Last weekend, I went to a city in the hinterlands of Southern India to explore modern, ancient as well as religious history. The town has a rich history and I do not think that there is any other place in India that is so strategically located in the middle of rich historical sites where you, not only feel nostalgic, but these sites take you thousands of years back in the history…

  • Do you know which city is called the “City of Pearls” in India?
  • Do you know which city is the Salt Capital of Tamil Nadu?
  • Do you know which city in India has a “Bay” named after it ?
  • Do you know which city has the one of the oldest seaports in the world?
  • Do you know which city has 9 Navathirupathi Temples around it?
  • Do you know which city was ruled by Dutch, Portuguese and British over a period of time and has a Basilica church which is more than 400 years old?

Well, the name of the city is Tuticorin also known as Thoothukudi. It is situated in Tamil Nadu state in India and is about 540 km from Chennai and 125 km from Kanyakumari. The place is well connected with buses from various cities, trains as well as 2 daily flights from Chennai. From Bangalore and Chennai, there are many sleeper buses every day and there is a daily train “Pearl City Express” from Chennai that leaves the city around 7pm and arrives at Tuticorin around 7.00am. Similarly from Tuticorin, the same train leaves at around 7pm and arrives at Chennai next day at 7am.

Tuticorin is called Pearl City because of its rich history of pearl fishery and pearl farming potential. Cultured pearls were produced in India long ago but success was achieved only in the 70s, when spherical pearls were produced in Tuticorin. India is endowed with the natural resource of pearl oyster in the Gulf of Mannar and the Pearls from this area are famous throughout the world as orient pearls.

It is also one of the major seaports in India with a history dating back to the 6th century AD. The city is said to have been ruled by the Early Pandyas, Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Later Pandyas, Ma'bar Sultanate, Tirunelveli Sultanate, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Chanda Sahib, Carnatic kingdom, Portuguese, Dutch and the British. Thoothukudi was settled by the Portuguese, Dutch and later by the British East India Company. It is also known as Salt Capital of Tamil Nadu as it is biggest producer of Salt.

Me and my friend took a night sleeper bus from Bangalore on a Friday night and reached early Saturday morning at Tuticorin.

Day 1

After checking in the lodge, we hired a cab to take us around. We started with Murugan Swamy Temple[1] at Thiruchendur which is dedicated to the Lord Muruga. The temple is one of the six major abodes of Lord Muruga. It is presumed that the original structure of this temple was created about 1000 years back and has been renovated over a period of time. This temple is the largest temple among all the temples built by saints as it has been constructed by three holy saints. It is one of the largest (by area) as well as most visited temple complexes in India. This temple is the fourth Hindu temple in Tamil Nadu to get ISO certification. The temple has been built on the shores of Bay of Bengal is just within 200 meters sea line. It is an outstanding example for the Dravidian temple architecture as well as extreme civil engineering of Ancient times.

Same day we covered all the 9 Navathirupathi temples along with vanathirupathi temple though we were not lucky at some of the temples as the doors had closed by the time we reached there. We were told that these temples are more than thousand year old and are managed by one of the Indian industrial house TVS group. I think that this is one practice that can be replicated for other monuments as well. I must say that all the temples were pretty well maintained.

Navathirupathi Temples is a set of nine Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu located in Tiruchendur-Tirunelveli route in the banks of Thamiraparani River. All these 9 temples are classified as "Divya Desams" i.e. the 108 temples of Vishnu. Divya Desams refer to the 108 Vishnu temples that are mentioned in the works of the Tamil saints. Divya means "holy" and Desam indicates "place" (temple). Of the 108 temples, 105 are in India, one is in Nepal, and two are supposedly outside the Earthly realms.

The following is the list of the 9 Nava Thirupathi temples and these are located around river Thamirabarani -

  • Sri Mayakoothar Temple - Thirukkulandhai, Perunkulam
  • Makara Nedunkuzhai Kannan Temple, Then Thirupperai
  • Rettai Tirupathi - South Temple, Tholaivillimangalam
  • Rettai Tirupathi North Temple, Tholaivillimangalam
  • Vaithamanidhi Perumal Temple - Thirukolur
  • Adhinaatha Perumal Temple - Thirukkurugur (Azhwar Thirunagari)
  • Kaaisinavendhan Temple - Thiruppulinkudi
  • Vijayaasana Perumal Temple - Thiru Varagunamangai (Natham)
  • Sri Vaikuntanatha (Kallapiran) Temple - Sri Vaikuntam

