‘Lourdes of the East’ – this small thatched hut chapel of the 16 Century was turned from a parish church on 3rd November 1962 into a Basilica, it was blessed by none other than Pope John XXIII. This Basilica is our country’s biggest Catholic pilgrimage center which sees 20 million pilgrims a year.
Like the world’s greatest country of assimilation of all faiths, culture, beliefs and ideas – i.e., India . . . the pilgrims who folk to this reverend place are not devote Christians but people of all faiths – Hindus, Muslims & Christians. 29th August to 8th September each year witnesses a feast to honour the lady of Good Health. 2 million people are in attendance at the feast. One can witness the feverent faith those days! Velankani also is connected to Karnataka in its own natural way – River Cauvery flows through this holy town as its distributary known as the Vellaiyar and mixes with the sea – the bay of Bengal, ending its journey of 765 kms. The church official website is detailed and helpful -www.VelankanniChurch.com
Velankani once a trading post with the Roman and Greek empires lost it’s importance to Nagapattinam. Nagapattinam spelt earlier as Negapatnam or Nagapatnam is a town which came into prominence between the 9 & 12th century – during the period of Cholas and was a Srilankan settlement town of Buddhist importance. This town was ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Nagapattinam became the capital of Tanjore district under the Madras Presidency of British rule. This region is well connected by road, rail and the sea. There’s a Nagore dargha for the Islamic people of faith. The Kayarohanaswami and Soundryarajaperumal temple cater to the Hindus and the Velankani Basilica 12 kms away caters to the christains and people of all religions and faith. Nagapattinam is also a tourist base for further travel. People of all faith express solidarity, understanding and participation in each others ritual and religious occasions here. They live in peace and harmony.
3 miracles hold the faith in Velankani. The appriations of Mother Mary and the Christ child who made the appearance in 1570 & 1597AD and took a glass of milk from a Hindu boy… the second curing another crippled boy for a glass of buttermilk and requesting a wealthy Catholic rich man to build a Chapel. Further more during the mid 16 century a few merchant Portuguese sailors were rescued from a violent strom. On landing safe on to the shores here, these sailors prayed at this simple thatched chapel and vowed they would build a great chruch on this ground. On every subsequent trips to this land criss-crossing their voyages, they built this chapel… which has taken shape to a reverend temple of healing, the savior mother – the Basilica of our Lady of Good Health! The safe landing by the sailors being September 8th, marks the festival for a period of 11 days – a reverend time of thanksgiving.
The Basilica has three churches adjacent a beautiful sunrise beach and is open from sunrise to noon and sunset to a few hours of service. However the main Basilica ground floor is open to pilgrims and tourists alike. It’s serene and envokes a passionate positive energy when one steps into it. The towers are Portuguese style titled steep steeples. The altar is built by the Portuguese sailors with tiles from China incorporating Indian designs and motifs. This Basilica runs – a home for the aged, challenged, hospital, schools, meditation center and a priest’s college of higher learning.
26th December 2004 nearly wiped out every one at the coast of Velankani and Nagapattinam. The Tsunami has left deep scars in this region. Nagapattinam was the worst hit place on the Indian coast of bay of Bengal. . .the number of people lost to Tsunami in India was 8009 and here 6004 of the 8009 people perished into the watery grave. Velankani Basilica here too saw a miracle, when the Tsunami hit Velankani at around 9 am, the Malayalam mass was going on. All the people in the Basilica escaped the wrath of Tsunami and escaped the watery grave. The people on the beaches, the shops and people outside lost their lives to this natural disaster. A lot of people from the town rushed into this highground church and were saved.
Faith it is said can move mountains. A lot of people owe their belief to the lady of good health and make vows of all kinds… to grant them good wishes, wants, desires to good health. This small town is embedded deep in the hearts of all people from India & abroad – wishes and wants are answered. The scars of Tsunami are evident among the living folk too. . . It’s very painful to see and hear the bitterness of their losing their loved ones. Each family has a story to tell.
Velankani is 350 kms from Chennai (Madras) and 485 kms from Bangalore. The ECR or the East Coast Road is a good drivable one. It’s well connected by rail too. There are enough connecting trains and buses to Nagapattinam – another port town of Tamilnadu 12 kms away. There’s a exclusively weekly train from Goa catering to the Catholic population out there. Tiruchinapaly is another town closeby which is 4 hours away. The closest airport is Chennai and Tiruchinapaly.
Let’s keep the faith – and life keeps rolling!
-Jagdeesh Laxman Singh
aka Jugie Singh
Text & Photography