As a unique testament to communal harmony, and the peace-loving nature of Vizagites, there are three picturesque hillocks each with its own distinctive religious significance along the channel that leads to the inner harbor. There is The Venkateswara Temple on the ‘Sringamani Hillock’, The Ross Hill Church on the ‘Ross Hill’, and The Baba Ishq Madina Dargah on the ‘Dargah Konda’. Each of these shrines has added to the glory and history of Vizag. They are the finest examples of communal harmony and are witness to the growth of small-town into what Vizag is today. While the Dargah is about 700 years old, the temple is more than two centuries old. The Ross Hill Church too is more than a century old…emphasising the quintessence of spiritualism, that ‘all religions are but the branches of the same tree’.
The port channel, the entrance of the inner harbor for ships and liners can be seen from these hilltops. Located just a Kilometre from the Old Post Office in the Port Area, that is around 5 Kilometres from the Railway Station and the RTC Complex, these three hills are a alluring sight for sore eyes amongst the dust and pollution generated by the handling of coal and iron ore shipments, which sadly discourage many from visiting these beautiful spiritual places of worship. One can only beseech the authorities involved to see that Port Development does not disturb the tranquillity of these sacred hills. The first hill to greet visitors is the Sringamani Hill holding aloft the Venkateswara Swamy Temple. Adjacent is the Ross Hill with the Ross Church and a little further away is the Dargah Konda on which the Baba Ishq Madina Dargah rests.
The Lord Venkateswara Temple (Sringamani Konda)
An impressive pyramidal gopura at the entrance welcomes the visitors to this abode of Lord Vishnu. Legend has it that in the late 17th century, a Dutch Ship commandeered by European Captain, Blackmoor, was battered by a severe cyclonic storm floundering off the coast of Vizag. Thanks to the prayers of the workers on board, the ship safely reached the calm waters of the inner channel and was prevented from being pulled back into the choppy sea waters by, what was presumed to be a big boulder. The next day, when the storm subsided, it was found that the ‘rock’ restraining the ship was an idol of Sri Lord Venkateswara. The locals and the ship’s sailors reverently installed the idol on the stately Sringamani Hill overlooking the harbor. Since that day, the idol has been worshipped, and many devotees testify that the Lord grants them any boon they pray for. The temple attracts more than a lakh of people annually. The number of devotees of late is dwindling due to the dust pollution. Authorities need to take steps to restore the temple to its past glory.
The Baba Ishq Madina (Dargah Konda)
The north hill Dargah Konda, has a mosque and the mausoleum of the Muslim saint, Baba Ishaq Madina, revered for his prophecies and venerated by Hindu and Muslim devotees alike. As per the local narrative, a Muslim Saint, Baba Ishaq Madina Walli from Mecca Madina along with his followers settled down on this hill about 700 years ago. He reportedly performed many miracles and helped his devotees. Once he appeared in Aurangzeb’s dream and purportedly summoned him. Aurangajeb visited the Baba subsequently ordered the construction of the Dargah. He also granted huge tracts of lands for the maintenance of the Darga and its staff. In fact, the devout devotees of Baba believe that Visakhapatnam was called ‘Ishaq patnam’ in recognition for Baba’s service to the society and the devotees. The local ‘Pirs Festival’ here attracts large number of not only Muslim devotees but faithful Hindus too. Amongst the famed miracles attributed to the Baba’s grace is one that took place in 1870. When the city was battered by a great cyclone then, the Baba rose from His tomb and ordered the cyclone to subside. Since then, none of the Cyclones seriously damaged the city, according to the Baba’s ardent devotees. Another miracle ascribed to the Baba is the destruction of Pakistani Submarine during the Indo Pak War.
The Ross Hill Church (Ross Hill)
The central and the highest hill amongst the three is named after a local Judge, Monsieur Ross who built a house on it in 1864. In 1866, the then Bishop Msgr J.M. Tissot acquired the bungalow and on August 15, 1867, an altar was erected and blessed as a chapel, by the then Vicar General Fr. Richard. Cyclones in 1870 and 1876 wrought havoc and affected the chapel too. Consequently, on 1st May 1877, a new statue of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was placed upon the altar. The Church underwent many renovations to accommodate the increasing number of devotees.
After the Japanese raid over Visakhapatnam in April 1942, Bishop Roussillon made a vow to take his people in procession to the Ross Hill Chapel, for the town to be preserved from further enemy raids. And since then, there have been no further raids ever. The first ‘Thanksgiving Procession’ took place on Sunday, 10th February 1946. This annual feast of the Immaculate Conception and procession to the top of the Ross hill, from St. Aloysius School on the evening of every 8th December has become an integral part of Vizag Culture.
Almost a century old, this legendary Roman Catholic Mother Mary’s Church is a landmark shrine for people from all walks of life irrespective of caste, creed and color. The pathway to the church is lined with shrines of the stages of the cross. The shrine is a great manifestation of the Catholic Life, a signal proof of everybody’s love and devotion to Mary, the Mother or ‘Deva Matha’ invoked by all — Catholics, Protestants, Hindus and Muslims.
A visit to these hills is religiously rewarding, offering insights into religious tolerance, brotherhood, and a peep into history and heritage of Vizag.