46. For Those Blessings

@Velankanni, Tamil Nadu, India.

A journey to Velankanni is always a spiritual tour which is planned for a long time and sometimes accompanied by relatives or friends. But this one was so quick that even I had doubts about what I was planning to do; but not all the trips work according to the plan, and in my case most of them has deviated from the original route on many occasions leading to not too bad results, not much of any catastrophe to boast about. Even this trip would deviate on the way back, even as going to Velankanni was fixed as we booked tickets in a bus due to the difficulty of getting tickets so soon and also for reaching there straight; there was no railway station at Velankanni at that time and one had to stop at more than one place to get there in case the journey started in a train. It was a journey of more religious character to that small town located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal three hundred and fifty kilometers south of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu and twelve kilometers south of Nagapattinam, the nearest railway station. There was no time for preparation though; except for charging the batteries of the digital camera and mobile, and there were also books taken to read on the way even as reading while travelling in a bus is still considered bad by many people, but not by me.

The most important Roman Catholic shrine dedicated to Our lady of Good Health; the most popular Marian pilgrim centre had been in the list of the places to visit for too long, even as I had visited the place before and a few photos were taken, but that was very long ago and everything was so different at home and also at Velankanni years after that visit. Considering the fact that I visited three hundred and ninety four churches in those two years, also calculating this one, and the list was already too long at that time, there was the need to include Velankanni to the list; otherwise it wouldn’t be fit to be called a list, as there is no other Christian pilgrim centre in India which attracts so many visitors, as it stands as the most popular Christian shrine in South India. The other famous Marian pilgrim centres would be Vallarpadam, Koratty and Kuravilangad, but Velankanni’s popularity is unmatched, with three attributed miracles; the apparition of Mother Mary with Infant Jesus to a shepherd boy, the curing of a lame buttermilk vendor, and the rescue of a group of Portuguese sailors from a violent sea storm. It is fit to be called the ‘Lourdes of the East’ considering the frequency of visits from the devotees even during a time when it is not the season and the temperature is nearly unbearable.

The journey to Velankanni was pretty much horrible. There was that air-conditioned bus which was not of that good condition, and for which there was the need to wait so much that they kept telling every minute that it is coming in five minutes which would total to more than fourty five minutes or so, and considering the fact that we reached there early, it was such a bad decision to make an early exit from home. The bus had a problem with its air conditioning right where I was supposed to sit. It got so cold that I felt the need to be a polar bear or a penguin; even an abominable snowman would have been enough, no matter how bad or fat it looked. They never even understood Malayalam and kept shaking the head as if everything was so clear that I won’t have to worry at all. After eating not that good food at some random restaurant, there were Tamil movies, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa and Kovil, not the type of movies which I liked, and not really interesting for me, but they were quite easy to understand; may be because there was not much story in it except for the usual Romantic nonsense; they were not that bad, but still they lacked truth and these mindless Romantic movies were never my type. But still, I could say I watched two more Tamil movies as I slowly fell asleep watching the latter one.

The night in the bus was more horrible than a night at the museum in Kerala where the exhibits would not be taken care of. The person sitting right at the front of mine had his seat set in such way that I was like being caught between a rock and a hard place; or I would say the devil and a crocodile – doesn’t make that much sense, but for some reason, that came to my mind and I hope it got nothing to do with his face. I was stuck for such a long time until I was able to get out during a point when they stopped for taking some parcels out of the back of the bus. It was a great relief and an escape from the torture of being sandwiched between the seats of the bus and getting frozen at the same time. The double trouble was to continue very soon, but that break brought enough strength to me and I could continue being stuck between two seats. The life became good only when the bus reached Velankanni after enough delay and I could jump out of the evil place at which I was being held a prisoner like Jonathar Harker in a Dracula castle, without all the good things in it. The end of that bus ride made me decide something; not to travel in a bus for a place which is more than five hours away, especially not in an air-conditioned bus, not at all in a bus with people not speaking Malayalam or English.

The beautiful Basilica with Gothic style of architecture, painted white; that was not too far away and the pilgrimage started right after a cup of tea. As the Holy mass is conducted in many languages many times, there was the confidence to attend at least one of them and fortunately in was English. As the church is open from early in the morning to late in the evening, there wasn’t really the need to rush into it instead of looking around and enjoying the beauty and peace of the world around the Basilica. Even when it was not the season for pilgrims, there were still so many of them and it would have been so difficult to be there at the right time of pilgrimage; surely not for me who is not into that much of a crowd which prevents even a glass of tea at the time of need. There are also three shrines, some distance away from the Basilica, as well as pond and a fountain. A new church is also coming up near the Basilica, named the Morning Star, which is so different from any other structures seen in India, as it is not only huge, but one of its kind; almost fit to be called an architectural wonder. The need for the new church always existed, considering the fact the Basilica is filled even during the time when less people are expected; it can be imagined how difficult it would be during the fest and other celebrations.

It was the hottest time to visit the place, but the desire to visit was what kept me going, along with enough tea on regular intervals. The beautiful Basilica, the peaceful environment along with the inherent beauty of the sea and its coast was enough to make it a good day and the trip a great one. When the belief is as strong as the pillars of the church and faith as powerful as the sea, along with everlasting hope, makes life wonderful at Velankanni. For a place which was so severely hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the tsunami which followed, there had to be faith, belief and hope; with the blessings of Our lady of Good Health, the world around will only get better. As September 8 is commemorated as the feast of Our Lady of Good Health and the celebration starting on 29th August and ending on the day of the feast, blessed will be those crowded days. This is definitely a unique place of worship, and the belief of the people is stronger than the tempest and whirlwinds; all the storms which comes from the sea shall pale in comparison to the strength of faith, for it is the ultimate power; it is the route to salvation right here on Earth as well as in the afterlife.

Diving out —>

TeNy

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