While driving along the east coast from Pondicherry to Nagapattinam we passed by an interesting sounding town – Tranquebar. A few months later I came across that name again and found out that it was a Danish Colony. I knew that the French, the Portuguese and the Dutch had colonies in India but was surprised that even the Danes were here. It was too interesting a place to miss so I decided to head there for a weekend.
Tharangambadi (Trankebar in Danish) was a Danish colony from 1620 to 1845. But the history of the town dates back to the 14th century when a temple was built during the rule of the Pandyas. That temple still survives and miraculously even survived the tsunami which ravaged the coast in 2004. The Masilamani Nathar Kovil temple was
built by Maravarman Kulashekhara Pandian in what was then a small fishing & trading village called Kulashekharapattinam (also referred to as Sadangambadi, Thayangambadi and Tharangambadi).
A Danish trading expedition arrived at Tharangambadi in 1620 under the leadership of Governor Roland Crappé and Admiral Ove Giedde. They signed a treaty with Nayak Ragunatha of Thanjavur who granted them trading rights and the right to establish themselves at Tharangambadi. The Danes then went on to build a fort, Dansborg Fort, which still stand strong today and houses a museum. They also built a church -Zion Church by the end of the 17th century. It is the oldest protestant Church of India.
In early 18th century, German protestant missionaries, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau, arrived at the order of the Danish King. They set up the first printing press capable of printing a Tamil translation of the New Testament for the local population. By 1718, another Protestant church, the New Jerusalem Church, was constructed by the mission.
The Danes sold Tharangambadi to the British in 1845 and left India. The British era Collector’s Bungalow was restored and converted into a hotel of the Neemrana Group and is called ‘The Bungalow on the Beach’ which is where we stayed for the weekend. It is a beautiful and imposing seaside structure that dominates the sea face and it used to be the summer residence of the British Collector. We had sweeping views of the Dansborg Fort and the sea from our balcony.
We spent the first evening lazing on the beach and watching the sun set behind the Dansborg Fort creating silhouettes of the fortifications and the palm trees. I’ve realised that the best way to explore a place is by foot. So we walked along the narrow streets later in the evening and came across the Zion Church, the New Jerusalem Church and many colonial style buildings. We then walked down the King’s Street to the the town gate or ‘Landporten’ as it is called in Danish. It is part of the fortifications built around the town of Tranquebar in the 1660’s. The Gate House is now converted into a hotel attached to the place where we were staying so the guard kindly obliged to let us have a look.
The next day we set out into the sea with a local fisherman and returned to explore the fort. Until the end of the 17th century the fort was used for residential and storage purposes. It now houses a museum with some colonial relics. We then walked around the town exploring the main streets where restoration work is going on under the supervision of INTACH. We came across many Danish houses built in a fusion of architectural styles. Many are in a ruined state and some have been restored. We ended our walk at the Masilamani Temple which juts into the sea. After a lazy afternoon spent relaxing at the bungalow, we bid adieu to the singing waves after which the town got its name.
If you are done with covering the touristy destinations like Fort Kochi, Puducherry and Goa, but are still a fan of colonial coast, head to Tharangambadi for a rendezvous with India’s Danish affair.
Where to stay?
- The Bungalow on the Beach, Neemrana
- The Gate House, Neemrana
What to see?
- Dansborg Fort
- Zion Church
- New Jerusalem Church
- INTACH Heritage Centre
- Governor’s Bungalow
- Masilamani Nathar Kovil
- Zeigenbalg’s Printing Press
What to do?
- Heritage walk around the town
- Explore the fort
- Laze on the beach
- Request a fisherman for a boat ride
Places nearby –
- Karaikal is 15 km south and is famous for its temples and beaches
- Thirunallar which is famous for its Shani Temple is just 20 km south west
- The port town of Poompuhar is 25 km north
- Shiva Temple at Chidambaram is 50 km northwards
- Mangroves of Pichavaram are 60 km northwards
Distance from Major Cities –
- 273 km from Chennai
- 437 km from Bangalore