Chennai, Aug 28 (IANS) A total of around 800,000 devotees from all faiths are expected to pray at the basilica Our Lady of Health in the Tamil Nadu coastal town of Velankanni during a 11-day festival starting on Monday.
The event starts on Monday with the hoisting of the church flag and will end on September 8, an official said on Sunday.
“Around seven-eight lakh devotees from different faiths are expected to visit Velankanni church during the festival. On certain days the number of people will go up to 300,000,” Fr E.J. Thomas, Director, Shrine Media, told IANS over phone from Velankanni.
He said people from other southern states and also Maharashtra, Odisha and other states would visit Velankanni.
It is widely believed that one is cured of sickness if one prays sincerely. The church is also called as `Sacred Arockia Madha Church’. The church attracts people of all faiths.
The shrine dates to the 16th century when the first appartion happened in the town and is also known as the Lourdes of the East. The church building was given the status of basilica in 1962 by Pope John XXIII.
According to the legend, Mother Mary with her infant appeared before a milk selling Hindu boy and asked for milk for her son.
The boy gave the milk and apologized to his customer for being late for delivery and also giving lesser quantity than usual.
But he was surprised and shocked to see his container full of milk. He narrated the incident to the customer and went back to the spot where he saw the lady with her son.
Then onwards the tank where the apparition happened was known as `Matha Kulam’ or Our Lady’s Tank.
The second legend is that Our Lady appeared before a lame boy selling buttermilk. She had buttermilk and asked the boy to give a message to a wealthy Catholic man in Nagapattinam about her appearance.
The lame boy ran to the man to give the message. He was cured of his handicap.
When the wealthy man and the boy came back to the spot, Our Lady reappeared. The wealthy man put up a thatched church at the site of the second appearance.
The third legend is that when the Mother rescured Portuguese sailors from a storm that damaged their ship.
The locals took the sailors to the thatched church and they decided to built a permanent church as a tribute.
These legends were beautifully captured in a Tamil movie “Annai Velankanni” in 1971.
Thomas said the movie really popularised the church and more people started visiting Velankanni.
A police official in Velankanni told IANS that security and other arrangements have been made to handle the devotees who congregate in large numbers.
“There is open space around the church and crowd management will not be an issue,” the police official added.
According to Thomas, special mass will be held in Tamil, English, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi and Konkani.
During the festival, the church car will be pulled by the devotees.
He said this was the first festival after the renovation of the main shrine.
The state-owned transport corporation and Indian Railways have announced special services to handle the additional passenger load to Velankanni from different places.