Tamil Nadu · Travel

Curiosities on the coast: Tharangambadi aka Tranquebar

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It has a history that dates back to the 10th century. It’s where you’ll see spirituality in a new light. And it has a lovely stretch of beach in the most serene of settings. So it’s little wonder that Tharangambadi, formerly Tranquebar, means ‘land of the singing waves’. Situated in Nagapattinam district, along the coast of Tamil Nadu, this former Dutch settlement is replete with history and colonial vibes.

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Just under 300 km from Chennai, and a little over 100 km from Puducherry, this could be the place for a weekend getaway. Tharangambadi has an old-world charm that’s unmissable.  The town was a significant part of the Chola dynasty between the 10th and 13th centuries. It was under the rule of the Pandyas in the 14th century. Its importance as a key trading centre was established under the rule of the Thanjavur king, Raghunatha Nayak. The town was frequented by Portuguese, Arabs and other Muslim traders. It was in 1620 AD that the Danes took over the reins of this town with the establishment of the Danish East India Company.

Built to flourish

The Dutch settlement flourished for over two centuries, after which this port town was taken over by the British in 1845. The Dutch influence has left a unique legacy that is profound even today.  One of the most prominent landmarks of the town is the Dansborg Fort. Built by the Danish captain Ove Gjedde in 1620-21, the fort is a massive peach-coloured building in the classic Scandinavian military style. It was built as part of the treaty between the ruler of Thanjavur, Raghunatha Nayak, and the king of Denmark (at the time), with a view to encourage foreign trade.

A view of the Dansborg fort
A view of the Dansborg fort

The main commodity traded at that time was pepper, and the fort and warehouses were built to protect their trade. The fort continued to remain as a trade centre under the 19th-century British rule.
A well-planned building with barracks, kitchen and a jail, Dansborg is the second-largest fort ever to be constructed by the Danes here.

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Under the aegis of the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department since 1977, the fort has been restored and maintained well. The premises also houses the Danish Fort Museum, which has sculptures, antiques and tools associated with colonial period.

Some exhibits at the museum
Some exhibits at the museum

The Chinese ware, manuscripts, porcelain, swords and stones on display provide insight into the political, social and cultural connect between the two countries. Open since 1979, the museum is a treasure house and provides a sneak peek into the life and times of the Dutch era.

Resting in peace

After paying the entrance fee, you can walk along the fort’s precincts. Located along the coast, the complex — quite small — can be easily covered within an hour.  Constructed probably at the same time as the Danish Fort was the cemetery, on account of high mortality rates of the European immigrants. It is today a simple compound that houses the whitewashed graves of several Danish officers and traders.  The Zion Church and New Jerusalem Church, built in the early 1700s, are other landmarks on King’s Street. The former is the oldest Protestant church in India. Constructed in typical colonial style, the church has undergone several renovations to reach its present form. The New Jerusalem Church houses the grave of Ziegenbalg, a missionary. The structures are visually appealing.

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To experience the distinctive flavour of the town, it’s best to explore it on foot. Walking along the main roads like King’s Street, Queen Street, Admiral Street and Goldsmith Street takes you back in time and lets you experience life at a pleasant and slow pace. The Ziegenbalg Spiritual Centre and Rehling’s House stand as examples of colonial architecture. In fact, if you are lucky, you can even catch up with locals to understand the town better.

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Tharangambadi being a coastal town, is blessed with a beach where you can sit back and unwind while watching the spectacular sunrise and sunset.

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When you are walking around the town, you cannot miss the old buildings, so do stop by to marvel at the delightful architecture of yore.

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If you are done with covering the touristy destinations like Fort Kochi and Puducherry, but are still a fan of colonial coast, head to Tharangambadi for a rendezvous with the past.

This article was originally published in Deccan herald.

Click here and here to read my posts on other charming coastal Indian towns.

12 thoughts on “Curiosities on the coast: Tharangambadi aka Tranquebar

  1. I visited Tharangambadi in 2010. It’s a lovely, serene beach town. I liked this place very much. If anyone wants to enjoy a calm, serene, lovely weekend getaway near Pondicherry or Chennai, then Tharangambadi is an ideal stop.

  2. Land of the singing waves..wow 🙂 Dansborg Palace seems to have a unique style of architecture (beautiful blend of dutch and British) Thanks for sharing this lovely post Rashmi..learned about a new place today..

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