Karaikal-A Former French Colony Known for its Temples
Karaikal, is an enclave of union territory of Pondicherry, located 133 km south of Pondicherry town. Geographically separated from Pondicherry, the town retains its French identity besides its Tamil identity. Formerly part of French colonies in India till 1954; Karaikal is a major port city in Eastern India. Famous for being the birthplace of Karaikal Ammaiyar Saint; only woman out of 63 Nayanmars. The city got its name from mix of two Tamil words 'Karai' and 'Kal' that literally mean 'lime mix' and 'canal'; meaning canal built of lime mix; though no canal exists today.
Karaikal was once part of Kingdom of Thanjavur, when French bought it in 1738, alongside Karakalcheri fortress and eight dependent villages. Later French bought more tamil villages from the king including Kondagai, Vanjiyur, Kilaiyur, Melaiyur, Tirumalairayanpattinam, Puduthurai, Kovilpathu, Arimullimangalam, Niravi, Uzhiapathu, Dharmapuram, Mathalangudi and Polagam creating the southern French Indian enclave in Tamil Nadu. Present area of Karaikal is result of 1816 treaty with Britishers who had captured it in 1760. Karaikal district gained freedom from France on 31 October 1954 alongside other French territories of Mahé, Pondicherry, and Yanam; to become part of India with promulgation of Pondicherry Municipality Act, 1973.
The district alongside Karaikal town where French, English and Tamil are spoken with ease includes communes of Nedungadu, Kottucherry, Neravy, Thirunallar, Tirumalarajanpattinam, Poovam, and Varichikudy. Surrounded on North and South by Nagapattinam district and on west by Tiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu state; and Bay of Bengal in east. Karaikal is mainly famous for Kailasanathar Shiva Temple, Nithyakalyana Perumal Temple, and Karaikal Ammayar Temple. Other important places of worship include Karaikal Grand Masjid, Thiruthelicherri Parvatheeswara Temple, Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Jadaayupureeswar Temple, Egambareswarar Temple, Navagraha Temples, Bhadrakaliamman Temple, Darbaranyeswarar or Saneeswara temple at Thirunallar, and Our Lady of Angels Church.
The pilgrimage town is famous for Ayiram Kaliamman or Kali temple that opens once in 5 years for 3 days; when pilgrims from across Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry come here. Karaikal is also famous for Ganduri Festival or Karaikal Chariot Festival that celebrates Lord Kailasanathar or Shiva. Other important festivals include Vaikunta Ekadasi, Rama Navami, Hanuman Jayanti as well as famous Sani Peyarchi Festival also called ‘Kumb Mela’ of Pondicherry; Mangani festival at Karaikal Ammayar temple; Kandoori festival at Mastan Syed Dawood Dargah; and Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes at Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Muslims, Hindus and Christians live in harmony here.
During Masi Magam festival all deities of temples in and around Karaikal are brought in ceremonial procession to seashore for symbolic immersion ceremony. The city bears festive look during this time. The fire walking festivals held four times a year sees many people walking on fire upon fulfillment of their wishes. Karaikal is also used as base to reach Velankanni, famous for Velankanni Church Festival at Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health; and Nagore, famous for Nagore dargah built in the name Sufi saint Nagore Shahul Hamid.
Well connected by rail and road with major cities of Tamil Nadu, a new greenfield airport built by Karaikal Airport Private Limited, a private company is set to become operational by late 2018. Being a temple town, there are several hotels, resort and lodges where people can stay as per their budget, but advance booking is must during festivals. The restaurants predominantly serve South Indian vegetarian food but some also serve non-vegetarian food including Chinese. As a former French colony there are several bars in the town where people interested can enjoy their drink. A special delicacy called Trinelveli halwa is famous, and many sweet shops on Barathiyar road sell it.
Best time to visit are months of February-March, June-July and October to January. The city has a private port, Karaikal Port Private Limited developed by MARG Limited, Chennai famous for handling fishing related business. Tourist can also visit Arasalar river front that has restaurants, children's park, tennis court and Boating Club. The Karaikal beach, allows adventure junkies to indulge in activities like boating, kayaking, and canoeing. Tourist can also visit Arumugaswamy Temple, Nagapattinam; Abirami Amman Temple, Thirukadaiyur; Tantondreeswara Temple, Nedungadu; Singaravelavar Temple, Sikkal; Danish Fort, Tharangambadi; Darasuram Temple and Brihadishwara Temple in Kumbakonam.