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Asian Tsunami Imagery
Karaikal, India

Karaikal is on the east coast about 140 kms south of pondicherry and 300 kms south of Chennai (Madras), located on the coramandel coast of the Bay of Bengal. Karaikal is one of the four regions of the Union Territory of Pondicherry. It is about 300 Kms. south of Chennai and about 135 Ks. from Pondicherry on the East Coast. It is surrounded by the Nagappattinam and Thiruvarur Districts of Tamil Nadu State.

A devastating earthquake occurred on December 26, 2004 off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The resulting Tsunami killed thousands of people in Southern India. On 30 December 2004 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an aerial survey of the tsunami-affected areas in Karaikal, an enclave of the Union Territory of Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. Pondicherry's hopes of boosting its economic status through tourism development has suffered a setback in the wake of the tsunami, which claimed over 600 lives. Though Pondicherry town has not been affected, the devastation, especially in the Karaikal region, had scared away tourists. In Cuddalore, 500 deaths were reported, while at Kalpakkam the toll was put at 100. In Pondicherry, 500, including 400 at Karaikal, were said to be dead. A total of 720 hectares of crops were lost by farmers in the tsunami onslaught in the region. While 2,225 sheep were lost in Karaikal, Pondicherry recorded death of 31 sheep.

Forming part of the fertile Cauveri delta the region is completely covered by the distributaries of Cauveri. Covered completely by a thick mantle of alluvium of variable thickness, the lie of the region is flat having a gentle slope towards the Bay of Bengal in the east. It is limited on the north by the Nandalar and on the south-east by the Vettar. The group of rocks known as Cuddalore formations is met with in the area contiguous to Karaikal region in Nagappattinam District.

Several explanations are offered for the name Karaikal. There is no doubt that it is a combination of two words,'karai' and 'kal'. Both 'karai' and 'kal' have several meanings, of which the more plausible one being "a canan made of lime mixture". According to Julien Vinson, the town is said to have been known as Karagiri in Sanskrit. The Imperial Gazetteer gives to the name of the town the meaning of a 'fish pass'.

The Karaikal area formed an integral part of the Pallava kingdom in the eighth century (C 731-796). Poet Sekkizhar (992-1042) describes the town as "vanga malik kadar karaikal", the 'Karaikal of many vessels on the coast' in his Peria puranam. In that the poet relates the life story of one Punithavathiar who abandoned the pleasures of material life and devoted herself entirely to a life of prayer and penance to signify her devotion to Lord Siva. He called her 'Karaikal Ammayar', conveniently after the town which must have been famous already.

Karaikal town is gifted with a sea beach where people relax. There is also a boat house on the beach road. From Times immemorial, Karaikal has been known for its rich religious heritage. It is an ideal place for those who like to seek solitude, leisure and serenity on the shore. With rivers and beaches it is, untoushed by tourists. The French flavor still persists the peaceful land of Karaikal. The pilgrim tourist visiting Tamil Nadu never fail to include this temple town in their itinerary.

Although it is not known how long and to what extent this fourfold classification was adhered to in practice in the areas that now fall under this Territory, it may be assumed that the four fold division of society in accordance with the Hindu sastra continued to be respected even during the Chola days. Many new castes found a place in the social strata of the Tamil districts including Karaikal region with the influx of Telugu and Kanarese people during the Vijayanagar days.

The French having come here originally as traders did not interfere in matters of customs and practices. Even after they established themselves as the rulers of the land they allowed the natives to maintain good relations with them. These customs and practices were closely linked to the system of castism.

The French when they returned in 1816 were a changed lot carrying some of the sparks of the French Revolution. The order of the Governor dated 6-01-1819 extended the French Civil Code to the French establishments, without prejudice to local customs and usages. The order enjoined that Hindus shall be governed by the provisions of the French Civil Code only in matters when the provisions of this Code were not contrary to Hindu customs.

This Union Territory has a very interesting language composition. This is primarily due to the scattered location of the regions. However, Karaikal being surrounded by Tamil Nadu where the dominant language is Tamil.

Hindus form the largest religious community in this region. (According to the 1961 Census, 75.37% Hindus in Karaikal). There are in all 99 temples in Karaikal region, 91 under Government control and the remaining 8 under private management. In Karaikal region there are 30 Saivite shrines, 15 Vaishnavite temples, 33 Amman shrines, 8 Ganesh temples and 13 dedicated to other deities. It is however, to be noted that there is not even a single temple dedicated to Lord Murugan in Karaikal.

Christians are concentrated in Karaikal at 10.75% (1961 Census) in the total population.

Karaikal has the highest percentage of muslim population in this Union Territory of Pondicherry. Even before the French landed at Pondicherry in 1674 there was Muslims in the area. Historians have pointed out that there were two mosques in the town. They had settled here at least several centuries ago. The seafaring Arabs who migrated from their native land in the early part of VII century. Most of the muslims in Karaikal belong to the Sunni sect. A great majority of the musilims in Karaikal follow the Shafi school of ritual and dogma. There are 13 Pallivasals and 8 Durghas were listed out on enquiries and scattered references.

The system of classification of population as urban and rural was not adopted during the French period. This concept was first introduced in this Territory only in 1961. As such, there is little scope for an in-depth study of the problem of urbanization inthe Territory. According to the 1961 census, the urban population figured at 22,252 in Karaikal urban area. Considering the range and scope of industries located in the town, it will be more appropriate to describe Pondicherry and Karaikal too as an industrial town. Karaikal has the least number of houses per square mile showing the less congested nature among the rural areas of the Territory.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:37:28 ZULU