Kanyakumari – The meeting point of three seas

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

If there is any spot in India where people from almost all parts of India keep converging throughout the year, it is definitely Kanniyakumari. Though I hate crowds and avoid crowded places, I was unusually thrilled to see people from North-East, West, East, North and South mulling around in the southern tip of India. I was also amused to hear a cacophony of different Indian languages at the same time. Should I mention that foreign tourists are also attracted to this point! Welcome to Kanniyakumari(KK for short)!

Kanniyakumari (this is the correct Tamil spelling)has the distinction of being the southern tip of Indian subcontinent. It is so uniquely placed that it is claimed as the only place on earth where one can witness both the sunrise and sunset. Further, it is the only place in India that provides the simultaneous spectacle of sunset and moonrise on the same horizon. Such a spectacular view on ‘Chitra pournami’ (Vaisakhfull moon in April-May) evening is furthermore splendid. In addition, the confluence of Arabian Sea (on the West), Bay of Bengal (on the East) and Indian Ocean (on the South) makes it religiously significant as Triveni Sangam, like Allahabad where three rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and the mystic Saraswathi – meet. A saffron flag fluttering at this point some distance into the sea stresses this Hindu religious connection.  Devout Hindus take a sacred dip at this ghat. As we stood at the Triveni Sangam mesmerised, the waves splashed droplets and blessed us. Geographically though the confluence area is called Laccadive Sea.

But it all depends on your luck - provided the clouds do not mar the view! Therefore, we decided to stay in KK for two days,hoping to witness clear sunrise at least on one morning.  And it so happened that on the first morning it was initially cloudy but cleared a bit much later. So it was only 50% satisfaction. On the second morning, however, it was marvelous. We could attend only one sunset show which was completely screened off by naughty and adamant clouds. Though we chose the full moon occasion to visit KK, the clouds simply refused to budge till late night, despite our pleadings. The hotel people take advantage of tourists’ desire to view sunrise, sunset and moon rise, and charge heftily; hotels with terrace view of sunrise or sunset are much in demand as you neednot take the trouble of going down to the beach front at dawn. Again, rooms with a view of either sunrise or sunset are the ultimate desire of tourists, as you need not undergo the trouble of even getting up from the bed! But you have to shell out a much higher rate.  Because of this business aspect, hotel buildings are vertically going up and further up, competing with each other. Again, if it is holiday season or weekend, rates go up and further up, as we found landing there during Onam holidays. It is a shame that though I am in Chennai for more than 30 years, I never took the effort to witness sunrise from the world-famous Marina Beach.  With the beach front some 15 kms away from my house, I am lazy to get up by 4 AM sacrificing early morning sleep. And, after taking all that trouble, who knows how my luck would be? Hence we chose a hotel in KK with a terrace view and were suitably rewarded on the second day morning.

But please note that Kanniyakumari is not India’s Land’s End. That claim goes to Indira Point that lies in Great Nicobar Island of Andaman & Nicobar Union Territory.  While KK dips into the sea waters at 8.08°N latitude, Indira Point is further down south at 6°45’10?N latitude. Indira Point was formerly known as Parsons Pygmalion Point. I was fortunate to visit with determination this pride of Point in 1979. So, while KK is the southern tip of contiguous/peninsular India/ and even Indian subcontinent as a whole, Indira Point is the ultimate southernmost point of Indian soil.

                Kanniyakumari was a very old harbour city where civilization thrived 4000 years ago. Now it is just a fishing town.Existence of prehistoric culture here is evident from the discovery of Neolithic Celt (characteristic New Stone Age tool, a polished stone ax or adz head) dated to 1500 to 1000 B.C.A handmade coarse earthen jar and other relics were found near Thoothur Village in KK District. The shape, fabric and decorations indicate that they are probably of the megalithic or early historic period. As the relics of this period remained in the sea bed, it is assumed that this civilization was wiped out due to sea erosion or Tsunami, because the Tamil equivalent ‘aazhi’ (sea) ‘peralai’ (massive wave) is in vogue since ages in Tamil literature.

Till 1956 Kanniyakumari district was part of the erstwhile Travancore Kingdom. It was on 1stNovember 1956 during reorganization of States on linguistic basis that four Taluks (Thovalai, Agastheeswaram, Kalkulam, Vilavancode) were grouped together to form the new district of “Kanniyakumari” of Tamil Nadu with Nagercoil as its headquarters. This was after much struggle by Tamil people and sacrifice of life. As is their wont, the British rulers stylishly called it Cape Comorin, distorting the original name. KKdistrict is the smallest in Tamil Nadu (1672/Sq.Km.) witha high density of population (1119/Sq.Km.) next only to Chennai, and stands first in literacy rate. KK district has vast stretches of green paddy fields, coconut groves, and rubber plantations with hill ranges of Western Ghats adding additional beauty. It has a coastal line of 71.5 kms surrounding its three sides. It is well connected with rest of India by road and rail and two nearest airports areThiruvananthapuram110 km and Tuticorin in TN 105 Kms.

Localsightseeing includes ferry trips to Vivekananda Rock Memorial and statue of Saint Poet Thiruvalluvar; as soon as we landed, we straightaway went for this because the service depends on weather & wave conditions. Despite my plans, the low tide condition scuttled our visit to Thirualluvar statue. One can visit Gandhi Mandapam, Museum, Churches, etc. Nearby tourist spots include Chitharal Jain rock cut temple (45 km), Thirparappu water falls 55 km., Padmanabhapuram wooden palace 55km, Mathoor Hanging Trough Bridge, the tallest as well as the longest trough bridge in Asia (115 feet height and one kilometer long, constructed in 1966), and temples in Nagercoil and Suchindram in particular.

At the Triveni confluence point is the 3000-year-old Kanniyakumari Bhagavathi Amman Temple, one among the 108 Shakthi Peethas,dedicated to Virgin Goddess Kanniyakumari. Devi stands facing Eastin penance as a charming kanni (virgin)kumari (young girl) with rosary in her right hand. The idol is believed to have been installed by Sage Parasuram. Her glittering nose ring is so brilliant that it resembles a bright beacon. Mistaking it for a lighthouse a ship turned course and was a wreck. The mast of the ship was seen near the shore till the Tsunami of 2004 washed it away. Because of such incidents, the eastern gate of the temple remains closed except on five festival days in a year. The regular entry to the temple is through its northern gate. Though the temple is in Tamil Nadu, because of its Travancore (Kerala) connection the worship rituals are of Kerala style.

Kanniyakumari is abundant with shops that tempt tourists with items made of shell, wood, palmairah leaf, etc. Despite our self-imposed ban, we could not help falling in love with an enticing bronze idol of Lord Padmanabha for Rs. 2800. Red and black colour mineral beach sand of Kanniyakumari is also a memento. After all, is not KK the southern soil of Indian subcontinent!

Visiting this spot on 15th January 1937, Gandhiji praised it thus “I am writing this at the Cape, in front of the sea, where three waters meet and furnish a sight unequalled in the world. For this is noport of call for vessels. Like the Goddess, the waters around are virgin.”

This was my hat trick visit to Kanniyakumari! The first was as a school kid; the second was after two decades with my kid son. This, the third one, was after another three years. I have aged but Kanniyakumari seems ageless; it fascinates every time one visits the place. Thriving mainly on tourism, it is the meeting point of three seas and humanity.