Who would not wish to see the farthermost point of mainland India in the South and visit Kanyakumari, the site of one of the most popular and famous pilgrim centres in the country? Located at the southernmost end of the India Peninsula, right at the point of confluence of three seas, namely the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, Kanyakumari has captured the imagination of millions of Hindus all over the world. Earlier known as Cape Comorin and today rechristened as Kanyakumari after the temple of the Virgin Goddess, Kumari Amman, Kanyakumari has been a cradle of civilisation since very early times. The Cholas, the Cheras, the Pandyas and the Nayaks who ruled the land contributed to the growth of temple culture and traditions in this part of the country. Rightly known as the Alexandria of the East, it is noted for its marvellous beaches, having sands of different colours, red, black and white in a unique mixture and spectacular sun rises, sun sets and moon rises blazing over the horizon.
Places of interest in Kanyakumari
Kumari Amman Temple
The ancient shrine, overlooking the shore, known as Kumari Amman Temple is an important landmark dedicated to the Virgin Goddess Devi who is believed to be one of the incarnations of Parvati and protector of shores of the country. She is symbol of sanctity. According to a legend, Devi practised tapasya (penance) to marry her consort Lord Siva but owing to some misfortune, the wedding did not take place and she vowed to remain a virgin (kanya). One can even see the footprints of Devi Kanyakumari on a rock called ?Sri Paadha Parai? in the Vivekananda Rock Memorial Complex. It is believed that Devi was wearing earrings set with rubies which were so sparkling and bright that they could be seen from afar at night and some ships sailing in the sea mistook this bright light as coming from the light house and went off course and hit the rocks nearby and were wrecked. In view of this, the eastern gate of the temple is kept closed. Gents who want to enter the temple are required to remove their upper garments. The shrine is open from 04.30 am to 12.15 pm and from 04.00 pm to 08.15 pm.
Vivekananda Rock Memorial
The Vivekananda Rock Memorial is another important must-see destination in Kanyakumari. This memorial was constructed on one of the twin rocks jutting out from the sea about 200 metres offshore, in 1970 in the memory of great Indian philosopher and spiritual leader Vivekananda who preached the religion of the mind and the power of meditation. The memorial can be reached by ferry. Ferry services are provided by Poompuhar Shipping Corporation Ltd at the rate of Rs 20 per adult.
Swami Vivekananda, a simple monk and patriot saint of modern India and a devotee of the Devi, swam out to the rock and sat in long and deep meditation on one of the rocks for three days in 1892. The design of the mandapa incorporates different styles of architecture from all over India. The memorial also has a statue of Vivekananda. Spending of about half an hour in complete silence in the meditation hall in the quite and serene atmosphere of visible darkness is in itself an exhilarating and enlightening experience. No wonder, people from all over the world come here and meditate. People also come to see Sri Paadha Parai, the footprints of the Devi where she did her penance on the rock. The entry fee to the memorial is Rs 10 per adult.
Another spot of attraction and veneration is the 133-feet high granite statue of Thiruvalluvar, the Tamil poet-saint and a man of profound knowledge and extensive learning, constructed on a rock in mid-sea off the shore, situated adjacent to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. Built on the lines of the ?Statue of Liberty? in America, it is the result of the craftsmanship of over 500 sculptors under the guidance of Dr Ganapathi Sthapathy. It was inaugurated on January 1, 2000. This modern-day architectural marvel is faithful to Dravidian sculptural details. The poet-saint Thiruvalluvar and the precepts of his immortal work Thirukkural demand detailed description in another piece.
Located on the shoreline of the beach along the Arabian Sea are the grand and imposing monuments known as Gandhi Mandapam and Kamaraj Memorial and are worth a visit.
No piece on Kanyakumari can be complete without referring to the monumental work done and services being rendered by Vivekananda Kendra and its staff to spread the Vedic message of universal brotherhood. Vivekanandapuram campus is the headquarters of Vivekananda Kendra. It is spread over 100 acres and is a natural spiritual retreat. It has lodging and boarding facilities for up to 1,000 people at a given time. It has a library, beach, Vivekananda pictorial exhibition and a school. The Kendra is engaged in many social and spiritual activities and organises yoga classes in the campus. It also has samadhi of Shri Eknathji Ranade under whose over-all guidance the magnificent Vivekananda Rock Memorial was built.
In the vicinity of Kanyakumari is Suchindram (13 km). Here the Sthanumalayan Temple to dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma. It is a repository of art treasure. Musical pillars and huge 18-feet high Hanuman statue are proof of the artistic skill of 9th Century AD. It has a unique bas-relief carving of Vainayaki (female Vinayaka). It is open from 4.30 am to 11 am and 5 pm to 8 pm.
The nearest airport is Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), 90 km away Kanyakumari is connected by rail and road with most of the cities in the country.
Trains: Trivandrum (87 km, 2.30 hrs), Bangalore (942 km, 20 hrs), Chennai via Madurai (738 km, 16 hrs), Chennai via Trivandrum (1,008 km, 21 hrs), Delhi (3,143 km, 55 hrs), Jammu (3,734 km, 72 hrs).
(The writer can be contacted at 660/10, Krishna Colony, Gurgaon-122001.)