Pilgrimage to the blessed island, Kachchathivu | Sunday Observer

Pilgrimage to the blessed island, Kachchathivu

The sun-kissed island - Kachchathivu is dry, arid and uninhabited. It lies between India and Sri Lanka. It’s sea shore is covered with broken pieces of corals that will hurt your feet when you set foot on the island. As you enter it, strong winds blowing in from the warm sea will welcome.

The uniqueness of Kachchathivu is revealed by its history which runs back to centuries. It is said that this land is a result of a volcanic eruption that took that place in the 14th century. Kachchathivu is located between Neduntheev in Sri Lanka and Rameshvaram in India and covers a land area of 285 acres (1.15 km2). Its significance to Sri Lanka is its situation - on the maritime boundary.

Back in history, Kachchativu was a part of the Ramnad Kingdom of India and later became part of the Madras Presidency as a result of British rule. With the passage of time, the ownership of the island became controversial. With a peaceful accord between the two countries, Kachchathivu was handed over to Sri Lanka under a conditional agreement in 1974.

The island was considered a useful fishing ground for the fishermen of both countries. It was used by fishermen as a perfect spot to dry their nets to go on a second round of fishing. But as a result of the civil war, the Sri Lankan Government had to stop any person entering the island. The Sri Lankan Navy made sure no one entered the island illegally. Since then security has been increased which denies smuggling of weapons by the rebel group LTTE. History reveals that Indian pilgrims attended the Cathoilc feast on the island from 1905. Unfortunately this practice had to stop due to the conflict that erupted three decades ago which prohibited public visiting the island due to security reasons.

Kachchathivu is the farthest island from Sri Lanka. Among all the other islands it stands exceptional because of its geographical features. The palm trees, lush green bushes and the sea shore filled with pieces of corals make it a destination for wildlife. The shrine itself creates a peaceful atmosphere and symbolizes God’s existence on this holy land.

Kachchathivu is not just an island, it is also a symbol of friendship between Sri Lanka and India. The isolated, uninhabited island comes to life once a year when the Catholic church of St. Anthony celebrates its feast in the middle of March. Every year the island attracts thousands of pilgrims from India and Sri Lanka for the feast. That is the only time the island opens up to the public. Actually it is an easy task to organize a feast in the isolated island. The Sri Lanka Navy is totally dedicated to provide all facilities and a peaceful environment for the devotees that visit this holy island once a year.

St. Antony’s Church, Kachchathivu was built by an Indian Tamil Catholic named Srinivasa Padaiyachi. The shrine holds 100+ year-old traditions.The feast reunites the two countries every year. The Sri Lankan Government permits Indian devotees to enter the island without passports or Sri Lankan visa. More than 8500 devotees from both countries participated at the feast this year. The Navy records show that more than 6500 were from Sri Lanka. The rest of the devotees were mostly from Chennai and Rameshwaram. The devotees who reach Kachchathivu from Delft Island must travel 20km by water and the ones coming from Kankasanthurai should sail 90km to reach the island.

Every year the Sri Lanka Navy contributes in creating a favourable environment in the island to celebrate the feast beginning February 17th. In an island where there’s not a drop of water the Sri Lanka Navy delivers around five hundred thousand litres of water for public consumption. It also takes on the responsibility of making arrangements for food and refreshments for the pilgrims during their stay in the island. In order to provide supplies to the island, the Navy transports goods that weigh more than 2000 tons. Its dedication turns the feast out amazingly well, yet its duty doesn’t end right there. It provides security and services till the last person leaves the island. After the end of the feast, the Navy cleans up the whole island and directs the waste to recycling plants. Before it leaves the island it makes sure that there is no one left behind.

The beauty of Kachchathivu is rarely captured. Do not miss the opportunity to get the once in a life time experience by stepping onto the blessed island to feel the power of prayer and to visit the Indian sweet stalls to taste the love from India.