In a first of its kind, a group of people have taken the spiritual route to increase greenery in the district, especially in residential areas in rural and urban centres.

Women devotees visiting Sri Kannathal Temple at Bangalamedu in Theni for the annual festival on Thursday were surprised to receive neem saplings as ‘prasadam’ along with sweet pongal, vibuthi, kumkum and flowers.

The temple committee, which joined hands with the district administration, came up with the unique idea of relating tree planting exercise with religious faith to promote greenery.

The ‘green prasadam’ idea was instantly approved by Collector N. Venkatachalam. He did not just stop with granting permission. He took efforts to supply the required number of saplings. When forest department expressed its inability to supply saplings of a particular variety, District Rural Development Agency came to their rescue. The government nursery at Boodhipuram offered 500 saplings for distribution as prasadam.

Handing over the saplings to the devotees during his visit to the temple, Superintendent of Police V. Baskaran said tree planting drive should be converted into a mass movement to make the surroundings greener.

Better results could be expected by relating it with religious faith of the people. The devotees could plant these trees in their localities, he suggested.

“We are trying to cash in on the sentiment of the people to improve greenery in the district. The neem sapling will surely touch their sentiment. The devotees view it a symbol of blessing of the goddess, and will maintain it well,” said a temple organiser.

On the success of the project, the committee has plans to replicate it during Sri Veerappa Ayyannar Temple festival to be held in middle of the month, they added.