Rice, trees, and old coins – part one

Amirthalingam, Balaji one resized
M. Amerthalingam with G. Balaji outside the offices of CPREEC


By Sharon St Joan


Amirthalingam, the third child of his parents, came into the world on January 15, 1961. Nakkambadi, in the Ariyalur Taluk district, in south India, was a small hamlet surrounded entirely by water. To this day, there is no ground transportation, and no cars or buses.


The child’s father, A. Murugesan, was the administrative officer of 16 villages. His mother’s name was Pichaiyamml. Owning 100 acres of farmland, the whole family worked in the fields, planting and harvesting rice.


A bright and stabilizing force, his oldest sister, Danush, cared for and guided her four younger siblings like a parent. The boy Ramalingam was the second oldest.


Their little hamlet was 280 kilometers (174 miles) south of Chennai, with Ariyalur being the nearest city. There was a small government arts college there.


To go out of the hamlet to anywhere else meant walking two kilometers (a mile and a half) – to the station to catch the train.


Having already earned a master’s degree in history, in 1977, Danush passed her preliminary exam in administrative service. With big dreams for herself and for her brothers and sisters, she saw herself as an IAS (Indian Administrative Services) Officer, Ramalingam as a police officer, and Amirthalingam as a forest officer – it was clear that he was drawn to trees and plants, and an occupation in the forest would be a good fit for him.


Grand Anicut Kallinai Dam on the nearby Kaveri River.


Most of the other village children attended school only up to the fifth standard (fifth grade) and became agricultural workers like their parents before them. At one point, all five of the children in Amirthalingam’s family were in college.


At city college, Ramalingam earned a Batchelor of Science and a Batchelor of Labor Law degree. But when Danush asked him to go on to get his master’s degree, he expressed no interest and said he didn’t want to. Instead he joined the National Cadet Corps becoming a Senior Under Officer.


As for Amirthalingam, he generally tried to do whatever he was asked to do, and of course, in a traditional family, he would have been expected to obey his elder sister. Fortunately, she always had his best interests at heart, recognizing his keen interest in plants.


In 1980 though, tragedy struck their family. When Danush went to take her main examination in administrative service, she fell ill and passed away suddenly.


The family never recovered from this tremendous blow. The guiding force who had held them all together, Danush, was gone. Without her, everything seemed to fall apart. His uncles started to spend money recklessly. His father and mother fell into despondency. In 1984, Amirthalingam left the village and set off to Madras to work on his master’s degree in botany.


By 1990, he got a job offer to become an assistant professor. In terms of his career, this was a good step, but Amirthalingam was all too aware that it might also be a final step, a point beyond which he could not go. Without any funding from his family to continue his studies, he would never be able to become a full professor.


Meanwhile his father had devised quite different plans for his third son. He had arranged for Amirthalingam, then 25, to marry a young girl, aged 13, who was a close relative. A rural custom, this was commonly done. Not to do so would be considered an affront to both families. This marriage seemed all wrong to Amirthalingam, and he refused to go through with it.


Losing his temper with his son, his father angrily threw him out of the house. Forbidden to ever return, he was given no money, no food, and told not to enter the house again, not even for a drink of water. Surviving on the not-to-clean public water from the common village well, for a year he slept on a cot outside in the open, near his family’s house, buying food with the small amounts of money that his younger sister, Selvi, was able to slip to him from time to time.


Devastated first by the loss of his beloved older sister and then by the rejection of his father, he wandered around the nearby villages, following the inner voices that spoke to him – he spent his days collecting animal fossils, reading ancient inscriptions, and digging up old coins left in the dust many centuries before.


Gradually, he began to acquire a reputation as an unusual person who had some special knowledge. People would approach him to ask him questions and to seek information. He first explored ancient megalithic sites, then neolithic sites, covering half of the district.


During that time, he traveled to Madras and found temporary work as an exhibition guide at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation.


A year or so later, he received an unexpected phone call one day from Dr. Nanditha Krishna, then Director of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, who remembered the intense interest the young man had shown in exploring the past and his great love of plants. She asked him to come back to Madras to work for her foundation.


Amirthalingam fiveIMG_9917resized
M. Amirthalingam standing outside the CPREEC .


