Velankanni Festival

Do you think walking barefoot (Pada Yatra) to a sacred shrine is only a Hindu religious practice? Then it is just a myth. Here in the south of India, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, flocks of saffron-clad devotees including people from all faiths (primarily Christians and Hindus), undertake a Pada Yatra to the Velankanni Shrine in Velankanni mainly to attend the Flag Hoisiting Ceremony.

The Velankanni church or the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, located in the Nagapattinam District of Tamil Nadu, is one of the country’s biggest catholic pilgrimage centers. The Velankanni festival commemorates the miracles that occurred around the site of the Basilica that date back to the 16th century. One historical incident tells of how Mother Mary saved the lives of ship-wrecked Portuguese sailors. Another well known miracle is when the Mother Mary appeared in the form of young Mother asking for buttermilk for her child to a crippled boy who was selling it. After feeding the child some buttermilk, she revealed her True Self to the little boy and cured his crippled legs. Following this miraculous event, a thatched chapel was built by the people. The Virgin Mary’s miraculous healing powers have also earned the church the name of the ‘Lourdes of the East’.

It was on September the 8th that the Portuguese merchants dedicated the chapel to Our Lady after subsequent improvements to the small permanent chapel which they built immediately after being saved by the Mother. Therefore to celebrate the date of their safe landing, they commenced this annual festival which spans 11 days from the 29th of August to the 8th of September.

Every year on the 29th of August at 6.30 pm, an impressive Flag Hoisting Ceremony which marks the beginning of the festival is witnessed by large crowds of devotees praising Our Lady of Health. Holy Mass is conducted from 6 am to 6.30 pm, 14 times in about 6 languages on all festival days. An illuminated and colorful chariot carrying the idol of Our Lady of Health is taken in procession at around 8 pm every day from the 29th of September till the 8th of August, which is a crowd pulling event. The procession is followed by a Novena (liturgical service) later in the evening. The festival concludes with the lowering of Our Lady’s Flag at 6.00 pm on the 8th of September while the Major Feast Mass is conducted on the 8th of Sep at 6.15 am in the Shrine’s open-air auditorium. Additionally, every day after the procession, cultural programs are held like musical concerts, plays, Bharathanatyam performances, etc. in the open-air auditorium.

Come to Velankanni in Tamil Nadu between the 27th of August and the 8th of September if you’d like to experience a spiritually soaked Velankanni or participate in a Pada Yatra (5 days from Pondicherry) along with devotees who walk barefoot. We are here to help.