Removal of Squatters from Temple Land in Tiruvannamalai


Last week, the Tiruvannamalai government told people living in 22,000 houses that they will have to vacate their homes and move away. These people do not own the land on which their houses are built. The land is controlled by Arunachaleswara Temple. Poor people living and building on unused land is a common problem in India, all over the country.

The clearing of the land will start in the area below Virupaksha Cave. The people who live there were told that they have 15 days to move out. Then the government will start tearing down their houses.

The overall area is from Pachaiamman Koil to Ramana Ashram. Below is an aerial view of the land on the east side of Arunachala. The area affected is potentially every structure to the left of the yellow line, which is the main road that goes just west of the Big Temple.

The population of Tiruvannamalai is about 200,000. It is estimated that the number of people involved might be 80,000, so this is a sizable fraction of the population of the city. And presently the government is offering no help in relocation. I have no idea where all these people will go. Nor do I know what impact it will have with such a big part of the local population moving out of and away from the city.

ScreenHunter_14 May. 25 09.53

Here are a few photos of the area to give you an idea of what is involved. These were taken from the third floor of a building next to Arunachaleswara Temple.

Looking north, towards Pachaiamman Koil. I am told that a few of these structures are built on land that is ‘Patta,’ land whose title can be owned by an individual. There are two basic types of land ownership in India – Patta and Poromboke. Patta land is privately owned and can be sold and purchased freely. Poromboke land is government property, which includes all land reserved for communal purpose, like temples. The Tamil Nadu government has been threatening this kind of action since 2005. Now, under the leadership of the current Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Selvi  J Jayalalithaa, the government is taking action in this area, removing squatters from temple lands in the state.


Looking west towards Arunachala. Virupaksha Cave is behind these buildings. Skandashram is in the trees near the center of the photo.

This is the area where they will start; have the people leave their homes, then tear the buildings down. I am told that this includes the 200 small temples and ashrams built in this area.

We have Tamil friends who live in this area. Their parents live here, they were born and grew up here. Now they do not have any idea what they will do, and the deadline is just a few days away.


Looking south, towards Ramanashramam.


I have heard that the people will not leave easily, that there will be protests. Who knows what else will happen. I have concern about more than protests. I do not know how long this process will take. It is a big action, so I think it will not be quick.

As I find out more about this, I will post it.

32 Responses to “Removal of Squatters from Temple Land in Tiruvannamalai”

  1. jai4 Says:

    Hi Richard, it’s now mid June, and I am deeply concerned about dear friends who live in that encroachment.I have not been to Tiru for a year, and I wonder if you have any further news? Although my friends and I can understand each other when we are together, the language barrier is too strong over the phone, and the person here at home who would usually help us with translation has been out of town. They have lived there for 3 generations, and have a deep love of Arunachala, I can’t imagine where they would go.

    • richardclarke Says:

      There is a new collector running the Tiruvannamalai district. He is not going ahead now with any of the removals. No one knows what he will do later, though. So the story is no one is being forced out of their homes now. But the future is unclear, and this casts a cloud of uncertainty over everyone.

  2. ghariharan Says:

    I am impressed by you, Richard, a foreigner, that you take so much interest in the local issues/developments. And you seem to have got the background situation right, too.

    As I see it, the encroachments will never be removed. Somebody will grease the palms of some power that is, and get a Stay Order (Ordering Status Quo) from some court, and the matter will go to a quiet sleep. There are just too many people affected, who have been living in these pucca (well-built, brick-and-mortar) structures for so long that it is unimaginable that they will give up easily. And then there are businesses, temple structures, ashrams, etc. that would have to go, and it seems just not possible for all of them to be moved out. If only we had conscentious, clean politicians in the past, this situation would not have arisen.

    • richardclarke Says:

      I think you may be right, it does just seem like too much, to many houses and families to remove. I have seen some removal of encroachments, but on a much smaller scale. They have been talking about this for many years. So far it is just talk. We will see.

    • kalpa108 Says:

      But again, like the much needed bypass situation, this does not help the town of Tiruvannamalai. It simply puts off the inevitable clean-up which is necessary; for example all the drainage water etc. running off the enroachments into the already blocked drains around the temple and in Big Street. As Ghariharan intimates, the problem was caused by the DMK who allowed the building to take place on such a grand scale. I also cannot understand why the Temple allowed so much encroachment in the first place. Were they powerless to stop it?

