Katchatheevu (Kachchativu) is a small 163-acre (0.66 square kilometers), barren, uninhabited island located in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka. It lies right in the center of Rameswaram in India and Delft Island of Sri Lanka with 22km and 18.5km distance respectively. Despite its small size, the island has a long and complex history connecting Sri Lanka and India.
During the British rule, this bare island had been occasionally used as a naval gunnery practice range by the British. However after Independence of the two countries from British rule, both countries had made claims to this small islet without a resolution for over 3 decades (Muni, 1974).
However in 1974, a bilateral agreement was reached by the two nations with India accepting the ownership of the island to Sri Lanka and adopted a ‘deviating median’ that the 163-acre barren islet on the Sri Lankan side of the ‘International Maritime Border Line’ (IMBL), drawn for the first time. Independent of political and governmental pressures from Tamil Nadu, successive governments at the Centre have stood by this decision, as notified under the first edition of the ‘UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’ (UNCLOS), which conferred international legitimacy to the Accord and made unilateral revocability, near-impossible.
The barren island of Katchatheevu (Kachchativu) is still uninhabited except for a small Naval base of Sri Lanka Navy.
Katchatheevu (Kachchativu) Church and the Festival
This barren island takes a whole new look 2 days every year when the annual St. Antony’s festival is held. During these 2 days over 6000 pilgrims from India and Sri Lanka flock the St. Antony’s church, the only permanent building in the whole island, and spend the night under makeshift tents or clear blue sky.
The first church for St Anthony, the patron saint of sailors and fishermen is said to be built on this island in early 1900’s by a wealthy Indian fisherman. The current church lies on a small hillock on the island on the side of Sri Lanka. During the period of Tamil Tiger Terrorists, starting from 1987, the whole area including the island was out of bound to fisherman for almost 30 years.
After the defeat of the LTTE terrorists, the festival was started again and is managed by the Sri Lankan Navy. Katchatheevu (Kachchativu) Church festival is held on a weekend during the months of February and March. Pilgrims from India are ferried mostly from Rameswaram. According to the agreement between the Indian and Sri Lankan government, the citizens of India are not required to possess an Indian passport or Sri Lankan visa for visiting Kachchatheevu for the festival.
During this period, Sri Lankan navy carries out a massive logistics operation at this island, providing drinking water, sanitary facilities, generators for electricity, health facilities, shelter, food for pilgrims and life saving operations.
Once on the island, the pilgrims participate in religious ceremonies and rituals. Hindu pilgrims offer prayers to Lord Rama and take a dip in the sea to purify themselves. Catholic pilgrims attend mass at the St. Anthony’s church and light candles in memory of their loved ones. Both communities offer coconuts, flowers, and other offerings to the deities.
The island path from the port to the church become active with a large number of hawker stalls selling all types of Sri Lankan food and quite happy to accept Indian Rupees. Some pilgrims bring tents and most are happy to sleep on the beaches under the night sky cooled by natural sea breeze. Bringing Alcohol to the island is prohibited.
The book “Romantic Ceylon’ published in 1929 records a brief description of the island and of this festival
“On going a farther ten miles out to sea there is a small island called Kachchativu, on which is said to grow, in addition to numerous other health-giving herbs, a kind of golden-coloured mistletoe, which, when eaten, gives immortal life. The mistletoe seems to be difficult to find, as even Delft people, up to date, have all gone the same way eventually. Unfortunately there is no water on Kachchativu, so no one lives there, but it is quite fertile. There is a small Roman Catholic shrine, and yearly, in March, about six hundred pilgrims visit it, occasionally meeting with considerable adversity while awaiting a favourable wind to return.“
- Muni, S. D. (1974). Kachchativu Settlement: Befriending Neighbouring Regimes. Economic and Political Weekly, 9(28), 1119–1122. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4363832
- Bassett, R.H., Laws, E.J. and Murdoch, K. (1929) Romantic Ceylon : Its History, Legend and Story. London: Palmer.
- Attractions of Sri Lanka
- Heritage of Sri Lanka
- Waterfalls of Sri Lanka
- Nature and Wildlife of Sri Lanka
- Other Places of Interest Within Close Proximity
Map of Katchatheevu (Kachchativu) Island
The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites
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Travel Directions to Katchatheevu (Kachchativu) Island
From Sri Lanka, the boat ride start from Kurikadduwan Jetty in Jaffna. This is the same jetty which boats travel to Nagadeepa Island (Nainativu island) and Delft Island from mainland Jaffna on regular basis. The boats only operates during the festival days and takes about 3 hours to reach the island.