In July 3, 1993, he joined the CPR Environmental Education Centre as a Research Fellow. No longer a lost soul wandering the desert, he had found a place where he could pursue his passions, where his interests were valuable and much valued.


He plunged into a study of the trees of Tamil Nadu. Visiting more than 500 temples all over Tamil Nadu, he documented the surrounding trees and plants and wrote his first book, Sacred Trees of Tamil Nadu. Next he wrote the Sacred Groves of Tamil Nadu; both were published by the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation.


It is common for junior writers not to be given credit for the research they do and the books they write. It is all too common, in India and elsewhere, to give credit only to senior, well established authors. The C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation does not follow this practice. Instead they give full credit to those who do the work. M. Amirthalingam has written a number of authoritative books about the plants and trees of Tamil Nadu.


While employed at the CPR Foundation, he spent four or five years at Madras Christian College studying botany, earning a Master of Science degree and a Master of Philosophy.


During that time he researched varieties of rice; recalling his childhood working in the rice paddies, he was able to appreciate the true value of rice, a staple of food in south India. He says that there are 66 varieties of rice in India, though really only a handful in Tamil Nadu. He spent much time researching the physiology and biochemistry of rice, especially the Sativa variety. He studied plant growth regulators which cause the rice to grow. Studying the growth rates, he understood the morphological changes and acquired great scientific expertise in his field.


Amirthalingam’s wife, Geetha, works as a clerk in a law office, and they have a fourteen year old daughter, Priyadarshini. His younger sister, Selvi, the one who gave him money for food, now also lives in Madras.


The young man who wandered through the villages, lost in his study of rice, trees, and old coins, now shines a light for others on to the amazing the world of plants.


Continued in part two


Top photo: Sharon St Joan / M. Amirhalingam with G. Balaji at CPREEC.

Second photo: Beckamrajeev / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 unproved license.” / The grand Anicut Dam was built in the second century on the Kaveri River by the Chola King Karikalan.

Third photo: Sharon St Joan / M. Amirthalingam outside the offices of CPREEC.




Chennai, India: Launching the Rameshwaram Green Pilgrimage Initiative

Boats off the coast of Rameshwaram
Boats off the coast of Rameshwaram


Near the great temple of Rameshwaram, crowds of worshippers bathe in the blue sea waters.


One of the holiest sites in India, Rameshwaram, an island in south India across from Sri Lanka, is visited by around a million pilgrims every year. It was through here that the hero king, the God Rama, traveled, thousands of years ago, on his journey to rescue his beloved wife, Sita, who had been abducted to Sri Lanka by the ten-headed demon, Ravana. As well as the great Rameshwaram temple, there are many other sacred sites on the island, such as the high hill where Rama stood and left his footprints as he planned his war strategy.


India is a land of sacred sites, and every year millions of pilgrims visit these sites to worship.  There are far more pilgrims in India than in any other country in the world.


Unfortunately, not every pilgrim is environmentally conscious.


Like other pilgrimage destinations, the great temple of Rameshwaram, its environs, and the island’s other sacred sites, in their current state, leave a lot to be desired in terms of cleanliness.


Launch of the Rameshwaram Green Pilgrimage Initiative


On February 18, 2014, at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation in Chennai, CPREEC (C.P. Ramaswami Environmental Education Centre), partnering with the Green Pilgrimage Network, launched the Rameshwaram Green Pilgrimage Initiative.


This is intended to be the first of a number of expansive projects designed to restore pilgrimage sites of India to a state of cleanliness and beauty befitting the sacredness of the sites.


CPREEC set up a beautiful Exhibit at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation for Hindu Environment Week, the third week of February, which was open from February 18 to March 1st.

The banner for Hindu Environment Week, part of the Green Pilgrimage Exhibit
Left to right: Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Ms. Kausalya Santhanam, and Mrs. K. Shanta, with the banner for Hindu Environment Week, part of the Green Pilgrimage Exhibit


Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Honorary Director of CPREEC, introduced the Exhibit, which highlights the green pilgrimage concept and outlines some of the aspects of the renovation to be undertaken, including some of the considerable work already done by the organization Vivekananda Kendra.


