In my childhood, one of the stories I heard from my family elders was that of Dhanushkodi, a town on the east coast of India, which submerged when a cyclone of wind velocity 270km/hour crashed into it on the night of 22-23 December 1964. The killer wind and the accompanying tidal wave blew away all structures and the storm marooned the land, wiping almost the whole town. Infact the Government of Madras declared it as a ghost town and unfit for living.
But a few survived to tell the tale and one of the surviving family was my mom’s maternal uncle who worked there as DS of Customs and Central excise and lived there with his family.
Though I have heard the story many times when I was young, I recently asked my mom’s mama ( he is now 84 and lives in Madras) to tell it me again during our telecon a few weeks back.
And he said “ Even now, The thought gives me shivers”.(ippo ninaichalum nadungaradu)
On Dec 22, 1964, My mom’s mama, his wife and two sons aged 4 and 2 were having their noon day siesta. They were surprised when the water gushed into their house and in no time it slowly raised to the level of bed. Worried about their sleeping sons and the rising water levels, they immediately placed two tall wooden stools over the bed and stood over the stool holding their 4 and 2 year old and tied them with a rope to the ceiling. The 20 metre tidal wave flooded the home and by evening the water came up to their neck level and it was getting difficult for them to hold the children up there and balance themselves. Thankfully the rising water stopped just there. With great difficulty they sustained all throughout the night with the wailing children. The water subsided only in the morning around 10 and then they were evacuated to a temple, where they were given food and shelter for 3 days and finally rescued to mandapam relief camp along with other survivors in a ship (INS Sarada).Needless to say that they lost all their belongings.
Dhanushkodi ( also known as Sethukkarai) was a town at the southern tip of Rameshwaram Island(in southern Tamilnadu) on the East coast of India, and the nearest Indian town close to SriLanka (just 18kms to Talaimannar,Srilanka). It was a quiet town till then (1964) except for low tidal waves, It had a post office, a Customs office, a railway station, temples and a church. All the needs of the town like groceries, vegetables were met by the railway people who after getting the people’s list would bring their needs through Indo-ceylon express( also called Boat mail) which connected Madras to Colombo and the ferries from talaimannar brought them textiles and other luxury goods like jewels etc., Before 1964, a train was connected to Srilanka from Chennai. It came up till a pier in Dhanush kodi and from there, passengers used a ferry service to cross the 18km(13km?) Adam’s bridge( a series of coral reefs) to reach Talaimannar in Srilanka. (This Adam’s bridge is also called ‘Ramsetu’ the one built by Lord Hanuman to help Lord Rama cross to Srilanka)
It had no colleges or schools so all students travelled to Rameshwaram by a train for their education. On that fateful night, This train which was approaching Dhanushkodi was washed away by the high tidal wave. The train carried the students who were travelling back after school and college.
The mythological importance assigned to this town is that, according to the hindu scriptures after the Lanka war, when Lord Rama returned to India, Vibhisana pleaded that Lord Ram break the sethu(bridge) so that no other armies use it. Rama gave in to his request and broke the Indian side of the bridge with the end of his bow. This place came to be known as Dhanushkodi (Dhanush –bow and kodi is end). Thus this is a holy place for Hindus , further made holier by the confluence of two sea bodies, The bay of Bengal and Indian ocean.
Today , 46 years later, The structures that withstood the tidal wave still exist buried under the sand and some partly weathered by the Sea adding a mysterious beauty to the place. A few fishermen have settled here in thatched huts and life goes on for them unaware of tomorrow. Of late, I read in a magazine that the sea water is slowly receding and some parts of the submerged town are visible.
I have’nt visited Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi, but it is on my ‘to do list’ to see and experience how it feels, standing at the land mass which is at the tip of India. Many tourists who travel to Rameshwaram are unaware of Dhanushkodi and the ones who visit sing praises about its its beautiful coral reefs and rich marine life which is supposed to be very active here since the ocean waters are very shallow.
It is also the birth place of our ex President and missile man APJ Kalam. and this is also the town through which Swami Vivekananda entered India Via SriLanka after his famous Chicago conference.
A port, a holy town, nature lover's paradise that was (is) Dhanushkodi. Mark it next time around Rameshwaram.
Picture courtesy: Google images