local schools and talks to them about the importance of environment and respecting nature. “Everywhere that I have gone, people have continued to plant saplings,” he says with pride. At the Palani Andavar Temple in Thiruparankundram, he got a small iron gate installed in front of the main temple. He maintains the ‘thala vriksha” at the Vinayaka Temple in Kottampatti, near Dindigul. Last week he was at the Thiruvadivoor Temple for the kumbhabhishekam service. Every weekend he is at the Murugan Temple in Manamadurai to sing devotional songs in the evenings. Blessed with a powerful voice, he sings the Thevarams and Thiruvasagam. “While singing I go into a trance, the temple ambience gives me all the strength to take on any task,” he says.

Pandian’s is still weak, physically, but he still continues to be on the move. “I still have so many pending tasks,” he says. “If you are sincere and genuine about what you do, rest will follow”, he believes.

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail soma.basu@thehindu.co.in to tell her about someone you know who is making a difference)