Restoring the natural environment


As well as cleaning built-up areas and structures, the surrounding natural environment, along with the wild plants, animals, and birds, which are also sacred, all need to be protected from the unintended effects of multitudes of pilgrims.


Unfortunately, the prosopis plant, an invasive species, has taken over mile upon mile of land in south Tamil Nadu, crowding out all native plant species. It needs to be removed, and the native plants, upon which the birds and other wildlife depend, need to be replanted. CPREEC is uniquely qualified to do this restoration at Rameswaram; CPREEC botanists and other scientists have already restored 52 sacred groves in southern India over the past twenty-five years, creating living forests once again where there were recently only barren lands. Expert attention is given to replanting precisely the species that are native to each specific area.


A complex undertaking


The Green Pilgrimage Initiative at Rameshwaram will be a complex undertaking and is expected to take around two years – cleaning the environs, putting into place the means to assure that they will stay clean, and motivating both pilgrims and local residents, especially businesses, to adopt this as their own project. It will involve eliminating plastic bags, which are lethal to cows and other animals, creating self-help programs for women to make cloth bags that they can sell, setting up an ABC (spay-neuter) program for community animals – and a goshala for cows, who are now strolling in the streets.


When completed, this promises to be a major step forward in the ongoing struggle to turn back the tide of the deterioration of sacred sites in India.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna and Mr. Gopal Patel at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation in Chennai
Dr. Nanditha Krishna and Mr. Gopal Patel, in front of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation in Chennai


A long history of environmental awareness


Mr. Gopal Patel spoke on behalf of the Green Pilgrimage Network, which is based in the UK, hosted by ARC, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, and supported by the Bhumi Project of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. He is the Director of their program for Hindu sites in India and other countries.


The Bhumi Project already has in place agreements with several cities in India to undertake Green Pilgrimage Projects.


Puri, Varanasi, Kolkata, Rishikesh, Vrindavan, Ujjain, and Dwarka all held lively events for Hindu Environment Week, and he planned to visit several of them in the following days. The Hindu sites they work with are not just in India. In the U.S. they are partnering with twelve Hindu temples, ensuring that they are green and clean. They work in the UK, raising awareness, and also in Africa with one of the oldest Hindu diasporas that left India 100 or 200 years ago.


Hindu culture has a very long history of environmental awareness. Chanakya, born around 300 BCE, known as the Father of Medicine, for his role as one of the originators of the ayurvedic system of medicine, taught that pollution causes disease – a lesson we might well heed today.


In India all rivers are Goddesses who are to be protected from degradation. Chanakya also taught that we are to look upon all animals as children. If we go on a pilgrimage we should be frugal, eating only one meal a day and leaving nothing behind.


Mr. Gopal Patel, in his work with Hindu sacred sites in many countries, encourages them to be green and clean. He made the point that pilgrimage is important to every major faith, and the Green Pilgrimage Network works with other religious traditions too, for example, in Jerusalem and Assisi, Italy.

Mr. G. Vasudeo
Mr. G. Vasudeo


Mr. G. Vasudeo, Secretary of the Vivekananda Kendra, Kenyakumari, spoke enthusiastically about some of the work they have been doing renovating the teerthams  (sacred tanks or pools) in Rameshwaram.  Showing dramatic before and after photos, he explained how the run-down, polluted teerthams had been completely restored and are now clean and sparkling.  All that remains to do is replanting the original vegetation native to each site, which will be carried out by CPREEC. Restoring the foundations of several of the teerthams is already a remarkable achievement.

One of the teerthams renovated by the Vivekananda Kendra, Kenyakumari
One of the teerthams renovated by the Vivekananda Kendra, Kenyakumari


Rameshwaram – a key sacred site


Rameshwaram is one of the sacred pilgrimage sites that ring India in the four directions – Puri to the West, Varanasi to the North, Kolkata to the East, and Rameshwaram to the South. There are, of course, many thousands of other sacred places in India. It is said that pilgrims who visit the holy site of Varanasi, along the Ganges, will not fully receive the blessing of their pilgrimage until they have also visited Rameshwaram in the South. It is, if you like, the second half of their sacred journey.


