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The pilgrim centre has, over the years, got localised
Some practices are similar to temples in Nanjangud, Kukke
Our Lady of Good Health wears all the vibrant Indian colours, from bright orange to lush green.
Bangalore: Mother Mary is usually dressed in the standard colours of blue and white. In the Roman Catholic shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health at Velankanni, however, she wears all the vibrant Indian colours from bright orange to lush green.
The shrine with grand architecture has distinctly Portuguese features and dates back to the 16th Century, when it was an important port. The pilgrim centre on the shores of the Bay of Bengal near Nagapattinam has, over the years, got completely localised and attracts people of all faiths to “Velankanni Mata”. The nine-day festival in August is estimated to draw two million pilgrims annually from all over to pray to “Lourdes of the East”.
J. Vincent, a car driver in Bangalore, has been visiting Velankanni for 12 years without a break for the flag hoisting ceremony that marks the start of the festival. He says that busloads of people from Bangalore — especially from Austin Town, Viveknagar, Ulsoor, Shivajinagar and Fraser Town — travel there annually. Sick people who pray for recovery usually make a special offering, the uruvam. “For example, if a person has had a fractured leg, he offers a small replica of the leg as thanksgiving after healing, which costs Rs. 20 or Rs. 30,” says Mr. Vincent. This is strikingly similar to practices in temples in Nanjanagud and Kukke.
As Rini Varkey, a software professional and a regular visitor to Velankanni puts it, the theme of the healing powers of water is common to many of these pilgrim centres, be it Lourdes in France or Velankanni. “What is interesting is the way the places take on local flavours,” she says. With the increase in pilgrim inflow, there are now also tour operators to Velankanni. J.M. George, a visitor to the shrine since 1995 after he survived a heart attack, now also arranges trips to the town. He says that it costs between Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 2,000 per person, stay and food included.
Interestingly, the trip combines visit to the shrine as well as some sightseeing on the way back. “We go to places like the Kalyani dam, Nagore dargah and the Thanjavur temple,” says Mr. George, giving an indication of how pilgrimages can have overlapping faiths and purposes.
Serenity and confidence
Vinod Shreedharan, for instance, is a regular visitor to both Sabarimala and Velankanni. A believer in the “supernatural power above us” and not particularly in any one religious faith, he says both places offer him serenity and instil in him a sense of confidence.
He points out that the Mother of Good Health is believed to have first manifested herself to a Hindu boy. “On a trip to Sabarimala we first stop at a Dargah of Vavar, a Muslim friend of Ayyappa,” he says. “Both these places promote peace and harmony. My purpose of worshipping is to lead a happy and healthy life, which is met in both,” he says.
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