One thing that I could not fail to notice was nowhere there was even a single board showing the name of the temple along with the brief history of the temple in English language. My suggestion to the temple authorities is that if they could put at least one board in English with name of the temple as well as brief history, it will be very helpful to person like me who does not understand the local language and so does many other tourists

Day 2

I started early morning for a walk around to get a feel of the town. While walking on East Coast Road, I saw Sivan Kovil temple which is believed to be centuries old. Further down the road, there was a Sacred Heart Cathedral, a magnificent building brimming with people coming to offer prayers as it was a Sunday. After spending some time in the campus, I then headed straight to reach the Beach Road near Madura Coats factory where on right hand side was the “Church of Our Lady of Snows” which celebrated the 400th anniversary in 1982 when it was raised to the status of Basilica.

After this I returned to the lodge and we left for Tirunelveli in Bus. It is about 1 hour journey away or roughly about 50Km. After reaching Tirunelveli, we headed straight to Nellaiappar Templep[2]. It is a twin temple dedicated to Goddess Parvathi (Kanthimathi Ammai) and Lord Shiva (Nellaiyappar). It is said that this is one of the five temples where Lord Shiva displayed his dance. The Temple is situated in the middle of the city on the banks of river Thamirabarani. The temple dates back to 7th century AD. The temple has a huge campus and is an architectural marvel like all other ancient temples. One unique thing about the temple is its musical pillars and a 1000 pillared hall. This is the biggest Shiva temple in Tamil Nadu.

The other attraction of Tirunelveli is a shop exactly opposite temple which is famous for its sweet dish item called Iruttukadai Halwa. This is an Indian sweet dish made with Wheat, sugar and Ghee. The shop is at least half a century old. I think I will not be wrong if I say that Tirunelveli is also known for Iruttukadai Halwa. The shop opens only at 5:30 PM in the evening and remains open for an hour and a half or till all the halwa is sold out. We were told that halwa bought from Iruttukadai shop doesn’t get spoilt even for 2-3 weeks. In fact, the people say that it tastes better after a week. There is no sign board for this shop. If you see any shop with a sign board, rest assured that it is not the original Iruttukadai shop. As they say this is the most celebrated shop of the town but doesn’t have a name board.

After moving around in the campus of the temple clicking pictures and enjoying the rich architecture, we left for return journey to Tuticorin. After reaching back, we headed straight to beach opposite Madura Coats factory to watch the setting sun. Later, we left for Bangalore and reached Monday morning well in time to start our day at respective offices.

During this trip, we could not cover the 9 Navakailasam temples. If we had rushed the things, we could have covered them on Day 2. However, we also wanted to have the feel of the city and savor the flavour of this ancient town and therefore we slowed down and did not rush through.

The following are the 9 Navakailasam temples

  • Pananaasam - Sri Papanasa Nathar Temple - Suriyan
  • Cheran Mahadevi - Sri Kailasa Nathar Temple - Chandran
  • Kodaganallur - Sri Kailasa Nathar Temple - Chevvai
  • Kunnathur - Sri Kotha Parameswarar Temple - Raghu
  • Murappanadu - Sri Kailasa Nathar Temple - Guru
  • Srivaikundam - Sri Kailasa Nathar Temple - Sani
  • Thenthirupperai - Sri Kailasa Nathar Temple - Budhan
  • Raajapathy - Sri Kailasa Nathar Temple - Kethu
  • Saendha Poomangalam - Sri Kailasa Nathar Temple - Sukran

Do plan a trip to Tuticorin if you are looking for a religious or historical trip… if you are traveling to Bangalore and/or Chennai. One weekend is sufficient to cover the place. I am sure this brush with history will give you huge memories to carry back with you.

My suggestion to State Tourism Authorities are:

  1. Please put at least one board at each of the temple which gives name of the temple as well as brief history of the temple in English.
  2. Can authorities make the temple opening and closing time uniform across all the temples so that people can plan easily? Currently some temples close at 6.00pm while some others at 7.00 or 8.00pm.
  3. Develop and connect "Tuticorin Airport" with direct flights from major cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata so that people like me can have a direct landing in hinterland of the state and be part of rich history... or I would rather say a "back to the future" experience.

[1]Murugan Swamy Temple on Wikipedia
[2]Nellaiappar Temple on Wikipedia