Tamil Nadu

When leopards and tigers roamed Tiruvannamalai

CONFLICTING PRIORITIES:An earthmover removes trees along the ‘girivalam’ path; a peacock spotted on the hills. —PHOTOs: C. Venkatachalapathy  

: At a time when the girivalam path widening project has stirred up a hornet’s nest in Tiruvannamalai, a closer look at the place and its past gives a picture which will enthral not only the environmentalists but also the common folks.

If one were to go by the book on Ramana Maharshi, published by Sri Ramanashram, over a century ago, wild animals – at least a tiger and a few leopards – were seen at the foothills of Tiruvannamalai.

Prani Mithra Bhagavan Ramanar , an anthology of anecdotes in Tamil, compiled by Harihara Subramanian and published by the Ashram in 2004, quotes a couple of incidents in which the sage himself and one of his devotees called Rangaswamy Iyengar spotted a leopard once and another time ‘a tiger’ near Pachaiyamman temple, where Ramana Maharshi was staying in 1906.

According to another anecdote, Ramana Maharshi maintained composure when his devotees tried to chase a leopard which was drinking water near the Virupaksha Cave in the hill.

He reportedly told them to keep restraint and as they had come to the place of leopards.

The book also notes that in 1930s leopards were roaming freely in the forest. Once a leopard had almost eaten a pet dog of Ramana Maharshi called ‘jackie’ which was somehow rescued.

Environmentalist V. Arun said that until the 1970s, Tiruvannamalai and its surroundings were known as a ‘leopard-infested areas.’

However, it is not uncommon to hear the argument that the past cannot come in the way of development.

Countering this position, an activist who is protesting against the path widening project, says: “True, we have to move with the times, but at what cost? There are no tigers or leopards now in the hilly area, but what about the monkeys, peacocks, and snakes which are part and parcel of the present-day Tiruvannamalai? Won’t the destruction of trees in the name of development scare these animals, reptiles and birds away? Will there be any place left for them to exist?

“These are the questions the authorities have to bear in mind before embarking on the girivalam path widening project which is opposed to the cause of preserving forest. ”

It is also true that while the forests in the hill faced gradual erosion and degradation over four to five decades till the turn of millennium, persistent afforestation drives taken up by governmental and non-governmental entities helped revive green cover in the last decade.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 6:14:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/When-leopards-and-tigers-roamed-Tiruvannamalai/article14473582.ece

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