Velankanni is a panchayat town in Nagapattinam district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It lies on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, 350 km south of Chennai (Madras) and 12 km south of Nagapattinam. Once a port that traded with Rome and Greece, the tiny commercial center gradually lost its importance to the larger city of Nagapattinam. The canal built to link this town with Vedaranyam still lies to the west. The Vellayar, a minor branch of the Cauvery River, runs south of the town and discharges into the sea. The town was among the worst hit by the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The town is home to a significant Roman Catholic Latin Rite shrine called the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health. Velankanni has been chosen as one of the heritage cities for HRIDAY - Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana scheme of Government of India. Velankanni has one of the country's biggest Catholic pilgrimage centres, the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health. Devoted to Our Lady of Good Health, it is popularly known as the "Lourdes of the East". Its origins can be traced back to the 16th century. The church's founding is attributed to three miracles: the apparition of Mary and Jesus to a slumbering shepherd boy, the curing of a lame buttermilk vendor, and the survival of Portuguese sailors assaulted by a violent sea storm. It is built in the Gothic style, was modified by Portuguese and then further expanded later on due to the influx of pilgrims. The church building was raised to the status of basilica in 1962 by Pope John XXIII. Annually, 20 million pilgrims flock to the shrine from all over India and abroad, out which an estimated 3 million people visit the shrine during its annual festival from 29 August to 8 September. The 11-day annual festival concludes with the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of Mary on 8 September. Vailankanni is well connected by road and rail to the rest of the country. The East Coast Road (ECR) that runs from Chennai to Cuddalore, connects the town to the rest of the country. The nearest operational airports are Tiruchirappalli International Airport, 165 kilometres (103 mi) away and Chennai International Airport, 300 kilometres (190 mi) away. 2004 tsunami: Vailankanni town was among the worst hit by the massive 26 December tsunami that was triggered by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The tsunami struck at around 9.30 am on that Sunday, when pilgrims from Kerala were inside the church attending the Malayalam Mass. The water did not enter the shrine as it was built on high ground, but the receding waters swept away hundreds of pilgrims who were on the beach. The shrine's compound, nearby villages, hundreds of shops, homes and pilgrims were washed away into the sea. About 600 pilgrims died. Rescue teams extricated more than 300 bodies from the sand and rocks in the vicinity and large number of unidentified bodies were buried in mass graves.




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