While in our discussions with my colleagues about the origin of music, I told them that there is a place, which is known as the Land of Singing Waves. Yes, it’s a coastal village in Tamil Nadu, India and its name is Tarangambadi, which means the land of singing waves. I visited this place with my wife, Jagrata and son, Judhajit in November, 2010. We went on a trip to Pondicherry and Auroville, the famous Ashram township of Sri Aurobindo. While in Pondicherry, we heard of an erstwhile port town, called Tarangambadi. We decided to visit this town, which I heard for the first time. It’s a port city on the Coramandal coast, about 135 km from Pondicherry. Its original name was Sadanganpadi. The name of this place actually intrigued me.
We started early for Tarangambadi from Pondicherry by road. On the way we visited the famous 10th century Nataraja Shiva temple at Chidambaram. It took us around 3 hours to reach Tarangambadi.
The place dates back to the 14th century. Masilamani nathar (Shiva) temple was built in 1306, in a land given by Maravarman Kulasekhara Pandyan I. The temple stands by the village shore, with the waves lapping at its steps. It is experiencing erosion. The front portion of the temple has already been undermined by the sea waves. The temple survived the 2004 tsunami with lots of damages.
Ruled by the Cholas and Pandyas, its proximity to the sea made Tranquebar a busy trading port by the 15th century. Tarangambadi is now a panchayat town in Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu near the mouth of a distributary of the Kaveri River. This picturesque coastal town lies 15 km south of the ancient Chola port of Poompuhar, and 15 km north of the former French trading port of Karikal.
ARRIVAL OF DANES
From 1620 to 1845 it was a Danish settlement ruled by Governors, till the British took over its administration. Tarangambadi became Tranquebar for the Danes!
When the Danish navy landed at the Coramandal Coast, the Dutch captain Roland Crappe realized that it was a perfect place for trading. An admiral of the Danish navy, Ove Gjedde, negotiated a treaty with the Thanjavur king, Vijaya Raghunatha Nayak, on behalf of King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway. Gjedde acquired a 10 by 3 mile strip of land in the fishing village from the king and agreed to pay a rent of Indian rupees 3,111 per annum. He renamed the place Tranquebar and a fort called Fort Dansborg was built in 1622. The Danish East India Company, formed in 1616 for doing trade with India, started trading silk, spices, and textiles from this port. Then, the place was taken over by the British colony for a sum of 10,000 British pounds circa 1845.
A Jesuit Catholic congregation in Tarangambadi predated the arrival of the Danes by several decades. This congregation descended from Tamil fishermen converted by Portuguese missionaries from Goa. There was also a sizable population of Indo-Portuguese due to their presence nearby in Nagapattinam. The Catholic church was probably demolished to build the fort.
Construction of Fort Dansborg started in 1620. Many parts of the fort have been reconstructed several times. Dansborg is the second largest Danish fort ever constructed, with Kronborg in Helsingør being the largest. The rampart wall is a fairly large four sided structure, with bastions at each cardinal point. A single storied building was constructed along three inner sides of the rampart, with barracks, warehouse, kitchen, and jail.
On the eastern side of the fort, there was a two storied building facing the sea. It was the main building of the fort. The vaulted lower storey served as a magazine and a warehouse, while the vaulted upper storey contained the church and the lodgings of the governor, the senior merchants, and the chaplain. The sea on the eastern and western side protected the fort. The fort was surrounded by a moat, access to the fort being over a drawbridge. The moat has completely disappeared.
THE FIRST PRINTING PRESS IN INDIA
Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg arrived in Tarangambadi in 1706 as the envoy of King Frederick IV of Denmark. Ziegenbalg was from the Lutheran Church, schooled in German Pietism. Within days of arrival, he had started his evangelical efforts. This didn’t go down well with the Danish merchants and officers ensconced inside Fort Dansborg since they did not want to get entangled with the lives of the locals. In fact, they imprisoned Ziegenbalg for four months on a frivolous charge. This did not diminish his evangelist zeal, however, and he founded the first Protestant Church of India.
Ziegenbalg quickly learned Tamil and translated the Bible, the first translation in an Indian script. He was the person who set up country’s first printing press in 1712, and published the first Tamil translation of the New Testament in 1715, which was then translated into Hindustani. More than 300 Tamil books were published during this period. The first printing press in India was established here for printing in vernacular scripts. The first printing press in India was established in 1576 in Goa and the printing of Indian language books was in Romanized alphabets.
Tranquebar was controlled by the British in 1801 due to the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, and restored to Denmark following the Kiel Peace treaty in 1814. It was sold, along with the other Danish settlements in India, Serampore and the Nicobars, to Great Britain in 1845.
The beach in Tarangambadi has been identified as the one of the most Ozone-rich beaches in the world by various studies conducted by the Danes in 1960’s and Indian researchers. The ozone content in air is said to be high between April and July. However, the presence of rich Ozone content and the role it plays in absorbing the hazardous ultraviolet rays coming from the sun remains an unknown fact for most of the locals and tourists.
BUNGALOW ON THE BEACH
In this tranquil sea beach, there was a house of the Captain; the 19th century residence was transformed into a heritage hotel. The heritage hotel is called the “Bungalow on the Beach,” and it is the first hotel to be established in this historical beach town. We had a lovely lunch at this resort.
The 19th century collector’s residence was transformed into a heritage hotel by the Neemrana Group. It was in a state of disrepair and collapse when the Neemrana Group acquired it. Records say that Arabella Matilda Peterson, the wife of Danish civil officer William Christian Peterson, inherited the building in December 1857 after the demise of her husband. She sold the building to Thiru Vellia Nadar after ten years. The descendants of the Nadar family maintained the building for 125 years by renting it to British officials, who used it as the collector’s residence. In the early 1990s, the house was sold by the Nadar family to the Taj group of hotels, but it seems that they did little to restore it.
In Danish times Tranquebar was a busy port, but it lost its importance when the railway was opened to Nagapattinam. In 2004, the tsunami ripped through Tarangambadi causing large-scale destruction, almost a tenth of the population was wiped away.
There are a few inhabitants around. It is not a popular tourist destination and hence the tranquility is maintained. This is a nice place for a quick getaway in South India. Come here on a quiet day to watch the lazy ocean crash onto the rocks and fishermen arrive onshore with their catch.
We just came for a day-trip to this place. After coming here, we realized that we should have come here for at least a couple of days. May be, some other day… hopefully!