Environmental Stewardship

“True service to the community is service to God.”

Shanthimalai Amma
Mrs. Anne Maier

The Girivalam Seva Project

Even before the government of India initiated the Clean India Mission in 2014, Shanthimalai Amma began quietly cleaning the ancient pilgrimage road around Arunachala, the Holy Mountain in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. Through her example, others became inspired to support this effort and Shanthimalai established the Girivalam Seva Project (GVS).

In 2021, Shanthimalai received the “Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Award” in recognition of Amma’s ongoing efforts to care for the pilgrimage path and protect the environment. Since then, Shanthimalai has received numerous awards for its outstanding work.

The map depicts the 8 3/4 mile (14km) ancient pilgrimage road around Arunachala, the Holy Mountain in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. Over the last 10 years, the entire 14-kilometer circle around the Mountain has steadily become cleaner.

The Need

As a spiritual center, Arunachala regularly attracts huge crowds of people, especially at full moon and on festival days when hundreds of thousands arrive in the area during a 24-hour period. In the past, bags and food containers were biodegradable, but in modern times plastic waste pollutes the groundwater and life-sustaining wells run dry when trash blocks water inflow.
Shantimalai’s Girivalam Seva Project (GVS) was an immediate way to improve the environment and influence how local trash was managed. 
In the past, bags and food containers were biodegradable, but in modern times plastic waste pollutes the groundwater. Pathogens in the litter are a health risk, especially for children and the elderly. 

GVS has cleaned and restored a 4 km section of the ancient holy path and maintains it regularly with the care and respect it deserves.

Collaboration with Local Government

Shanthimalai Trust installed waste bins and collects trash regularly along the pilgrimage route around Arunachala.

The local government has replaced 110 of the GVS barrels on the public side of the road with dumpsters.

Shanthimalai is coordinating with the local government to care for the “public” side in the same way as the “private” side. This is a work in progress.  About 250 GVS barrels remain on the “private” side of the road.

GVS is now in a transitional phase. The local government of Tiruvannamalai has extended its effort to keep the pilgrimage road “clean and green” to include the 4 kilometers maintained by GVS. Over the last 10 years, the government has installed broad sidewalks (8 to 12 feet wide) on the left side of the road to promote pedestrian safety as pilgrims walk around the Mountain. The other side of the road, the “private” side, has no sidewalks and the properties lining the road appear to go right up to the pavement.

New Initiatives

A 22-acre site of abandoned farmland along the ancient pilgrimage road has been cleared of brush and general overgrowth. The land will be used for a number of ecological model projects. 

3,000 trees have now been planted at the site. 

Saplings wait to go in the ground.


The well was upgraded and, to conserve water, irrigation pipelines have been laid throughout the property. This drip system  now waters trees and saplings.

A 1,600 square-foot screen-mesh greenhouse has been erected for the propagation of seedlings and saplings. 

Medicinal use of herbs has been practiced in South India for thousands of years. A one acre organic herb garden is ready for planting. It will conserve and propagate medicinal species, determining the best way to grow these herbs in this locality.

Peanuts planted on 20% of the land rebuild the nitrogen content of the soil. This acts as an organic method of fertilization. Sales of the peanuts generate income for the other projects. 

AppaAmma Environmental Training Center

The new Training Center promotes increased environmental awareness and offers workshops on using natural resources responsibly and sustainably. Topics have included Empowerment Training for Women, Integrated Natural Farming, Rainwater Collection, and Herbal Gardening with projects designed to succeed in the special conditions of the local area.

Dr Rajashankar, a Shantimalai Trustee and environmental engineer with years of experience in the Indian waste and energy industry, offers a training workshop about composting.

Farmers’ gold – rich organic fertilizer

Organic waste collected from the pilgrimage road around Arunachala is shredded and mixed with cow dung. This creates the perfect carbon-to-nitrogen balance needed for rich organic fertilizer – perfect food for the tree saplings in the nursery. 

Shantimalai's Environmental Care Program

Shantimalai’s Environmental Care Program features an integrated group of programs that work in coordination with efforts of local authorities to keep the area “clean and green”. This is in step with the national government’s initiative throughout the whole of India to make protecting the environment a priority at all levels of government and society.

It appears that the initiatives of the Environmental Care Program will slowly migrate out into the larger community. Already the program is beginning to inspire change.

We are working to empower, educate, and inspire future generations.

You can help

The Environmental Care Program is funded through your tax-deductible donations. 

Support Environmental Awareness & Stewardship. Please consider honoring Arunachala’s ancient, holy atmosphere by making a contribution to the Girivalam Service Project today.

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