Kanyakumari

Sunrise over the Bay of Bengal. On two rocky islets just off the shore, are the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, built in 1970 by Eknath Ranade, and the 133 feet (41 m) tall statue of Tamil saint–poet Thiruvalluvar, one of the biggest statues in Asia, completed in 2000 by sculptor V. Ganapati Sthapati. One of the rocks, called Sri Padhaparai, is said to bear the footprints of the virgin goddess, or Kumari, after which Kanyakumari takes its name.

Kanyakumari has been a great centre for art and religion for centuries. It was also an area of great trade and commerce. It was ruled by the Cholas, the Cheras, the Pandyas and the Nayaks. Later Kanyakumari became part of the Venad kingdom with its capital at Padmanabhapuram. The king of Venad, Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, established Travancore by extending his domain further north up to Azhva, during his reign from 1729 to 1758. By this, the present Kanyakumari District came to be known as Southern Travancore. In 1741, Maharaja Marthanda Varma defeated the Dutch East India Company at the famous Battle of Colachel.

This is one of the rare temples in India where Devi (Mother Goddess) is worshipped as a child. Kumari means virgin, and refers to an aborted marriage between the Goddess and Shiva.Devi Kanyakumari is the goddess of renunciation and penance, the goddess herself is a sanyasin. It was a practice for monks to receive the deeksha of Sanyasa here in olden times.

Indians who desired to devote their life as a Sanyasin came here to take deeksha or initiation to monastic life. It was this legacy that brought Swami Vivekananda to Kanyakumari. As part of an epic travel across the Indian subcontinent, Vivekananda travelled to Trivandrum, Nagercoil and reached Kanyakumari on foot on Christmas Eve 1892.

At Kanyakumari, Vivekananda meditated for three days on the "last bit of Indian rock" (later known as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial) and had a "vision of one India". He wrote:

"At Cape Camorin sitting in Mother Kumari's temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian rock—I hit upon a plan: We are so many sanyasis wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics—it is all madness. Did not our Gurudeva use to say, 'An empty stomach is no good for religion?' We as a nation have lost our individuality and that is the cause of all mischief in India. We have to raise the masses."

In January 1962, the people of Kanyakumari thought that as Swami Vivekananda’s birth centenary was being celebrated, it would be wise if they put up some memorial on the rock where he had meditated and discovered the mission of his life. The Vivekananda Rock Memorial was inaugurated in 1970, and was dedicated to the nation. There is also Sri Padaparai Mandapam which is a shrine erected at the spot where the footprint of the Virgin Goddess is seen on the rock.

The Thiruvalluvar Statue is a 133 feet (40.6 m) tall stone sculpture of the Tamil poet and saint Tiruvalluvar, author of the epic Tamil poem 'Thirukkural'. It was opened on January 1, 2000. The statue has a height of 95 feet (29 m) and stands upon a 38 foot (11.5 m) pedestal that represents the 38 chapters of "virtue" in the Thirukkural.

The 133 feet denote Tirukkuṛaḷ's 133 Chapters or athikarams and the show of three fingers denote the three themes Aram, Porul, and Inbam, i.e. the sections on Morals, Wealth and Love. It has a total weight of 7000 tons.The statue, with its slight bend around the waist is reminiscent of a dancing pose of the ancient Indian deities like Nataraja.

Trawlers ferry passengers round the clock from the mainland to the Vivekananda Memorial. The seas around the coast are extremely rough with strong currents. This combined with a rocky volcanic shoreline meant Kanyakumari never developed as a port. Kanyakumari is still home to a thriving fishing community. In the background the whitewashed Gothic spires of Our Lady of Ransom Church is visible.

The Bhagavathy Temple is located on the confluence of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean. Dedicated to the virgin goddess Kumari, she is also worshiped as Shree Bhadrakali by devotees. Sage Parashurama is said to have performed the consecration of the temple. The Goddess is believed to be the one who removes the rigidity of our mind, devotees usually feel the tears in their eyes or even inside their mind when they pray to the goddess in devotion and contemplation.

The author of Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (60-80 A.D.) has written about the prevalence of the propitiation of the deity Kanyakumari in the extreme southern part of India; "There is another place called Comori and a harbour, hither come those men who wish to consecrate themselves for the rest of their lives, and bath and dwell in celibacy and women also do the same; for it is told that a goddess once dwelt here and bathed."

A pilgrim couple gets a photograph taken of themselves with the backdrop of Kanyakumari's rocky beach.

Pilgrims bath in the holy sangam of the three seas.

A woman puts on final touches after taking a dip in the confluence of the three great seas.

Kanyakumari district was one of the worst affected districts in India in the tsunami that ravaged the coasts of various countries in South and South East Asia, on 26 December 2004. There were nearly 900 deaths and several hundreds missing and injured. Social organizations from several countries and the Government have since been working on rehabilitating the affected people and property.

Fishermen return with the days catch.

An old lady sells sea shell souvenirs in the streets outside the Kumari temple.

According to Hindu legend, Kanya Devi, an avatar of Parvati, was to marry Siva, but as he failed to show up on his wedding day, the rice and other grains meant for the wedding feast remained uncooked and remain unused thereafter. As the legend goes, the uncooked grains turned into stones as time went by. Some believe that the small stones on the shore today, which look like rice, are indeed grains from the wedding that was never solemnized. Kanya Devi is now considered a virgin goddess who blesses pilgrims and tourists who flock the town.

The Gandhi Memorial has been built on the spot where the urn containing the Mahatma's ashes was kept for public viewing before immersion. Resembling central Indian Hindu temples in form, the memorial was designed in such a way that on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, 2 October, the first rays of the sun fall on the exact place where his ashes were kept.

According to another Hindu legend, Lord Hanuman dropped a piece of earth as he was carrying a mountain with his life-saving herb, Mrita Sanjivani, from the Himalayas to Lanka (Sri Lanka) during the epic Rama-Ravana war. This chunk of earth is called Marunthuvazh Malai, literally "hills where medicine lives". This is said to be the reason for the abundance of unique native medicinal plants in the area.

Description

Kanyakumari is India’s lands end. Kanyakumari is also known as Cape Comorin and lies at the southernmost tip of mainland India. The town is a popular destination for Indian pilgrims who come here to do ritual ablution in the sacred meeting point of the three great water bodies, Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It was also an area of great trade and commerce. It was ruled by the Cholas, the Cheras, the Pandyas and the Nayaks. Later it became a part of the Travancore Kingdom and remained under them till independence. In 1956 Kanyakumari district was joined to Tamilnad. Kanyakumari came into prominence when Swami Vivekananda travelled here and meditated on the last piece of Indian rock on Christmas eve, 1892. At Kanyakumari, Vivekananda had a “vision of one India” and went on to represent India at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago next year.