- Dhanushkodi is an abandoned town at the south-eastern tip of Pamban Island of the state of Tamil Nadu in India. It is situated to the South-East of Pamban and is about 18 miles west of Talaimannar in Sri Lanka.
The story of Dhanushkodi, a cyclone hit town, where reality coexists with myths, mysteries and miracles.
A visit to Dhanushkodi makes one wonder as to how such peace and tranquility can at times, also unleash such fury and destruction, but then life goes on, as does for the small section of the fisherfolk who continue to inhabit the island and depend on it for their basic needs of food and drinking water, which the island continues to provide for them, often in miraculous ways!
This deserted island is occupied by hutments of fisherfolk who seem to live in isolation and with no connection other than jeeps to the mainland and their main means of survival seems to depend on the fish they catch from the sea. With no basic facilities to depend on, we come across an interesting way in which women from these communities get their drinking water and wonder if this is the place where reality coexists/mingles with myths, mysteries and miracles turning it into a seemingly unique location.
Bordered by the Bay of Bengal on one and the Indian Ocean on the other, Dhanushkodi, some 20 kilometres away from Rameshwaram, is one of the most spectacular stretches of Tamil Nadu with not more than 50 fisherfolk dwellings with a population of around 500.
Myth says that this is the place where Lord Rama pointed to with the tip of his bow and Lord Hanumana along with his army built a bridge (Setu) to cross the sea to reach Sri Lanka. Indeed, Sri Lanka is just 31 kilometres away from Dhanushkodi.
A visit to Dhanushkodi takes your breath away and is a visual treat with incredibly beautiful views of the clear blue sea, but at the same time envelopes you with sadness with its ruins and the dilapidated remains of what was once a flourishing town. Dhanushkodi was a major point of entry to India until 1964, when a cyclone devastated the entire town, washing away the railway track, a steam engine and its carriages, and the entire village.
Rameswaram Dhanushkodi - The Ghost Town
Train on Pamban bridge - India's first sea bridge
Train on Pamban bridge - India's first sea bridge
A map showing the location of Dhanushkodi island.
The cyclone in 1964 that destroyed Dhanushkodi
There were many ferry services between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar of Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka), transporting travellers and goods across the sea. There were hotels, textile shops and dharmashalas catering to these pilgrims and travellers.
Dhanushkodi, in those days, also had a railway station, a small railway hospital, a higher secondary school, a post office, customs and port offices etc. One can still see the sad remains of the railway line, some of the ruins of the offices and the hospital and the old school, which is reused now for the 500 inhabitants who continue to stay on the island .
Before the cyclone, there was a train service up to Dhanushkodi called Boat Mail from Madras Egmore (Now Chennai Egmore), which would halt on the south-eastern side of Dhanushkodi township, where a waiting steamer transported passengers to Sri Lanka
A depression with its centre in South Andaman Sea on 17 December 1964 is what brought about this cyclone. On 19 th December, it intensified into a cyclonic storm.
After 21 December 1964, it started moving westwards at the rate of 250 miles (400 km) to 350 miles (560 km) per day. On 22 nd December, it crossed Vavunia of Ceylon ( now called Sri Lanka) with a wind velocity of 280 km/hour, moved into Palk Strait in the night and crashed into Dhanushkodi of Rameshwaram island on the night of 22–23 December 1964.
It was estimated that tidal waves were 8 yards high when it crossed Rameshwaram
On that night (December 22) at 23.55 hours while entering Dhanushkodi railway station, the train No.653, Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger, a daily regular service which left Pamban with 110 passengers and 5 railway staff, was only few hundred yards before Dhanushkodi Railway station when it was hit by a massive tidal wave. The entire train was washed away killing all 115 on board.
A few metres ahead of Dhanushkodi, the signal failed. With pitch darkness around and no indication of the signal being restored, the driver blew a long whistle and decided to take the risk. Minutes later, a huge tidal wave submerged all the six coaches in deep water.
The tragedy that left no survivors also destroyed the Pamban bridge, which connected the mainland of India to Rameshwaram island
Reports say that over 1800 people died in the cyclonic storm. All houses and other structures in Dhanushkodi town were marooned.
The high tidal waves moved deep onto this island and ruined the entire town. Naval vessels sent to rescue people reported seeing several bloated bodies around the eastern end of Dhanushkodi.
Eyewitness accounts recollected how the surging waters stopped short of the main temple at Rameshwaram where many people had taken refuge from the fury of the storm.
Following this disaster, the Government of Madras declared Dhanushkodi a ghost town and unfit for living.
Only a few fisherfolk now live here. One can now reach Dhanushkodi either on foot along the sea shore by the sand dunes or in jeeps and tempos of fishermen. A ride down this 20 km long straight road leading to the ruins of the township is an exciting experience in itself. We have hired a jeep and the driver is a resident of the village itself. During the bumpy ride, he shows us the remains of the rail tracks covered with sand, and those of the school, the hospital and office buildings. He also shows us the village that includes some 50 households staying in makeshift thatched houses.