    • richardclarke Says:

      If the DMK allowed this, then maybe this is why the AIADMK is now against it. What do you think? What about the Collectors? Are they selected by the state government (in this case, the AIADMK)?

  3. richardclarke Says:

    Update: as of June 2, things seem to be at a standstill. There is now a new district collector, the local chief administrator, Dr. Vijay Pingale. No one knows what he will do about the encroachments, and in India these actions are driven by the individuals holding power. So the people in the first target area planned for housing removal near Virupaksha cave at waiting to see what happens next.

  4. annamarie2 Says:

    TN to create database of temple land

    Chennai, May 9: To check encroachment Tamil Nadu government today said it will create a database of 4.78 lakh acres of temple land coming under its control.

    The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Minister, Mr M S M Anandan informed the state assembly that a software detailing movable and immovable property belonging to temples, mutts and trusts under the Ministry had been created for the purpose.

    A database will be created for the benefit of officials to find details of land at one touch and thereby prevent encroachment of temple lands and ensure their retrieval, besides collecting lease amounts on time from persons who had leased the land, he said.

    Mr Anandan was replying to the grants for his department for the 2012-13.

    The Minister proposed introducing Wind and Hybrid Solar Energy in select temples of the state, including the Aranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam, Dhandayuthapani Temple at Palani and Tiruchendur Subramanya Swamy temple, at an investment of Rs 5 crore.

  5. annamarie2 Says:

    CHENNAI, INDIA, May 9, 2012 (Hindu Business Line:


    To check encroachment the Tamil Nadu government today said it will create a database of 478,000 acres of temple land coming under its control.

    The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Minister, Mr. M.S.M. Anandan informed the state assembly that software detailing movable and immovable property belonging to temples, mutts and trusts under the Ministry had been created for the purpose.

    A database will be created for the benefit of officials to find details of land at one touch and thereby prevent encroachment of temple lands and ensure their retrieval, besides collecting lease amounts on time from persons who had leased the land, he said.

  6. Ram Giri Says:

    Some of you may remember the evictions and destruction in the summer of 2007 from Ramana Ashram up to the Perumbakam Road. They even saw fit to remove trees and paving in front of the Ramana Supermarket which was never replaced. They could not even be bothered to regrade the surface. Now the whole area floods regularly when there is rain. This never used to happen before this incident. A very small taste of things to come if this current threat of evictions on a massive scale goes ahead.
    Having said that it is worth considering that maintenance of infrastructure to public amenities comes from rates that are paid by members of the community who reside there. If there is a large population which is not contributing then infrastructure is not looked after and will slowly break down. The other problem is that the funds that do get collected can get misappropriated through corruption and selfish business interests. Not quite the win win situation. I put this as a question to the mountain itself and the reply I got was: If you put your hand too close to the fire it will burn you.

  7. kalpa108 Says:

    A further irony to this situation is that larger homes and development are rapidly taking place atound the Hill, for instance on the Panchamukham side – large homes and further housing projects are underway and tracts marked out. Either Arunachala is entirely open for development or it must be protected. It is highly unlikely that ‘progress’ will be stopped until the water table runs dry.

  8. kalpa108 Says:

    It will become tied up in the courts, like the Tiruvannamalai bypass, and take many years to be resolved. The squatters on the Hill have been allowed to be there for so long. Electric power, paved streets, larger homes were all allowed by the DMK so alternative housing will have to be provided. Whoever is running the town planning dept. in Tiruvannamalai does not have a clue! It is such a shame that the World Heritage Org. were not allowed to do the right thing to preserve the temple and environs, this situation would have not arisen. Locals went for self preservation then and now must find a solution to this compound problem, allowed by the DMK to grow!

  9. annamarie2 Says:

    Sunanda: My heart goes out to the auto driver’s mother. I hope she is fine now. Remember, everything happens for a reason and always for the best around Arunachala, He looks at things from the perspective of several lifetimes not just here and now.

    I have met the priest of Agni Lingam temple. If it is the same person, now old, then words of wisdom drop from his mouth along with demands of money to have extraordinary poojas done. One of the first things he told me is that his father met Bhagavan during a very difficult period in his life. Bhagavan told him to keep his mind on Lord Shiva and everything will be alright. That teaching has helped me a lot in my life. I still look upon this priest with great fondness.

