Kanyakumari is indeed a unique place – the Land’s End of India where the three mighty oceans – the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea mingle their waters and roar in an incessant paean of praise to the divine. The Divine Mother chose this special place at the very tip of the peninsula of India for her special abode. She is the virgin goddess - Kanya Kumari, who came to stay here centuries back. In course of time the place came to be known by her name.
One of the fascinating things about this place which makes it not only a pilgrim centre but a tourist spot, is the fact that here at the tip of the holy land of Bharat one can watch the setting sun and the rising moon at the same time. This is an unbelievable scene especially if we are lucky enough to be there on a good day when the sky is clear. Another interesting thing is that we can see the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening from the same spot. The confluence of the three oceans as well as this phenomenon of the sun rise and sun set are said to give special spiritual vibrations to this place. It is a unique experience to watch the three oceans beating on the rocks and watch the sun set and moon rise at the same time.
The story of how the goddess chose this place is a most interesting one. The great king, Bharata who ruled the entire land of Bharat (ancient name for India), in ancient times, was the one who gave his name to the country. He had eight daughters and one son. He divided the country into nine equal parts and gave the southern portion to his beautiful and youngest daughter – Kumari. She was the incarnation of the Divine Mother and had taken birth at the bequest of the gods in order to kill the demon, Banasura who had been given a boon by Shiva that only a virgin could kill him. However she forgot her mission and fell in love with Shiva, the Lord of Kailasa. He agreed to marry her for after all she was, Parvati, his consort through eternity. A date was fixed for the wedding.
As for the goddess she waited in vain. Morn came and still there was no sign of her bridegroom. She was both unhappy and angry and upturned all the vessels containing the various food articles which had been prepared for the banquet. These are supposed to have calcified into the sand and pebbles on the beach. Even today you can see grains of sand looking like rice, pebbles looking like lentils and different coloured gravel and stones resembling many types of food articles. Kumari returned to her penance and vowed to remain a virgin – “kanya” forever.
Asuras are noted for their eye for beauty and Banasura soon came to know of the existence of this fascinating female at the tip of the country. He came to see her for himself and was totally captivated by her beauty and begged her to marry him. She said that she had vowed to marry only the one who could defeat her in battle. The demon was delighted to hear this since he was sure that he could overcome her easily. He drew his sword and rushed at her but she took on her terrible form as Kali, holding a trident and slew him easily. Thus the gods had their way. But Kumari was determined to remain a virgin forever and continued with her penance.
The origin of the temple is hidden in the hoary annals of the history of our land. There are many versions as to who was the first to consecrate her at this particular spot. One story claims that it was Parasurama, the sixth incarnation of Vishnu who was supposed to have retrieved the land mass known as Kerala from the sea by throwing his axe into it. He begged the goddess to take her place there at the tip of Bharat forever and thus guard the holy land from all harm. The other story gives this honour to the great sage Agastya who is noted for the amazing deeds he did in South India. Apparently the sage desired to have a vision of Kali as a young girl and she was pleased to accede to his request and appeared in the form of Kanya Kumari – an enchanting young maid.
|Swami Vivekananda Memorial|
However since the temple has been mentioned in the Mahabharata it is to be supposed that it is actually much older than the 3rd century. During the Mahabharata war, Balarama, the elder brother of Krishna did not wish to participate in the war and decided to go on a pilgrimage. This is mentioned as being one of the temples that he visited. This temple is also said to be one of the hundred and eight “Durgalayas” or temples dedicated to Durga. A 1st century book called “Periplus of the Erythrian Sea” carries a reference to Kanyakumari which was apparently a famous pilgrim centre even at that time. However the present temple was built in the 8th century y the Pandyan kings of Madurai and renovated and added to by the Cholas. She was the family deity of the Pandyan royal family. The temple is replete with many inscriptions both on the inner walls and on the pillars which proclaim its antiquity. A lot of valuable historical information can be got from these inscriptions.
The main shrine is located right on the ocean front and the goddess faces east towards the sea. However the main entrance is to the north. Before entering the temple, devotees take a dip in the triveni sangam (confluence of the three waters). Such confluences of rivers and oceans are considered to have high spiritual vibrations. It is also an auspicious place for doing the last rites for the dead.
The idol of the goddess is one of the most enchanting ones which we can ever see. The double row of prayer beads clasped in her right hand proclaims her to be an eternal anchorite. However she is always fabulously attired and adorned with garlands and necklaces. The lustre of her diamond nose ornament dazzles the eye of all who look at it. At one time the doorway to the east facing the sea used to be left open and apparently many ships mistaking the light coming from this jewel for a light house came and crashed on the rocks. Since then the door has been closed and is opened only five times during the year on special occasions. Some say that this diamond is actually the famous Orloff diamond of Europe! Others claim that at some period of time, pirates came and stole many of the jewels including the diamond nose ring and the present one is a substitute made by one of the kings. Whatever the truth of these various claims, it is a fact that even today we can’t help but be dazzled by the brilliance of her nose ring which is highlighted by the various oil lamps which are lit in the sanctum. In fact it is a real delight to sit in front of her and drink in her amazing beauty.
|Kanya kumari Temple|
Even though the temple now comes under the state of Tamilnadu, the priests are still chosen from the Brahmin families of Kerala and they still adhere to the Kerala type of five pujas per day.
The most spectacular festival here is the Navaratri or nine days of worship of the divine mother in the month of September\October. This is the time when the Devi clashed with the demon Banasura. The tenth day is known as Viyajayadasami, or the tenth day of victory and the goddess is taken on a silver horse in a procession to a place called Mahadanapuram which is eleven kilometres from the temple. Here the priests enact the battle between her and the demon much to the delight of the devotees.
In the twentieth century another historical event took place in this most spiritual place. Swami Vivekananda, the great devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, the sage of Bengal came to this place and paid homage at Kumari’s feet. He was filled with a divine energy which propelled him to swim across the turbulent waters of the sea and cross to a rock on which he sat in deep contemplation for three days. This rock is now known as Vivekananda rock. The clear imprint of the Devi’s foot is also to be found here. It was from the feet of the virgin mother that he found the inspiration for his future work in India. Needless to say this is a unique place that has attracted many saints and sages from all over the land throughout the ages.
It is easily accessible both by road and rail. One can fly to Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala and then take a car to the temple. There are many other interesting places worth visiting en route like the ancient palace of Marthanda Varma which is noted for its unique Kerala architecture and the Shiva temple of Suchindram which has been mentioned earlier.
Thus Kanyakumari is the pride of India, guarding the entrance to the holy land from the south. Undisturbed by the ebb and flow of the seas as well as of the fortunes of humankind, the eternal virgin beckons us to perpetual beatitude.