We leave behind Karaikal with a French past and move towards Tharangambadi with a Danish history. It is only 15 or so kilometres drive and we encounter this on the road.
A man is herding ducklings, very young, on the road as if they were goats. Normally such young chicks are carried in baskets. This looks very strange and we follow this procession for quite some time but could not communicate with the person. The language barrier was impregnable. This scene will remain in our memory for long.
The plight of the ducklings will be clearer in this video:
As we enter the Tharangabadi town which is within the district of Nagapattinam, we see a memorial column erected on the main street. The first reaction is that it should be a Danish monument. No. it is not. It is a column erected in honour of Rao Bahadur Ratnaswamy Nadar by his friends and admirers. This guy must have been a merchant and the inscription omits to mention debtors and creditors.
We move on after withdrawing money from the Indian Bank branch near this monument. The bank has a huge crowd. Most of the people are here to borrow money against gold and not exchanging the old notes for the new.
Tharamgabadi earlier known as Tranquebar was a Danish Colony or Trading Post depending upon how you interpret it. The Danes (from Denmark, not to be confused with Dutch from Holland, as many people do) were never a major colonial power but they had small enclaves on all the continents. The Asian venture was mainly for the spice trade. They appeared at this place headed by a naval commander by the name of Ove Gjedde in the year 1620 and made a deal with the local ruler Raghunatha Nayak of the Thanjavur Nayak Kingdom. This lasted for 225 years when in 1845 the Danes ‘sold’ the place to the British. The colonial history of India is replete with such incidences wherein the Europeans bought and sold ‘colonial possessions’. Apart from the trade the Danes brought the Lutherans here to compete with other Christian denominations.
To their credit the Danes have not forgotten their tryst with the colonial history and are maintaining the Tranquebar heritage town in Independent India.
The picture below will give an indication that someone drove a truck through this narrow gate and damaged the 18th century masonry.
The small settlement with a small fort and church have been well maintained. The renovation work is still going on and a museum has been set up.
Tranquebar has a pretty beach as well, although the port and the harbour where the Danes landed is not to be seen.
At many places on the Tamilnadu coast one can see these ’embankments’ against the sea eroding the land. I hope the sea does not enter from and here and come out somewhere on the Karnataka coast on the east.
We are a bit early to reach the place. The Museum has not opened. We move around the settlement and return for the opening of the Museum. This place is maintained by the Archaeology Department of Tamil Nadu State. It provides useful information about the trading activities of the Danes. All of their ships visiting the place are duly recorded.
Here are the exterior views of the Fort:
And some of the displays inside:
The fort appears to have been well planned, even a room was provided for storing Wines and Beers. Very thoughtful of the Danes.
Anna is checking the room to see if any bottles have been left behind.
On the wildlife side the fort is the bastion of Rose-ringed Parakeets who roam freely.theynhave made appropriate holes in the walls for their activities.
There is something to be said about the Lutheran missionary who was active in this place as he is credited with many ‘firsts’. They were the first Protestant Missionaries in Inda.In 1713 they produced the first Almanac in India and to top it all they produced the first book in English language to be printed in India in 1716.
Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg headed the first Protestant Mission in India and was active at Tranquebar from 1706 to 1719 when he died there.
The church built by him is well designed interiors with the congregation divided into three segments all facing the pulpit which appears to be an improvement on the ‘theatre’ type of sitting arrangement.
Good Bye Tranquebar. We are moving on to another part of history.
X X X X
Our travel plan for this and the next was a bit flawed. We missed something on the way which we will always regret. We missed the Pichavaram Mangroves, one of the world’s largest mangrove forests.
We pass the towns of Sirkazhi and Chidambaram on the way to reach Cuddalore another historical costal town. We put up at a hotel with Air-Conditional rooms.
In the field of complexities of the colonial world this place takes the cake. It had English Slave Traders, Dutch, French, British, Marathas, Muslim kings from Mysore and just about everybody in the fray at various times. It had its share of naval battles as well. The rivalry of English and French related to Pondicherry also spilled over into Cuddalore which is just 23 Kms. away.
Elihu Yale a Christian slave trader operated from here from here from 1653 AD. He made enormous amount of money some of which was spent in creating the famous Yale University in the United States. Surprised?
Shivaji the Maratha King acquired the fort at Gingee, 90Kms by road now (I don’t know the distance on horseback at that time). Cuddalore fort was also within the ambit of Ginjee fort and became a part of Maratha empire. In 1690 after Shivaji’s death his son Rajaram fought the Moguls from Gingee and it even the capital of Maratha empire for a few months. The Moguls laid a long 7-year siege of the territory but ultimately Chattrapati Rajaram escaped. During this siege, C Rajaram wanted to sell the fort at Cuddalore to the highest (European) bidder. Here the slave trader Yale who was by then the Governor of Madras skilfully negotiated the purchase. In a bizarre agreement, it was agreed that the sale would be inclusive of ‘surrounding villages’. To decide the ‘surrounding villages’, it was agreed that the British would fire cannons in all directions and the boundary will be decided on the basis of where the cannonballs landed!!!!!. This is how the British empire was built.
For all this history, there is hardly anything left behind in material terms. The fort seems to have been raised by the French when they came into possession. There is a structure which can hardly be called a Fort.
Here is the front view:
And the garden along the riverside. The cross is artistic, should be French.
The river (or the creak) flowing by the side.
The rear-side looks more respectable though not quite for the kind of history it has.
The Silver Beach not far from the Fort is another feature of the town whoch otherwise has many industries.
A Church on the way to the fort is worth having a look at.
There are temples of course but we are late for the visit after all this history and tired after driving, so we retreat to our Air-conditional room. Tomorrow we have to in Pondicherry.
Text by Suryakiran Naik
Photographs :Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik