LIFE AND HERITAGE
A small town of yesteryears, Tranquebar retains fishing as its principal economic activity. The other main occupations in Tranquebar along with the neighbouring hamlets are handicrafts and farming.
Basket weaving with bamboo; jugs, toys and deities made with terracotta; jewelry and other small household items made with waste coconut shell; baskets, beads to be used in jewelry, chappals and cushions made with palm leaf; and jewelry, decorative home items and figurines made with sea shells are some of the traditional crafts of Tranquebar. Wood is used for furniture and intricate door carving. Tanjore paintings, wool weaving, stuffed dolls and musical instruments, embroidery, metal and appliqué work are some other crafts that Tranquebar craftspeople excel in. Crafts in Tranquebar have immense potential and a number of steps can be taken to help promote them in a contemporary way. These crafts have the potential of being recognized by the Crafts Council of India (CCI) and Craftmark which are organisations that help Indian craftspeople gain recognition in the mainstream markets. Craftspeople of Tranquebar are the beneficiaries of the post-tsunami socio-cultural development support.
CULTURE AND RELIGION
Tranquebar is a European mispronunciation of the Tamil name ‘Tharangambadi’ which means Land of the Singing Waves. Like the name, the golden coastline and the legacy of the fort, entwine to render a distinct sense to the place. The townscape, against the incessant crashing of the sea, is a silent secret of an Indo-Danish synthesis.
Religion is present in diverse forms of Hinduism, Christianity and Islamism. Tranquebar is home to a mosque and several old churches and temples that date back to over 300 years. It is almost completely free from inter-religious conflict and Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Hindus live harmoniously. Popular festivals are Christmas, Easter, Diwali, Pongal, Eid and Ramadan. Another unique festival which is confined only to Tranquebar is the anniversary of Lord Ziegenbalg (14th January), celebrated on the same day as Pongal . This day is a holiday in Tranquebar. On this day everyone including the Printers’ Association comes together. A large number of religious processions emanate from the presence of a number of shrines in Tranquebar. As such, these processions have an integrating function among people of different faiths and they reflect unity in diversity.
COMMUNITIES THEN AND NOW
Tranquebar, the small fishing village is credited with several “firsts”. The first Danish settlement in India, the first Protestant missionaries set foot here, and the first printing press of India was built here. Tranquebar beach has the second richest surface ozone content in the world. Even before the Danes came to Tranquebar, the town was already a part of the regional maritime trade complex and considered important enough with the arrival of the seafaring Muslim traders. The memoirs of Jon Olafsson, an Icelandic gunner employed by the Danish East Indian Company who lived and worked for a year in the Dansborg fort gives us an insight into the life that was. Olafsson details the ‘fresh fish of many varieties’ at the marketplace which were regularly bought and consumed and different watercrafts constructed in Tranquebar, primarily used for fishing. References to ritual performances involving fish symbolism, dry fish and currency and to a port with 600 fishermen provide further clues on the socio-economic makeup of the place.
Two centuries of Danish heritage has left important cultural and architectural imprints which can be seen in colonial houses, churches, cemeteries, and most particularly, the Dansborg military fort. Today the town generally has a sleepy and relaxed atmosphere. This historic seaside town finds itself in a state of transition trying to overcome the tsunami of 2004. It is undergoing a large-scale restoration. With it’s craft revival programmes it hopes to become a tourist destination. A perfect example of what timely developmental support, conscious restoration and heritage awareness can do.
Structured education in Tranquebar started with the coming of the first two protestant missionaries - Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plutschau from Halle. The upbringing and education of the youth were central elements in the teaching of the foundation, which they incorporated in missionary work in Tranquebar. The missionaries discovered that amidst the then existing system of village and temple schools, though many could read and write, very few could write and spell correctly and read without faltering. Girls, except for those who served the idols in temples, did not get any education. Gurukulas were meant for boys of the Brahmin caste only. In this scenario, the missionaries sowed the seeds of development of common public school system in India.
Today there are four schools in Tranquebar village and eighteen schools in the surrounding areas.