Kanyakumari is at the southernmost tip of India and off its shores meet three seas; the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. It derives its name from the virgin Goddess Kanyakumari whose temple is situated here on its shore.
Kanyakumari is a railway terminus and can be reached from any part of the country by rail via Trivandrum or Thirunelveli. There are buses from all cities in Tamilnadu and some places in Kerala state. The nearest airport is in Trivandrum about 86 Km away.
The main entrance to the temple is through the northern gate though the deity is facing east. The eastern entrance is kept closed except on special occasions when the deity is taken out for ceremonial bath.
Three corridors surround the sanctum. The outer corridor has no special shrines, but after a walk round it the devotees cross the ‘Navarathiri mandapam’ and a pathway leads to the second corridor encircling the shrine. There stands the flag mast or ‘Kodisthambam’. From here you can have a clear view of the Goddess. A move further forward will take you in front of the sanctum.
The Goddess stands with rosary in one hand as if in prayer. It is believed that Parasurama installed the Idol made of blue stone. After worshipping the Goddess, the devotees walk around the inner corridor where the shrines of Vinayagar and Thiagasundary can be seen.
Many aeons ago Banasura, the demon king, harassed the Devas and imprisoned them. Unable to bear his atrocities the Devas sought the help of Lord Vishnu, the protector of the Universe. He advised them to pray to Goddess Parasakthi who alone could banish him. So the Devas started a ‘yagna’ to propitiate the Goddess who appeared and promised to destroy Banasura. It was pre-ordained that only a virgin could kill Banasura, so she arrived here as a Kumari (virgin) and started a penance to attain the special powers before setting off to kill Banasura. Lord Shiva (Lord of Suchindram temple about 11 km away) saw this beautiful virgin and wanted her as his wife. He let the Devas know this and wanted them to make arrangements for the wedding. The Devas, having known that only Kumari could kill Banasura, did not want the marriage to go ahead. So they sought the help of Naradha, the celestial roving trouble-shooter, to stop this wedding.
Arrangements for the marriage were made and an auspicious time was fixed as midnight of a certain day. On the appointed day the Lord left Suchindram and travelled with his entourage to where the bride was residing. As he was approaching the abode of this virgin incarnation, Naradha played his trick. He turned himself into a cock and crowed, signifying the approach of dawn. On hearing this, the Lord thought that he had missed the auspicious time and returned to his abode.
The Goddess Kanyakumari was waiting eagerly for the arrival of the groom. When the groom did not turn up at all she was disappointed and in a rage cursed all the articles, ornaments and the food that had been prepared for the wedding. They turned into sand and seashells that had scattered along the seashore. That is why you see an abundance of coloured sand and seashells of every shape and form along the sea front in this town.
Banasura heard about the beauty of the virgin Goddess and came to request her hand in marriage. When the Goddess refused, the demon king tried to take her by force. As he drew his sword the Goddess killed him with her ‘Chakrayutham’.
The Devas were thus restored to their kingdoms and the relieved Devas requested her to remain there protecting them forever.
Main Festivals and Opening Times
The main festivals are held in the Tamil month of Vaikasi (May/June) and the Navarathri festival in September/October.
The temple is open to the public from 4.30 AM to 11.45 AM and 5.30 PM to 8.45 PM. Male worshippers are required to remove their shirts before entering the temple.
A small rocky hill called the Vivekananda hill rises from the sea. It is on this hill that Swami Vivekananda had meditated before his tour of the West where he made his famous speech on Hindu philosophy. There is a boat service to reach this hill where a memorial to Swami Vivekaknanda had been built. Another feature of this place is that one can witness from the same spot the spectacle of the setting Sun and the rising Moon almost simultaneously on full-moon evening. This spectacle is visible only between October 15 to March 15 but the Sun rise can be seen throughout the year if the sky is clear.
There is also a memorial to Mahathma Gandhi on the seashore commemorating the immersion of his ashes at this spot. Each year on October 2nd (Gandhi’s birth date) at noon the Sun’s rays fall exactly on the spot where the urn of his ashes was kept for public dharshan (viewing).