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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Danushkodi the land that is no longer there – a sad tale of 46 years

Southern part of India and Srilanka
Nature is all powerful. Can you imagine that something which existed about half a century ago and frequented by people at will no longer exists !!. Have you travelled in a not so good road (only sands in fact) on a ubiquitous rickety nerve wracking contraption that perhaps runs on kerosene where you could see on both sides. Yes on one side – the deep and rough waters of the mighty Indian Ocean and on the other shallow calm waters of Bay of Bengal.

The island of “Rameshwaram” in Ramanathapuram District of Tamilnadu is a very religious place housing the famous Ramanatha Swamy temple – the place where Lord Rama worshipped Shiva in linga form. This is on Pamban island separated from the main land – the Gulf of Mannar. The land point in Ramnad district is Mandapam. From here is the famous bridge leading to the island – the earlier Pamban bridge used to open up allowing ships to pass by.

From Rameshwaram,  when you go further is - Danushkodi (Danush would mean the bow and kodi means the end). Hindu legend has it that at the request of Vibeeshana, Lord Rama broke the Sethu (the bridge) with one end of his bow and hence the name Danushkodi. For pilgrims the pilgrimage is complete starting from darshan at Kashi to worship at Rameswaram besides a holy bath in the confluence of Mahodadhi (Bay of Bengal) and Ratnakara (Indian Ocean)

Till recently, there existed land inhabited by people – the southern tip of Rameshwaram island – the end point of India situated much closer almost 18 miles close to  Talaimannar in Jaffna of Srilanka. Dhanushkodi used to be the only land border between India and Sri Lanka – a shoal being the distance breaker. Have heard from many elders that there existed  ferry services across, transporting goods and passengers by sea. The small place was flourishing with business activity with hotels, textile shops and dharmashalas (free choultries). It had a Railway station also besides various Govt institutions like Railway hospital, Post Office, Port office etc.,

google map of Rameshwaram, present day danushkodi and Srilanka 

Cyclone and heavy weather are not unheard of,  in the southern States of India. Some records of Geological survey of India indicate that the southern part of Dhanushkodi township sank by almost 5 meters during 1948 due to tectonic movements. But something worst happened on this day (23rd Dec) in 1964 – a cyclonic storm wiped out part of the Nation and took away Dhanushkodi from the Indian map.

It is stated that it was the formation of a depression with its centre at 5N 93E in South Andaman Sea on 17 December 1964. On 19th  December it intensified into a cyclonic storm. The Rameswaram storm not only formed at such low latitude but also intensified into a severe cyclonic storm at about the same latitude,  indeed a rare occurrence. After 21st  December 1964, its movement was westwards, almost in a straight line, at the rate of 250 miles (400 km) to 350 miles (560 km) per day. On 22 December it crossed Vavunia of Srilanka with a wind velocity of 150 knots (280 km/h), moved into Palk Strait in the night and crashed into Dhanushkodi of Rameshwaram island on the night of 22–23 December 1964. It was estimated that tidal waves were 8 yards high when it crossed Rameshwaram.

There used to be a direct train service from Madras called Boat Mail Express and other trains. Fatefully, train No.653, Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger, a daily regular service with 110 passengers and 5 railway staff, was hit by a massive tidal wave near the Dhanushkodi station and was washed away killing all its passengers. The high tidal waves ruined and devastated the entire town. Following this disaster, the Government of Madras declared the town as Ghost town and unfit for living after the storm. Only a memorial pillar lies there now. The railway track got covered by sand dunes and was abandoned – no body lives there and the train services were no longer considered viable.

Today in the forlorn place, some fisherfolk live. There are several temples associated with Lord Rama here.

The Boat Mail was a train and steamer ferry service between India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka, as it then was). In the late 19th  century, the railway route in India was from Madras to Tuticorin. At Tuticorin, passengers embarked on a steamer to Colombo. The train took 21 hours and 50 minutes for the journey from Madras to Tuticorin. The Boat Mail was one of the early trains to get vestibuled carriages, in 1898. After the Pamban Bridge was built, the train's route changed and it went from Madras to Dhanushkodi.  A much shorter ferry service then took the passengers to Talaimannar in Ceylon, from where another train went to Colombo.

All this became a thing of the past after that devastating cyclone in 1964. Very sad indeed..................

Regards – S.  Sampathkumar.
23rd Dec 2010.


  1. The boat mail (at least the steamer service) is getting opened again between Tuticorin & Colomobo this year.

    Nice blog :)

  2. Very informative and makes one yearn to go here, esp when we plan for Rameswaram - Gupta

  3. very clear travel guide... good epilogue.. Prasad

  4. Great post with so much of detailed info - thanks from a North Indian traveller - Pragnesh

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