“Last station, Sir,” informs the conductor of the AC Coach of the Mumbai-Kanyakumari Express; and I realize that the two-and-a half journey from Trivandrum to Kanyakumari is over. A few foreigners and tourists are the only persons besides me who alight from the train on the otherwise empty platform. There is a counter of Hotel Samudra at the station; but I prefer the railway retiring room, as I have to take the train back at 4.40 in the morning the second day after. After a quick lunch in the cafeteria of the railway station, I look for a taxi or auto-rickshaw; but there is none. I am told that the beach is at a walking distance and that the road in front of the station will take me straight to it. However, on way I take a diversion to the left in order to see the Church of Our Lady of Ransom. It is an imposing edifice, a beautiful specimen of Gothic Roman architecture. It is 153 ft. high, 153 ft. long and 53 ft. broad. Atop the Church is a 10 ft. high golden cross. There is historic evidence of this Church having been visited by St. Thomas and St. Xavier.
The scene at the beach, especially at what is known as the ‘Triveni Sangam’, is enchanting. Here, as far as the gaze stretches, is an unending expanse of sea on three sides, the beach itself being a vast stretch of sand of varied hues. The waters of three oceans mingle here, and they are always in gentle turmoil, with sea waves lashing playfully against, and eddying around, huge rocks and boulders near the shore. The mild roaring of the sea greets you almost continually. It is of this scenic beauty that Gandhi wrote on 15th January 1937, “I am writing this at the Cape, in front of the sea, where three waters meet and furnish a sight unequaled in the world. For this is no Port of Call for vessels. Like the Goddess, the waters around are virgin”.
The Gandhi Memorial is one of the famous edifices that line the beach. Gandhiji had visited Kanyakumari in 1925 and 1937. The building is on the Orissa style of architecture (with one or two pillars reminding of a cathedral). It is so designed that, on the Mahatma’s birthday on 2nd October, the rays of the Sun, penetrating through a hole in the roof, fall exactly on the spot where his ashes were kept before immersion in the sea on 12th February, 1949. The chowkidar-cum-guide at the Memorial tells us that, despite the hole, rainwater does not seep through the roof.
Vivekananda Rock Memorial
The Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the statue of Saint Thiruvalluvar erected in the midst of the sea, adjacent to each other, largely dominate the scene from the beach. These can be reached by ferry services available between 8 AM and 4 PM. The Vivekananda Memorial stands on a rock some 200 meters off shore. On this rock, Swami Vivekanda had meditated for three days in 1892 (viz. the 25th, 26th and 27th of December) before his departure for Chicago to participate in the Parliament of Religions. During the meditation, he is said to have had a vision of India’s greatness and weaknesses and about his own mission. Says he, “Siiting in Mother Kumari’s Temple, sitting on the last bit of Indian Rock, I hit upon a plan”. On this very rock, Devi Kanya, or the Virgin Goddess, is also said to have done tapsya in order to win the hand of Lord Shiva, and the rock still bears the imprint of a human foot, which is revered as a religious symbol. Perhaps for this reason, Swamiji had been eager to meditate on this rock, so much so that without waiting for a boat to arrive, he swam up to the rock. The Rock Memorial was inaugurated in 1970 and is an architectural masterpiece, with the mandapam being similar to that of Shri Ramakrishna Temple at Belur, and the entrance having been designed on the style of the Ajanta and Ellora cave temples. In the main hall there is a life size bronze statue of Swamiji in his standing ‘parivrajak’ (wandering monk) posture. Adjoining the main hall is the dhyan mandapam where devotees can sit and meditate in a serene atmosphere.
Wandering Monk Exhibition
Across the road from the beach is a permanent exhibition of the Swamiji's life and wanderings, known as the Wandering Monk Exhibition, which can keep one fascinated for more than an hour. Detailed accounts of the wanderings and various anecdotes connected with them appear on the walls, beautifully illustrated with paintings. One such narration tells us how Vivekananda, as a young monk, while fleeing in fear from a pair of monkeys, was exhorted by a saint to 'face the brutes'. He did as advised and the monkeys ran away—an incident that was to determine Vivekananda's response to fears and challenges in the years to come. At the Wandering Monk Exhibition one also gets an opportunity to become a patron of the Vivekananda Kendra that carries out a number of humanitarian activities in different parts of India.
