The past few years have witnessed regular attempts by those in authority to beautify what is already beautiful as provided by nature. Several individuals and institutions have repeatedly questioned the necessity for such artificial enhancements. Despite all that, we have seen steps being taken to ‘beautify’ our beaches, create parks around natural creeks and try and raise glass buildings along beachfronts. The latest such attempt is the sculpture park that is being planned on the Yaanaimalai hill near Madurai.

A landmark on the north-eastern outskirts of Madurai, this is a single piece of rock, rising to 90m in height. Believed to be a block of gneiss and hence one of the oldest rock formations in this part of the world, it is home to bas-reliefs and carvings at some places. It also has historic inscriptions and two temples. Rather strangely this piece of natural wonder was not considered beautiful enough by itself. A consortium of artistes proposed in 2008 to carve out a replica of the Tanjavur Big Temple from this rock, with the edifice planned to be three times larger than the original. On 30th December 2009, a GO was issued setting up of a committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary, and a few other members. The committee was conferred the status of a First Class Committee to study the feasibility to carry out the proposed project which was also to explore the possibility of setting up a sculpture park on the same site.

The surrounding countryside was once home to several rock formations, most of which were handed over for granite quarrying. Consequently, the rocks have all but vanished. The local residents fearing that this proposal too would play into the same lobby began protesting. Hunger strikes were staged on top of the hill and early in February, a Public Interest Litigation was filed before the Madurai Bench of the High Court of Madras praying that the GO be quashed. The petition asked for direction to the Union Government to acquire the hillock and declare it a protected site in its entirety. It also requested that “the cracking of the Yanaimalai” to acquire stone samples be prevented.

The Court restrained the high-level committee from causing any damage to the hillock.
Interim orders were passed to the effect that none should even take rock samples from the hillock without obtaining permission from the court. The judges also ordered notices to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Archaeological Survey of India, State government represented by the Tourism Secretary, Madurai Collector, Yanaimalai Othakadai panchayat president and a few other officials returnable in four weeks.
The Court observed that it prima facie did not find any reason for altering the Yanaimalai, which derived the name from its resemblance to an elephant in squatting posture. Matters rest there for the present.

The Government, rather taken aback by the protests has stated that it was mulling over the idea only to promote tourism. What is not realized is that Yanaimalai by itself could become a tourist attraction just as the Ayers Rock in Australia has become. In addition, Madurai is anyway a well-known destination for tourists and does not need a natural monolith to be done away with to attract more people. It is also necessary to think of the possible ecological impact of the proposed sculpting of the hill.

What is really is needed at most spots that boast of natural heritage are better civic amenities, such as drinking water, toilets, ease of transport and medical facilities. The Government rarely pays attention to such requirements and is keener on gilding the lily by adding more attractions. The amenities are invariably declared open with much fanfare and then forgotten. It is these aspects that make our state attract less tourists and not the absence of attractions.