    • Sunanda Maldonado Says:

      Annamarie: Yes, that’s the priest! He is very calm and lovely but he does have a habit of asking for stuff! I remember being asked to buy a new ‘cloth’ for Agni Lingam (which I was happy to do.) He also convinced me to do a special puja but I got the day wrong and turned up at the wrong time. He’s always happy to take no for an answer though and the local people like him too (I think.)
      I know everything happens for a reason and it’s often impossible for us to work out those reasons….we are all in God’s hands.
      But I think you should do a little research into the background history of CM Jayalalithaa…..I will say no more!
      And to James Mooney I have to say that as far as I am aware, Lord Shiva does not curse people. Arunachala is only love…

  10. annamarie2 Says:

    “The curse of all the gods on those who would make the poor flee, but give them no help or alternative. May fire rain down upon the greedy and those who help them.”

    See, this is what I meant: If you live in Tiru or have visited Tiru and still subscribe to this spiteful thought process, a correction will come via someone or a disease of unmistakeable proportions will hit you. Then people will say James was such a nice guy (BTW, I don’t know who you are) yet this happened. They wouldn’t know what thoughts you were harboring in the deep recesses of your mind.

    That is why spiritual practices is so important when you are near Arunachala. I read in one of the Ashram books:

    “The Maharshi spoke out in a calm, mellow, silvery voice: ‘Take refuge in silence. You can be here or there or anywhere. Fixed in silence, established in the inner I, you can be as you are.

    ‘Gather your thoughts in the thought centre within. The world will never perturb you if you are well founded upon the tranquility within.’

    ‘Allow karma to work itself out and march on in faith. You will not miss the goal.’ “

  11. Sunanda Maldonado Says:

    I know that everything happens perfectly but it is often so difficult for us mere mortals to understand God’s purpose during happenings like this. Some years back I took an auto rickshaw from outside Usha’s restaurant to go into town. The driver was an old friend but on this day he looked terrible. On the way he stopped by the second tank on the left (the one that is always totally clogged with garbage) and pointed out what remained of his elderly mother’s house on the far side of the water. Very early that morning police had arrived out of the blue and simply knocked half of it down. His mother had nowhere to go and had rigged up some kind of blanket where the wall of her house used to be. There seemed to be no reason for this destruction and weeks later the house remained half demolished. His mother continued to live in the ruins.
    Mind you, sometimes there are happy outcomes too. About 14 years ago there were chai shops opposite the gates of Ramanasram (where the compound with Ramana Supermarket and Bhagwan Arts is today.) Suddenly all the chai shops were knocked down. One nice man whose dosas and chai were second to none was devastated and at a loss as to what he would do. Somehow he became the priest at the little Agnilingam temple which is visited by thousands of pilgrims each Deepam. He made enough money to build a nice house just round the corner and to marry his daughter very well. So we just never know.

  12. Mary Jane Schaffer Says:

    Did this situation get the eviction process started? How is this story related?

    • richardclarke Says:

      Evictions are due to start in about one week. I think this ruling was one part. As I read it (and had read similar articles) it seems just to apply to the one ashram, not to the entirely of the south face of Arunachala, which is apparently covered by the local government’s orders. I also wonder if the criticism of the local government officials in the ruling was aimed at the collector, who was just replaced a few days ago.

      I have heard that some of the buildings are built on land that has patta, so can be owned legally. I do not know why some land in the temple land zone would have patta, and some now. Perhaps someone with more insight to India can tell us how this might happen.

  13. Gina George Says:

    Great. People in Power… if there were a balance between compassion and action – none of this would be happening. One is reminded of Mahatma Gandhi – a true expression of power that invited and received the highest respect from his people. I would that this new Jaya revisit the legacy of the great Gandhi and compare his own actions against this magnificent being.

  14. James Mooney Says:

    Displacing the poor yet again. The homeless must become invisible. We won’t help them but we don’t want to see them. Ramana Maharshi would be deeply ashamed. The curse of all the gods on those who would make the poor flee, but give them no help or alternative. May fire rain down upon the greedy and those who help them.

  15. annamarie2 Says:

    “These people are living at the foot of Arunachala. How is that ‘sponging’? ”

    Well, as Richard himself wrote: These people are squatters, living on Temple land…. May I add without paying rent or taxes. Their time for free loading was long up but thanks to Arunachala’s compassion there is only now in Tamil Nadu a Chief Minister who will take action.