The significance of the Rameshwaram Green Pilgrimage Initiative would be hard to overstate.  With success, it will demonstrate that it is really possible to have clean, eco-friendly pilgrimages in India, in which millions of pilgrims play an active role in maintaining the cleanliness and purity of their sacred sites. It will serve as a shining example, a green pilgrimage site that will inspire environmental awareness and cleanliness in so many other sacred sites throughout India.


To read more about CPREEC, click here.


 To read more about the Green Pilgrimage Network, click here.

 To read more about Vivekananda Kendra, click here.

 © 2014, Text and photos, Sharon St Joan

Pavupattu: Spirits among the trees

terracotta horses
Terracotta horses

Five miles south of the city Tiruvannamalai, which lies southwest of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, can be found the Sacred Grove of Pavupattu.  An oasis of peace and beautiful trees, it was the first of 52 sacred groves restored by CPREEC (C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre)

Twenty-five years ago, the grove came to the attention of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Director of CPREEC; she and one of CPREEC’S officers, Mr. Selvapandiyan, went to visit the grove and found it very rundown.  Over the course of many months, Mr. Selvapandiyan, who was the manager of the restoration project, spent his time first interviewing local elders in the nearby village of Pavupattu, to determine which were the trees that had once grown naturally in the grove.  Then he set about doing the work of restoration.

Mr. Selvapandiyan recalls that at the time, there was a severe drought in the area, which meant that there was no water available.  They had to bring in water from outside in trucks, to use for planting all the trees and also as drinking water for the work crews.  It was very hot work in the warm months of southern India.

Mr. Selvapandian, CPREEC, Manager of the Sacred Grove Project
Mr. Selvapandiyan, CPREEC, Manager of the Sacred Grove Project

All the trees that can be seen now planted on the acres of the grove, are green and wonderfully healthy.  Just a few of the larger trees had existed earlier. In the twenty-five years since Pavupattu was restored, the people of the nearby village of the same name have faithfully taken care of the grove. It is clean and well-kept, with no trash or litter, a lovely, serene place, home to a few dozen resident monkeys – and to the huge votive statues that the people have had made to offer to the deities of the grove.  There are small temple structures, and standing on platforms, or sometimes grinning from behind trees, are the remarkable folk statues, especially of huge white horses, and sometimes the figures of guardian spirits in human form – all constructed of painted terracotta, one of the unique folk arts of Tamil Nadu.

One of the terracotta guardian spirits beside a tree.
One of the terracotta guardian spirits beside a tree.

Throughout India, there are sacred groves – in the hundreds of thousands, though sadly, the majority have fallen into disrepair over the centuries.  Some have disappeared entirely, swallowed up into shopping malls or other developed land, or perhaps simply lying idle, as waste land, occasionally visited by a few devotees who worship the remnants of a sacred site.  A few have been maintained over hundreds or thousands of years.

These are the original spiritual sites of the local people of India. They are groves of trees because the trees themselves are especially sacred, and they are also home to the guardian spirits and the deities who live on the sacred land among the trees.  Wherever the groves have been preserved intact, it is entirely due to the devotion and tenacity of the local village people, who have protected their groves against all the onslaughts of modern development.

In the past, every Indian village had a sacred grove, which was the heart of the spiritual life of the people.  The trees could never be cut down, the animals and birds could not be disturbed. Sometimes it was even forbidden to gather dead fallen branches for firewood.  The land was sacred and could not be used for mundane purposes.  Where they still exist, the sacred groves are wonderful repositories of the animals, birds, and plant life of the area.  Some species can now only be found in the sacred groves.


A tree and a tank, or a pool.
A tree and a tank, or a pool.


CPREEC, with each of the 52 groves they have restored, has taken great pains to study the area and to learn from the local people the exact species of trees that used to grow there so that they can be replanted, restoring the grove precisely to its original state.  CPREEC provides the funding for the work and carries out the project, hiring local people to do the work.  After three years of renovation and support by CPREEC, each grove is turned over to the village, and the local people undertake to preserve and maintain the sacred grove which has traditionally always been theirs.

Preserving and restoring these beautiful and peaceful places of greenery and sacred trees, habitat for many kinds of birds and wildlife, is profoundly significant.  First of all, for that grove and for the plants, animals, people, and the spirits who live there. And, on another level, what could be more important than restoring and maintaining a small part of the planet earth?  Each grove stands like a shining beacon, a reminder that, despite hardships and challenges, the earth and all her living children are alive and watched over from above.

