The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, September 16, 2001

Kanyakumari: Not just land’s end
Usha Bande

I stood on the tiny beach in Kanyakumari, watching the waves at their playful best, when suddenly I felt overwhelmed as a thought flashed across the mind: Wasn’t I standing at the feet of Mother India? It is understandable if one were to be emotional. Kanyakumari is not just the land’s end; it is different things to different people. It is the symbol of our cultural solidarity. To the naturalist and the geologist, Kanyakumari means the confluence of the three waters -a the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian sea and the Indian Ocean; to the devout, it is one of the significant places of pilgrimage; to the tourist, it is an enchanting tourist centre; and to the secularist, it signifies all that India stands for. Kanyakumari symbolises history, religion, legend, myth and the modern rational approach.

Church of Our Lady of Ransom, protectress of fisherfolk
Church of Our Lady of Ransom, protectress of fisherfolk

History has it that king Bharat, the son of Shakuntala and king Dushyant had sent his daughter ‘Kumari’ to the southern-most part of his kingdom to look after and manage the state affairs. Since it was ruled over by Kumari it came to be called Kumari Nadu and the city she lived in became Kumarinpadi (the abode of Kumari). The name Kanyakumari, therefore, abides.

However, according to our mythology it was at Kanyakumari, that goddess Parvati sat in penance to obtain Lord Shiva as her husband. That the daughter of king Himalayas should choose to go to the South, to the tip of the Indian peninsula from her snowy abode, speaks volumes of the cultural and geographical unity of the country. A beautiful temple dedicated to Devi Kumari is one of the sacred spots here, from which the name Kanyakumari is derived.


The huge surrounding wall erected in recent years around Kanyakumari Temple has darkened the interior, but that has not diminished the charm of the exquisite sculpture and the beauty of the idols. Another ‘sign of the Devi’s presence, is the human foot-print on a boulder on the Vivekanand Rock. Geologists contend that once the Rock was a part of the mainland. Many believers assert that the present Devi Kumari temple was on the present Vivekanand Rock, at the site of the foot-mark. When geological forces cut off the rock from the mainland and the sea intruded between the rock and the shore, the temple was shifted to the mainland where it stands today.

South-east of the Kumari temple, there lie, in mid-sea two rocks, popularly known as ‘Vivekanand Rocks’ . The rocks are separated from each other by a distance of 220 feet. The Vivekanand Rock, spacious and almost flat, is situated at a distance of about 200 metres from the tapering end of the mainland. Swami Vivekanand sat on this rock in a state of Samadhi for three days to attain enlightenment. That was at the end of 1892 before his departure to Chicago (USA) to participate in the Parliament of Religions in 1893, where he delivered his historic speech.

The statue of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar under construction
The statue of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar under construction

When as a young mendicant ,Vivekanand come to Kanyakumari in search of knowledge, he was just a penniless Sanyasi, standing on the shore and watching the rock-projection intently, which he had chosen for his meditation. So intense was his urge that he could hardly wait for some boat to carry him there. He jumped into the frothing sea and swam the distance of 450 yards braving the angry waves. With great joy he landed on the secluded rock. The ocean tossed and stormed about him and he sat in mediation trying to quell the storm within. For three days he sat there, unmoved by the raging seas, in deep mediation. On the fourth day, he saw the light of Jnana - the illumination. This moment of spiritual realisation lit his path and displayed to him his mission in life. Since then, he dedicated his life to anunciating to the world India’s great message. This transformation of the simple monk into a great master-builder of the nation and leader of the youth, is commemorated by the Vivekanand Rock Memorial conceived in 1962 and constructed and inaugurated on September.2, 1970.

The memorial built in blue granite is silhouetted against the eastern sky. It looks wonderful at sun-rise when it radiates the glorious golden rays; it has a pink and orange effect at sunset, and at night its neon lights rising and falling with waves, weave a magic spell. The memorial has traditional sesigns depicting Gandharvas, floral designs, lotus and peacocks, swans and other motifs. The chiselled Jali windows speak of the art of the sculptors. One of the most impressive features is the Purna Kumbha motif on the rear beam of the Mukha Mandapam. A Kumbha (pitcher), flanked by elephants with uplifted trunks, is a traditional symbol of auspiciousness and prosperity. The Memorial is neat and clean. Tranquillity prevails in the area despite the constant inflow of tourists, the horns of the ferries and the unceasing music of the waves. In the main hall, there is an impressive statue of Swamiji, while the nearby temple enshrines the foot-mark of the Goddess. The meditation hall is calm and has a sanctity of is own. One cannot help look ing at it oneself, sitting cross-legged in the encircling peace. When one comes out and stands on the open terrace, one is awed by the vastness of the ocean and caressed by the sea-breezes. The totality of experience is one of reverence, awe and wonder.

On the smaller rock, a huge statue of Thiruvalluvar, the Tamil poet is nearing completion. The 133 ft. high statue provides and architectural delight as it rises over the rock amid the dancing blue waves. The ferry service to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial stops a while at the Thiruvalluvar rock.

On the shore on the mainland of Kanyakumari the Gandhi Mandapam is constructed at the spot where the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were kept for public view before a portion of is was immersed into the three seas. The Mandapam ascertains the secular vision of India. The Government Museum, a church and Gugnantha Swami temple are other attractions of Kanyakumari. The Gugnantha Swami temple is 1000 year old and was built by Raja Raja Chola.

It is believed that Kanyakumari is one of the most significant of our Tirthas. An ablution in the sea is called Pap Vinanasham, and is as sacred as the Ganga in Kashi. Legend has it that Indra, the king of Gods, had bathed at Kanyakumari to wash off the effect of the curse of Rishi Gautam. The confluence of the three seas is considered sacred.

What fascinates a tourist is the enchanting beauty of the blue waters around, the tiny beach and a walk on the shore, with the sea breeze taking away your fatigue. The sun illuminates the sea and as the sun goes down the westen horizon, the temple bells ring, the waves start rising and the atmosphere is charged with joy. It is almost ecstacy that one experiences. You bow your head in reverence and feel peace within. If it is Chaitra Purnima, With the sun and the moon face to face, you are just transported into another world. One cannot but feel proud to be an inheritor of this unique heritage the confluence of religion, spirituality, natural beauty and history.