    I heard thru my contacts in Chennai that she has some great plans for Tiruvannamalai. Remember Chief Minister Jayalalitha herself is a huge devotee of Lord Arunachaleswarar. That is why I asked for prayers and support for her and the Collector.

    BTW, there is nothing that happens in the world that is not God’s will, especially when it happens so close to the Great God Arunachala himself. I feel he is clearing out to give a chance to new people to experience him.

    How quickly these squatters will leave, will reveal how much they have evolved in the time they have had with Arunachala. There is a mistaken belief that just living in Tiru is all you need to evolve spiritually. That is not true at all. You must do the spiritual practices. If you get to live in Tiruvannamalai that is all you must do.

  16. Gina George Says:

    Compassion is definitely needed here. The people are very poor and the government should act appropriately, i.e., supply alternate housing – not just give people 15 days to move out – move where? This is very callous behavior and not how I remember the Indian people’s character to be. Is this a question of people in Power running amok? Actually, I do not believe that alternative housing will not be found for these folk by the government itself. We don’t have the full picture…

    • richardclarke Says:

      There is much that is not known yet about this. One thing, a few days after this started, the Tiruvannamalai Collector (whom I had met, and seemed like a good man) was suddenly moved to Madurai, and another man brought it. This man has the reputation of being strict. Whatever is the case, the local CM, Jaya, is calling the shots, and is claiming as accomplishment the removal of ‘encroachments’ from temple lands throughout Tamil Nadu.

  17. Lyse Mai Lauren Says:

    Siva, the destroyer, the rejuvenator of life through death and renewal…..

  18. Sunanda Maldonado Says:

    “You are very brave and need to be commended. These people have been sponging off Arunachala for too long.”
    These people are living at the foot of Arunachala. How is that ‘sponging’? I am sure that in the long run, all shall be well but in the short term a little compassion for these people would not go amiss. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all the time. How many tea shops have been torn down on the main road past Ramanasram? And for what? Nothing ever happens – just misery for the people. Arunachala is a challenging place to live. And it’s not only Tamil Nadu. In Karnataka, the whole town of Hampi is being destroyed and all the people relocated.

  19. annamarie2 Says:

    It could happen very quickly if Arunachala wants. First the fire on the Hill, now this. Arunachala could be cleaning up to allow new people to experience Him. I just hope they don’t turn the area into a four lane highway so that trucks and SUVs can speed on the Girivalam path. Otherwise, I am all for it. My best wishes to the Chief Minister and the collector. You are very brave and need to be commended. These people have been sponging off Arunachala for too long.

  20. annamalaima Says:

    Hi. yes. This is a hugh undertaking for the govt and the new Collector. we can see the rabble left after tearing down the ‘enroachments’ on the roads. I don’t think these people will go quietly, at all, if, in fact, they even do have to go. There are new big houses, halls, businesses, etc…. Let’s see what really happens.

  21. Venkata Ramana Sarma Podury Says:

    We do not know how serious the govt. is to evacuate these people. There could be political overtones. If the govt. is seroius they must give alternate location and compensation to build houses else where.Without such a plan nothing will happen.
    Another aspect is that if any court gives a stay, it may take decades before the matter is adjudicated
    Ramana sarma

  22. pumdv Says:

    Oh it is a big problem . If you can go and look into the archive of Arunachala temple it is a truth that the St Thomas Mount itself belongs to Arunachala and there is still an ancient Siva temple that dates back before when ST Thomas got killed in 18th century. This ancient most powerful SIva Arunachala temple is closed down and never allowed for worship by can we call subsequent religious encroachers? Or maybe that is the will of god that St Thomas must visit his hill and breath his last.

    Now western laws are put to test with that of ancient practices. Only time shall answer who is right and who is wrong.
    It is a known fact that when BJP shall come to power they will get rid of all structures around the holy hill and DMK shall never bother what happens to temple. This is a complex society and we can never take sides nor comment who is right who is wrong. But every Arunachala devotee whishes people have self descipline and understand nature and help this holy place thrive to its past glory and maintain its spirituality and not equate it to real estate value.

    • richardclarke Says:

      It is AIADMK not BJP or DMK that is in power. BJP is very weak in Tamil Nadu.

  23. sendhilvelan Says:

    There is an error in your article. Tamil Nadu “Chief” Minister , not Prime Minister.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: