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Tranquebar (Tharangambadi), Former Danish Colony in Tamil Nadu

Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

Former Danish Colony in Tamil Nadu

Also see: FAM Trip of Tamil Nadu

Tharangambadi (Tranquebar), the place of the singing waves, is a small coastal town in Tamil Nadu 120 km south of the former French colony Pondicherry (Puducherry). Tharangambadi is known for its ozone rich beaches. It was once a Danish colony and was known as Tranquebar.

Dansborg Fort, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

Dansborg Fort, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

Today the Danish Fort of Dansborg still dominates the Tranquebar skyline and the fortified town still has its share of colonial charm and legacy. The coastal town complete with forts, churches and colonial buildings is surrounded by high wall complete with bastions and stands as a colonial island surrounded by rural landscape.

Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) Map

Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) Map (Click on the map to open on a new tab)

The Danish history of Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) dates back to 1620 and it happens to be the oldest Danish settlement in India. It predates Sreerampur another former Danish colony near Kolkata by 135 years.

Tranquebar Gateway from outside

Tranquebar Gateway from outside

The settlement was part of a contract between Danish East India Company envoy Admiral Ove Gjedde and Thanjavur king, Ragunath Nayak.

On 19 November 1620 Tharangambadi was established as a Danish Trading post for an annual sum of ₹ 3111 (aprox) and came to be known as Tranquebar.

Sailing round the Cape of Good Hope, Ove Gjedde first arrived in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), which was then a Portuguese colony.

Initially some negotiations worked out with the local king but the Danes were soon driven away by the Portuguese and they finally landed in Tharangambadi overlooking the Bay of Bengal.

Tranquebar Gateway from inside

Tranquebar Gateway from inside

The Danes soon turned the sleepy fishing village into a flourishing trading post centred around a small fort. As trade grew the settlement flourished attracting traders from far and wide.

Soon churches and colonial styled mansions started coming up turning the small hamlet into a colonial styled small town.

In the middle of the 19th century the Danes were not able to maintain their trading posts in India. In 1845 they decided to sell Tranquebar to the British, thus ending their 225 years of rule of Tranquebar. More than 175 years have since the transfer but Tranquebar has still hold on to its colonial charm.

Ornamental details of Tranquebar Gateway

Several significant events happened during the 225 years of Danish rule in Tranquebar. The most significant among them is the arrival of the two German Lutheran Missonary, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Pluetschau.

New Jerusalem Church, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

New Jerusalem Church, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

They arrived in Tranquebar on 9 July 1706 as part of Tranquebar Mission. They were the first Protestant Missonaries in India. Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg learnt Tamil and translated the Bible (New Testament) in Tamil. He also went on to print the New Testament of the Bible in Tamil from a printing press in Tranquebar.

During the Tsunami of 2004 Tranquebar suffered serious damages but reconstruction and restoration efforts started soon after.

New Jerusalem Church, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

New Jerusalem Church, Tranquebar

Several of the colonial buildings were restored and given a new look and a couple were even transformed into heritage hotels.

In the last decade there have been a significant development in tourism in Tranquebar.

Sadly it still remains under the shadows of its more famed French counterpart of Pondicherry (Puducherry).

Only a portion of the wall and the moat that surrounded the Danish settlement stands to this day, so does a couple of bastions and a gateway. The arched gateway on the western end of the town (Google map location) still welcomes visitors to the once fortified coastal town.

Zion Church, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

Zion Church, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

The original gate known as landporten (meaning town gate in Danish) was constructed during the fortification of the town in 1660s.

In 1791 the original gate, which was in a dilapidated state, was replaced with a new gateway. The gateway still stands to this day.

It was designed by the then Danish governor Peter Anker and executed by the engineer Mühldorf.

The gateway is simple with a small arched opening and limited ornamentation. The arched opening allows entry of small vehicles. Larger vehicle enter the town from the south.

Statue of Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

Statue of Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

The gateway leads to the King’s Street, running in the east-west direction it leads all the way to the ozone rich beaches of Tranquebar. The road is lined on either side by several colonial mansions.

Maritime Museum, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

Maritime Museum, Tranquebar

On the left lies the Rehling’s House, named after a former Danish Governor Johannes Rehling, consisted of a series of white colonnades.

A little further away on the right is the New Jerusalem Church (Google map location).

It was constructed in 1618 by Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg because the existing mission church proved too small for the growing local Christian population.

The entry of the cross-shaped white church is marked with the royal monogram of Frederick IV of Denmark, with the year of consecration 1718 written below the monogram.

Governor's Bungalow, Tranquebar (Tharangambadi)

Governor’s Bungalow, Tranquebar

The compound houses several scattered graves. The interiors are simple and elegant. Ziegenbalg lies buried inside the church.

Further down the King’s Road leads to the crossing of Queen’s Road. On the north-west corner of the crossing is the Zion Church (Google map location).

The small but elegant church dates back to 1701 and is the oldest church in Tranquebar and also happens to be the oldest Protestant church of India.

On the north-east corner of the crossing is a small enclosure housing a full length statue of Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg. The statue was installed in 2009 as part of tercentenary celebration of the Tranquebar Mission.

Tranquebar Mission landing plaque and ozone rich beach of Tranquebar

Tranquebar Mission landing plaque and ozone rich beach of Tranquebar

Just behind the statue of Ziegenbalg is the Tranquebar Maritime Museum (Google map location). The small museum has an interesting collection of artifacts covering a wide range of subjects. They include sea shells, old maps & photos, Danish costumes and even a wooden boat.

Tranquebar Mission landing plaque

Tranquebar Mission landing plaque

Next to the Maritime Museum is the Tranquebar Governor’s Hose. The building came up as a private residence of the Danish Governor during the Governorship of David Brown (1776 – 84).

Next to the governor house and right on the beach is the heritage hotel The Bungalow on the Beach (Google map location).

In front of the Governor House is a open ground known as the Parade Ground. On the eastern end of the Parade Ground and right on the beach is a memorial plaque.

It commemorates the landing of the Lutheran Missionaries. The plaque was installed in 1906 to commemorate the bicentenary of the historical event.

Dansborg Fort, Tranquebar

Across the parade ground and on the southern south is the prime attraction of Tranquebar, Dansborg Fort. In spite of being a small fort it happens to be the second largest Danish fort in the world.

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Presently it houses a small museum. Spread over a couple of rooms the museum contains a host of exhibits covering a vast array of topics. From models of European Ships to stone sculptures of Hindu deities and from fort documents to the skeleton of dolphins.

Tranquebar Press

Tranquebar Press

Behind and west of the Dansborg Fort is the Danish Cemetery (Google map location). Sadly during my visit in September 2021 the cemetery was in a dilapidated state. It was overgrown with vegetation and totally inaccessible.

Printing press, Tranquebar

Printing press, Tranquebar

Tranquebar also happens to be the place where the Bible (New Testament) was translated in Tamil and printed by Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg.

The press, which was once the house of Ziegenbalg, still stands and has been converted into a small museum known as A Museum of Intercultural Dialogue and Printing Exhibition.

Located in Admiral Cheese, which is parallel to Kings Street and is north of it (Google map location).

The first printed Tamil Bible and also the one hand written by Ziegenbalg in Tamil are on display. The printing machines and also the Tamil letter setting can also be seen. The museum is housed inside a school complex which also houses a Church Hall and a bust of Ziegenbalg.

View of Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) from Dansborg Fort

View of Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) from Dansborg Fort

The sleepy hamlet of Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) really transports the visitors into a charming European small town. It is a journey back in time. It also adds a fresh dose of ozone to refresh both the mind and body of the visitor.


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