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Restoring sacred forests

Catherine Gilon
June 18, 2024

Years of indiscriminate logging and forest fires destroyed much of the landscape of the Arunachala Hills, home to the sacred Thiruvannamalai site. Intense fire prevention efforts are paying off - the area is lush again and wildlife is returning.


Sacred Arunachala Hill in Tamil Nadu was left barren by logging and forest fires for many years. Now it is green and lush again thanks to the efforts of one organization.

The Forest Way was founded by two local men, who were determined to return Arunachala to its former glory. The organization grew out of work started in 2003. The hill is considered to be the manifestation of Lord Shiva and is revered by Hindus. Yet years of indiscriminate wood-cutting and fires had left only pockets of stunted trees and a barren hillside. It was mainly covered in lemon grass, which is highly flammable because of the oil it contains. 

The town of Tiravannamalai at the foot of Arunachala is a popular place of pilgrimage. Each year, thousands of the faithful flock to the festival of Karthigai Deepam. Unfortunately, the lamps carried by the pilgrims frequently spark forest fires. 

The Forest Way works together with the Forest Department and local volunteers. The organization has been creating fire breaks to stop wildfires and holding fire watch, as well as growing and planting trees and other plants. The organization also promotes sustainable living with its community education programs. The replanting has also helped water conservation efforts and reduced soil erosion in the area. Wildlife is returning and the entire ecosystem is beginning to recover.