Devi Kamari Temple
The Devi Kumari Temple, situated on the seashore, is closely associated with the mythology of the place. The Devi stands as a charming young girl in Her penance with a rosary in Her right hand. The image is made of blue stone, and it is believed that it was installed by Sage Parasurama. The temple is open to the public from 4.30 AM to 11.45 AM and again from 4 PM to 8 PM. Men can enter the temple only if bare-shouldered.
Legend has it that Banasura, king of demons, had propitiated Brahma who granted him a boon that his death could only be at the hands of a virgin. Armed with the boon, the asura started harassing the Devas and torturing the saints and rishis, all of whom appealed to Mother Earth for help. She in turn approached Vishnu who is the Protector of the Universe. Parashakthi, in Her incarnation of the Virgin Goddess, was sent to Earth to destroy Banasura. Parashakthi, on coming of age, did penance to rejoin Lord Shiva, Her divine consort. Shiva agreed to the marriage and, on the appointed day, the bridegroom and His party started from Suchindram (near Kanyakumari). However the sage Narad, who was making arrangements for the marriage, was prompted by the Devas to prevent the marriage so that the Goddess could remain a virgin and thereby destroy Banasura. Narad deluded the marriage party into concluding that the auspicious time for the marriage was over, so that the party returned to Suchindram. The disappointed bride vowed to remain a virgin and all the items collected for the marriage turned into sand and rice-like pebbles. The multi-colour sand on the seashore at Kanyakumari is attributed to this incident.
Banasura, having heard of the beauty of Kumari, wanted to marry her, but she refused. The demon decided to win Her by force, and a fierce battle ensued, in which the Goddess slew Banasura with Her chakra.
Padmanabhapuram (45 km. from Kanyakumari) had been the capital of Travancore till 1798. I visited the place by taxi and found it a rewarding experience. Padmanabhapuram Palace is actually a palace complex comprising 14 palaces spread over an area of 6.5 acres. These are fine specimens of ancient Kerala architecture. What strikes one is the coolness and quietness of the interiors. Wood, laterite, burnt bricks and lime were used for construction. Traditional oil lamps provide light. The palace is enriched with wood carvings and murals of 17th and 18th century, and provides a glimpse into the lifestyles of the royal families of Travancore. We get to know the durbar hall where the king used to deliberate with his ministers, the large hall where the kings would feed the poor in charity, the royal bathrooms, the rooms reserved for foreign guests, and the courtyard where dancing girls used to perform on religious and ceremonial occasions. Furniture of the time is also on display in the palaces.
On way back from Padmanabhapuram, I saw the famous temple at Suchindram, 13 km. from Kanyakumari. This temple is venerated by both Vashnavites and Saivites. The deity is a single lingam known as Sthanumalya, representing the triple aspects of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. The temple is known for its 18ft. high statue of Hanuman, musical pillars, tall gopuram and architectural beauty.
Sunset & Sunrise
Kanyakumari is famous for its location at the southernmost tip of India and at the confluence of three seas—the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Thousands of tourists, round the year, are lured by the serene beauty of the place and of sunset and sunrise as seen here. Though sunrise can be viewed throughout the year, sunset is visible only between October 15 and March 15. But one can view both sunrise and sunset throughout the year from atop a hill called Murugan Kundaram, which offers a panoramic view of Kanyakumari. On full moon days, sunset and moonrise can be viewed almost simultaneously.
The gradual setting of the Sun in the western horizon offered a fascinating spectacle. As the Sun disappeared into the Arabian Sea, the sky could be seen in varied hues, ranging from oramge-yellow to grayish-white, the beauty above being reflected in the splendour of the swirling waves beneath.
Sunrise at Kanyakumari kept me mesmerized for the 10 to 15 minutes when it could be seen in full glory. The Sun appeared as a huge golden ball floating just above the sea in the eastern horizon. As the morning progressed, the Sun rose higher, giving out its familiar rays. The beach was thronged with visitors gathering since the early hours to have a glimpse of the enchanting sight.
© 2016 Sunil Mathur