Photos: © Sharon St Joan, 2013

To visit the website of CPREEC  (C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre), click here.

Sittanavasal and the invasive onion

A view of Sittanavasal

At the Sittanavasal site there is a sacred grove, one of over 50 sacred groves restored by CPREEC (C.P. Ramaswami Environmental Education Centre) in the past few years.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Honorary Director of CPREEC, who was instrumental in restoring this grove, as well as the others, recalls that when CPREEC first arrived in the mid-nineties to have a look at the Sittanavasal site, the area surrounding the great rock was a barren spot where nothing grew.  Over the centuries all the trees and other vegetation had been destroyed; land once sacred had fallen into disrepair and been forgotten.

The CPREEC program to restore the sacred groves in southern India has several interrelated purposes—a major goal is to protect the environment and the natural wilderness of India, by maintaining the groves that still exist and by restoring those that have been destroyed.

As is the case for the rest of the world,  forests and wilderness areas in India have been under assault, especially the last couple of centuries.  Farming has taken its toll, as have industrial development, economic development, and the tourist industry.  On land once called sacred, one may find anything from city blocks, to heaps of trash, to a factory, a shopping center or a hotel; sometimes one finds nothing at all—just an empty stretch of land with no trees or plants. In a surprising number of cases though, the village people have preserved their sacred groves and have not allowed their destruction.  It is the reverence for the land as a sacred place that serves as an incentive for the people living there to restore the natural environment.  For all the thousands of villages in India, each one once had a sacred grove.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna

CPREEC works together with the village people in each location.  They will assume responsibility for restoring the sacred grove, and in exchange the people there will agree to maintain it, not allowing it to fall into disrepair again.  This also means not allowing it to be used in ways that will harm the native plants and the habitat of the animals living there.  Everything that is a part of nature will be preserved and protected.  The accepted guidelines for each grove may differ.  In some groves, dry branches may be collected to use as firewood; in other groves, even this is prohibited.

At the foot of the great rock of Sittanavasal, nothing was growing by the 1990’s but grass.  There were no trees, vines, or flowering plants. It was a wasteland.  The professional people of CPREEC—botanists and environmental experts arrived.  They did extensive interviews with the village elders and researched the local area to determine exactly which plants were native to that particular location.  After all, there wouldn’t be much point in planting species that didn’t belong there.  Only original native species would be used to restore the sacred grove.

Very shortly they came across an unexpected difficulty.  Something was wrong with the soil.  It was strangely acidic, and they eventually came to the realization that this was a human-caused problem, but, amazingly, not a recent one.  Around 1,500 to 2,000 years ago, when the Jains lived there, as they were painting their incredibly beautiful frescoes on the walls, they were extremely careful, as always, never to harm any animals.

Sittanavasal - another view

The binding material in many types of paint was made from animal products.  This was not at all acceptable to the Jains, since they believed in doing no harm to any animals. So they had to develop paints that contained only plant-based products.  They achieved this by using an ingredient found in a particular species of onion, and subsequently, they planted lots and lots of these onions nearby in the ground, so that they would have the wherewithal to continue to manufacture their paints.

In saving the animals from exploitation, however, they unwittingly were harming the local soil.  Of course, they had no way to know that this was happening, and it was an ironic turn of events that the Jains, in protecting nature, were accidentally and unknowingly causing harm to the environment.

Once they realized that the invasive onion species was the cause of the imbalance in the soil, CPREEC spent countless hours removing the onions from the ground (they were still growing there 2,000 years later!) so that other plants would be able to grow again.  They got up nearly all of them, the soil became fertile again, and they were able to plant trees, flowing bushes, and vines—that have since grown into beautiful plants.

While we were visiting this past February, we did come upon an unexpected occurrence, a little onion remained right there in the ground.

Whenever CPREEC restores a sacred grove, they hire one of the people living there to serve as the grove’s custodian.  Rangam, the custodian of the Sittanavasal sacred grove, had accompanied us, up the steep stairway cut into the rock, so that we could see the ancient windswept site at the top—and then at the foot of the great rock, he led us along the pathway through the restored sacred grove, now lush with trees and plants which lend great beauty to the majestic rock.

