Velankanni venerated all over the map for its ‘Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health’ dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Mother of Jesus Christ is a Roman Catholic Pilgrim Destination of India that is visited by millions of devotees and tourists all through the year. Mother Mary of Velankanni worshipped here as the ‘Sacred Arogya Matha’ is supposed to hold miraculous curative powers and once you pay homage at the feet of Our Lady of Good Health, all your sicknesses and diseases are sure to get healed.
According to the prevalent custom, the pilgrims offer the wax replicas of the afflicted body part in the church and pray to the Arogya Matha for its recovery. These wax replicas are available in the shops set up around the Basilica premises. Apart from that, devotees also perform Tonsure (Mundan or Head Shaving) and ear piercing at the Velankanni Church in order to fulfill their vows for the healthy and safe life of their children. Official Centers for head shaving and ear piercing also operate at Velankanni under the Church Management.
Aside from the Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, devotees also pay homage at the nearby shrine of Our Lady of Sorrow. In this shrine the sorrowing Mother Mary is portrayed carrying the Infant Jesus in her sacred arms. Long colorful candles are lit at both these churches. The candles can be purchased from the shops around the Basilica. These outlets also sell rosaries, images and idols of Mother Mary & Jesus Christ and other religious articles.
The Velankanni Shrine Basilica celebrates its annual ‘Arokkaiyamatha Festival’ for ten days from 29th August to 8th September. 8th September is the hallowed day celebrated as the ‘Feast of the Nativity of Mary’ which commemorates the safe landing of the Portuguese Sailors at the Velankanni Port who later on established the original Shrine of Mother Mary here. The ‘Feast of the Nativity of Mary’ is being celebrated at Velankanni for past 500 years with equal majesty and grandeur.
Roughly 1.5 million people alight at Velankanni from all corners of the globe on the auspicious occasion of the annual Arokkaiyamatha Festival. Masses are conducted in the Velankanni Basilica in eight different languages i.e. Tamil, English, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Konkani, Marathi and Hindi. Pilgrims full of unbounded faith bathe devoutly in the sea, tonsure their heads and then walk all the way to the church on their knees or roll up to the shrine as a part of their ritual.
On 29th August i.e. the first day of the festival, thousands of devotees march towards the church in a grand procession which is followed by the flag hoisting ceremony performed in the exclusive presence of the District Collector and other Political Leaders. Three chariots of Virgin Mary, St Michael and St Joseph are carried in an ostentatious parade every day of the festival. On the culminating days videlicet 7th and 8th September the evening masses are expressly conducted by the Bishops of Thanjavur. Not only that, various cultural performances are also held here for the entertainment of the pilgrims.
The festival concludes on 8th September with the lowering of the flag at 6 in the evening. Apart from the annual feast, several customs and rituals are performed at the church throughout the year. For example, a chariot procession accompanied by a candle-lit march-past and melodious recitation of hymns is conducted here every Saturday and on other special occasions like Independence Day. A procession is conducted within the premises of the Shrine at 6.45 pm on the first Friday of every month. This procession is followed by the benediction.
The Blessed Sacrament is displayed at the Church on the first Saturday of every month following the daily chariot procession. This ceremony is especially attained by the sick and ailing. The unwell pilgrims are divided into groups based on their diseases and they are separately blessed with the holy Sacrament. A special mass is conducted from 9:00 pm till midnight post the Blessed Sacrament.