- TAMIL NADU
or Vailankanni, the Mecca of South Asian Christianity, is located
on the Coromandel coast, in Tamil Nadu. It is here that in
1560, Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a shepherd,
asking him for milk to quench the thirst of baby Jesus. When
the shepherd returned to his master, after performing the
good deed, his pitcher kept filling up with milk. Consequently,
a small thatched chapel was built at the site. At the end
of the 16th century, Virgin Mary materialised again, in front
of a lame boy, who, after the divine visitation, regained
the use of his limbs. This occasioned the construction of
an actual church.
On 8th September, 1869, a Portuguese ship sailing from Macao
to Goa, got caught in a massive storm in the Indian Ocean.
The sailors, prayed to Virgin Mary to rescue them, promising
to build her a magnificent church if she did so. Some time
later, their wrecked ship was deposited on the shores of Velangani.
The sailors not only built a Basilica in Velangani, but returned
year after year, bringing from their trips, exquisite items
to decorate the church. The Portuguese annexed the area and
brought it under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Mylapore.
To commemorate the miraculous escape of the Portugeuse sailors,
every year a fascinating festival (29th August-8th September)
is held here. Pilgrims from all over the country and even
abroad flock to the site, bathe religiously in the sea, have
their heads shaved, (the hair later being auctioned by the
priests), and then walk on their knees or roll upto the shrine,
lending a unique Indian touch to the entire ceremony. The
shrine also has its share of Hindu pilgrims.
The outstanding feature of the shrine is the miracle angle
attached to it. Ever since the sailors were saved three centuries
ago, by dint of their prayers, Velangani has acquired a formidable
reputation of curing sicknesses and maladies, thus earning
the sobriquet, 'Lourdes of the East'. The tradition is to
offer to Our Lady of Health, a candle in the shape of the
respective ailment- a red heart in case of cardiac complications,
a liver in case of jaundice, yellow lungs in case of tuberculosis
and so on. In case of the ailment getting cured, the Virgin
Mary and the church are to be thanked by offering a solid
silver replica of the part of the body that has been cured.