Historical insight into Visakhapatnam City
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
The city with an undulating terrain, dotted with hillocks and hills was a small fishing village centuries ago. It acquired the name Vizagpatam during the British regime and later, it is shortly referred to as ‘Vizag’. The city today is a busy and well developed port with the distinctive advantage of a natural harbour, the only one on the east coast of India. Of late, Visakhapatnam port is emerging as one of the largest ports in the country, besides being one of the Asia’s promising major ports. The city has a coastline of 12 km with the seafront providing a number of recreational areas along the beach.
Visakhapatnam/Vizag – Hidden within the folds of its verdant hills and picturesque valleys there is a bustling city, an industrial centre, with heritage buildings, ancient temples, Buddhists monuments, natural wonders, golden beaches, art, history, culture, a rich legacy of ancient and historical sites of religious, cultural and natural significance. And all this progress and preservation of heritage has taken place in the midst of the awe-inspiring Eastern Ghats with the hills on one side and the azure waters of Bay of Bengal on the other.
It is a perfect tourist destination and rightly called the ‘jewel on the East Coast’. Strategically, it is very important for the coast guard and navy. Its geographical advantage has made this city the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command of the Indian Navy. In addition, a number of major industries, ship building yard, a huge dry dock, a mega oil refinery, software giants, a massive steel plant and thermal power plant make Vizag one of the modern faces of India.
The story of the Name:
One popular belief is that the town was named after Buddhist princess Visakha (5th to 6th Century BCE), as referred in the Buddhist Gathas (stories). Another similar theory attributes the name to a Buddhist monk, Vaisakhi. The Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang visited Andhra during 639-40 CE. In his travelogue he mentioned the name of ‘Visakha kingdom’, where Hinayana Buddhism was prevalent. Another school of thought attributes the name derived from the God of valour, Visakeshwara, another name of Lord Murugan or Kumaraswamy. This is supported by the strong belief that there lies submerged a shore temple built by Kuluttonga Chola of the Lord just off the shoreline.
Then again, the name is credited to a Muslim saint, Ishaq Madina, revered by both the Hindus and Muslims, especially those who lived off the sea. And the simplest yet most plausible explanation is that the city got its name from its topography; ‘isaka’ is the Telugu word for sand. The vast sand expanses could have contributed to the name.
Historically, Visakhapatnam was considered to be a part of Dandakaranya forest. Later, as part of the Kalinga Empire, it was conquered by Asoka in about 260 BCE. In about the 11th century CE, the Simhachalam temple was constructed. It is the abode of God Sri Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha. This temple is unique for its principal deity being the combined form of two incarnations of Lord Vishnu, namely Varaha the boar and Narasimha, the man- lion. The deity is always completely covered with sandal paste in a dome shaped form. Only once in a year, on the third day of Vaisakha month (in May) the sandal paste is removed and the real idol of God is shown to devotees.
The next significant happening was the establishment of the Dutch colony in 1735. Later, in 1765, Visakhapatnam became a part of the Northern Circars, initially under French control, only to be expelled by the British later. The city has evolved and flourished under the British. Prior to that, Visakhapatnam has witnessed the reigns of various kingdoms – Asoka, Pallavas, Cholas and Gangas.
Under the British, development was manifold. Like the establishment of the Andhra medical College (1902), railway connection to Madras and Calcutta (1904), the Andhra University (1926), Port (1933), Eastern Naval Command (1947), and clubs like the Golf Club and Waltair Club. Post independence, in 1949, Scindia Shipyard (HSL) was commissioned, HPCL (Caltex) came up (1957) and in 1981, Visakhapatnam Steel Plant opened its gates. Now there is a blossoming film industry, chemical industries and the IT parks adding to Vizag’s progress.
The unique topography, ancient history, cultural heritage and adaptability to modern trends have given Vizag an edge over many other cities and port towns. In tune with preferential tourism, Vizag has temple tourism, beach tourism, heritage tourism, Buddhist circuit, eco-tourism, medical tourism, educational tourism, cuisine tourism, adventure sport tourism, river tourism and culture based tourism. Its time to explore the enigma that is Vizag.
The author is Principal(retired), V.S.Krishna Government College, Visakhapatnam.