Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu is the southern tip of India and the place where the Indian Ocean converges with the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Around half a kilometre offshore of Vavathurai in Kanyakumari, two huge island-like rocks jut out of the sea. The famous Vivekananda Rock Memorial is situated on one rock that covers an area of over 16,200 square kilometres! It was built in 1970 in honour of Swami Vivekananda, the great Hindu spiritual reformer and one of the key architects of the Bengal Renaissance. The memorial is an architectural masterpiece exhibiting eclectic styles and patterns that can be attributed to the different corners of the Indian subcontinent. The memorial is an important milestone in the history of spirituality in modern India.
In 1893, Swami Vivekananda visited Chicago to represent India and Hinduism at the first Parliament of the World’s Religions and gave a crackling speech that sent ripples across the world. On 24 December 1892, before his trip, he visited Kanyakumari. Legend has it that the great man meditated on that very rock for two days and attained enlightenment. In 1963, to mark the birth centenary of Swami Vivekananda, the rock was officially named the Vivekananda Rock. The rock has religious significance as well. Hindus believe that Goddess Kanya Kumari, an adolescent, a virgin incarnation of Goddess Parvati, blessed the rock by touching it with her feet while she was performing austerity. This is the reason that the place is called Kanyakumari.
The construction of the memorial began in 1964, and the driving force behind it was Eknath Ramkrishna Ranade, a social activist and spiritual reformer, who campaigned to get 3 million people to donate towards the cause. It took 650 workers six years to complete the majestic memorial that comprises two main structures - the Vivekananda Mandapam and the Shripada Mandapam. The Shripada Mandapam is a square hall that further consists of the Garbha Graham, the sanctum sanctorum, the inner Prakaram and the outer Prakaram (Prakaram is an Indian architectural feature, an enclosed part surrounding the temple sanctum). Near the Shripada Mandapam, the Vivekananda Rock has a brown coloured project that may seem like a human footprint. Over the years, people have come to believe that it is the footprint of none other than Goddess Kanya Kumari and refer to it as Sri Padam (Padam- feet).
The Vivekananda Mandapam resembles the Ramakrishna Temple at Belur Math in West Bengal and consists of several sections. There is the Dhyana Mandapam (Dhyana- meditation), the meditation hall, with six adjacent rooms decorated with ornate stone and woodwork that is typical of Indian temple architecture. You can relax and meditate in the Dhyana Mandapam for as long as you want and there is hardly any touristy experience that is as calming as this. Another section called the Mukha Mandapam boasts foliage patterns that were prevalent during the rule of the Pallava Dynasty (275 CE – 897 CE) and pillars styled after those in the Buddhist Ajanta Caves at Aurangabad. Red and blue granite dominate the elaborately designed ceiling here. There are two other sections - the Namashtubhyam to the son of Jagadamba and the Sabha Mandapam, the assembly hall. The Sabha Mandapam houses the Pralima Mandapam, a statue section, and a courtyard where a grand statue of Swamiji in his famous ‘Parivrajak’ (meaning explorer) posture stands tall.
After you are done exploring the different parts of the memorial, relax in the huge outer courtyard while enjoying the spectacular view of the seas. From one corner of the courtyard, you can view the actual line along which the teal waters of the Indian Ocean become one with the turquoise waters of the Bay of Bengal and the azure waters of the Arabian Sea. It is truly a sight to behold.
The Vivekananda Rock Memorial remains open from 8 AM to 4 PM on all days of the week. The only way of reaching the memorial is by availing the ferry service from the mainland, which makes the visit even more worthwhile. The nearest airport from Kanyakumari is 67 kilometres away - the Trivandrum International Airport in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of the neighbouring state of Kerala. The nearest railway junction is the Nagercoil Junction which is only 15 kilometres away. Kanyakumari is also well connected with major south Indian cities such as Chennai, Cochin, Bangalore and Mysore, through luxury Volvo buses. Try to visit the place between October and March. Even though the weather remains a bit humid, it is nowhere near the excruciatingly hot and humid weather that prevails during the rest of the year.
The Vivekananda Rock Memorial is significant both as an architectural chef-d'oeuvre and a religious shrine. And its location at the southern tip of India, at the point of meeting of the three great water bodies that surround India, makes it a geographical landmark as well. India has a rich history of art and architecture being ignited by spirituality. This monument is no different. The Vivekananda Rock Memorial is a must-visit on your trip to India.
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