Varkala is a coastal town and municipality in Thiruvananthapuram district situated in the Indian state of Kerala. It is the suburban town of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum city). It is located 50 kilometres (approx. 32 miles) north-west of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) and 37 km south-west of Kollam city.
Varkala is the only place in southern Kerala where cliffs are found adjacent to the Arabian Sea. These Cenozoic sedimentary formation cliffs are a unique geological feature on the otherwise flat Kerala coast, and is known among geologists as Varkala Formation and a geological monument as declared by the Geological Survey of India. There are numerous water spouts and spas on the sides of these cliffs.
Varkala is also famous for the 2,000-year old Janardana Swami Temple which is an important Vaishnavaite shrine in India and is often referred to as Dakshin Kashi (Benares of the South). The temple is located close to the Papanasam beach, which is considered to have holy waters which wash away sins, and is also an important Ayurveda treatment centre. The temple has an ancient bell removed from a shipwreck, donated by the captain of the Dutch vessel which sank near Varkala without causing any casualties.
Another major landmark in Varkala is the Sivagiri Mutt, established by the social reformer Sree Narayana Guru. The hill-top mausoleum of Sree Narayana Guru is one of the most famous monuments in Kerala.
It is believed that a Pandyan King was instructed by Lord Brahma to build a temple at this very place to redeem him of his sins. But several other myths abound on the birth of Varkala. Another legend goes like this - when a group of pilgrims approached Saint Narada and told him that they had sinned, Narada threw his valkalam (a loin cloth made from the bark of a tree) and it landed at this scenic village and hence, the place came to be known as Varkala. Narada told the pilgrims to pray for their redemption at Papanasam, which literally means redemption from sins.
Varkala is located at 8.73°N 76.71°E? / 8.73; 76.71.
Varkala is a well-known tourist destination. The town has excellent telecommunication facilities, an average-rated water supply system, fire station, several post offices and a police station. The town has government-run medical facilities in addition to over 10 private hospitals and clinics. A government-run nature cure hospital is also near the Papanasam cliff. The District Ayurvedic Hospital is located in Varkala.
Tourism started thriving by the end of last century at the Varkala beach (Papanasam), which was earlier famous for Vavu Beli, a Hindu custom performed at the beach. Another beach is at Tiruvambadi, one kilometre away and en route the old palace. There is a helipad close to the beach. Scores of ayurvedic massage parlours line the promenade above the beach.
Varkala Beach or Papanasam beach is a haven for sun-bathing and swimming. It is one of the most popular tourism destination in Kerala. The evening views of the sunset are worth lingering over. The cliff and the beach houses a lot of resorts, restaurants and other shops. The cliff has a long stretch of small shops which goes on for over a kilometer. The black part of the sand on the Varkala Beach contains Thorium-oxide which is a radioactive substance. Thorium and Thorium-oxide and its isotopes are found all over Kerala and can be identified by its black colour.