Rangam, with the onion

Then Rangam came across the stray onion—right there at his feet growing in the soil.  He carefully dug it out of the ground and held it up—the offending alien onion.

(Although it is silly, I did feel a little sorry for the onion.  It will no doubt become a happy onion in heaven.)

How hard it is as humans to avoid causing harm to the earth. Even the ancient Jains, who managed far better than most of us do, could not avoid harming a bit of the planet, even as they were doing their best to protect the animals and the natural world.

How the herbs grow

How many schools have a herbal garden, planted and tended by the students?

Well, this one does—in the Mudumalai National Forest, the G.R.G Memorial Matriculation Higher Secondary School lies on the Masinagudi Road.

We are there on Republic Day, which is January 26—this means that the younger students have the day off, though the high school age students do not.

The students are friendly and somewhat amused by our presence—or to be strictly accurate—they are not so much amused by Mr. Kumaravelu, as they are by me, the tall American with the camera.

Some are having a break, sitting on the grass, across a couple of pathways—they wave.

Others have just emerged from their classrooms, and seeing the camera, they, predictably, form themselves into rows. They smile.

Mr. Kumaravelu  knows the school well.  As Field Officer for the CPR Environmental Education Centre, which is based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, on the East Coast of India, he has spent the past fifteen or so years traveling around the schools in the Nilgiri Hills near Ooty—still in the state of Tamil Nadu, but at the western most corner of the state.

The CPREEC, working along with state governments, organizes training programs for teachers, to integrate environmental education into the curricula—not just in Tamil Nadu—but throughout ten states in all of southern India–Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and the territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

These states have a total of around 360 million people, greater than the whole U.S population, and a lot of them (around 30%) are children, so instilling in these young people the concept that the planet earth is worth protecting is going to make a gigantic difference to the future.

There are, by the way, in case you were wandering, 1,652 languages and dialects spoken in India  (according to Wikipedia – Demographics of India).

Teaching the teachers is the way the program is accomplished, with the far-reaching and practical focus of the CPREEC, under the guiding hand of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, the Honorary Director of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, which she founded, along with others, in 1966 and which in turn, jointly with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, then formed the CPREEC.

It would be hard to imagine a more significant role to play than that of inspiring the young people of India to value and care for the planet and the natural world.

A number of years ago, Mr. Kumaran, the Headmaster of the School brought together ten students from tribal families living in nearby villages and began to teach them.  This was a big breakthrough since often the children of tribal families did not go to school at all, and many of their parents are still illiterate.

From this beginning the school has grown to  800 students, ranging from 4 to 5 year olds all the way up through high school.

Half of the students are from tribal backgrounds, and the teachers also are either local or tribal people.

Because the Nilgiris are hills—an incredibly beautiful area extending over the borders of the three states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala—tribal people sought refuge in these hills over the centuries, as the populations of the town and cities continued to expand across the valleys and the flat plains below.

The Nilgiris are remarkable too because they are cool in the baking heat of the Indian spring and summer.  During colonial times, the British who were definitely looking for a cool spot, took over and developed the town now known as Ooty into a resort area. As mentioned in a previous blog, they also felt no qualms about taking over one of the most sacred temples of the Toda tribe and replacing it with a Church, now St. Steven’s.

A young girl from another region of India

At the school, 50% of the students graduate. The students do twelve years of schooling and then the girls go on to become teachers or nurses.

The boys learn to start small businesses. Remarkable progress is being made, particularly since, around hundred years ago, no Indian girls, not even from the upper classes, went to school. This lack of schooling for girls was due to the Moslem influence, which dominated parts of India, especially in the north, for hundreds of years.  Original Indian society did not discriminate against women and girls.

Both the girls and the boys will have a good future.  They will have learned to respect and value their own traditions, while at the same time being able to make a living as part of the modern world—thanks to the visionary and insightful programs of  both this remarkable school and the CPREEC.  They will value the planet  and do their best to protect it, setting an example for all of us.

Photos and Video:

Video: Sharon St. Joan

Top photo: Sharon St.Joan / Glimpse of the Nilgiri Hills

Second photo: Nikhil Gangavane / A boy from another region of India.

Third photo: Nikhil Gangavane / A young girl from another region of India