Kilakarai is a municipality in Ramanathapuram District Tamil Nadu. As of 2011, the town had a population of 38,355. Kilakarai is one of the Taluka in Ramanathapuram District. Kilakarai is an East Coastal Town and a port, located in the southern Tamil Nadu. It was a flourishing seaport and a gateway to places as far as Madurai until the early 20th century. The famous pearl belt known as the Gulf of Mannar in the Bay of Bengal is dotted with small islands Appa Tivu, Nallathanni Theevu, Shuli Tivu, Uppu Tanni Tivu, Talari Tivu and Musal Tivu. The coastal line of Kilakarai is formed by a series of small bays and finest coral reefs sheltering the town from the perils of the ocean. It was also called as “Quilicare”, kirkari, Sembi Nadu, Korkai, Powthira Manicka Pattinam, “Kelikkarai”, “Ninathaan mudithaan pattinam”, “Seppi Nadu”, “lebbat pattan” (pattan mentioned in voyages of Ibn Battuta & map displayed in Ibn Batuta Mall).
The prime occupations of the people were pearl, conch, sea trade and transport. The mid-20th century saw a decline in the occupations of the people of Kilakarai, with the advent of the surface transport the Merchant Navies faded away and Kilakarai aka Killikare ceased to be a harbor and port. The cultured pearl industry and the mindless dragnet fishing that destroyed the coral reefs, choked the once robust pearl trade or Muthu Salabam. The conch and coral industries declined due to new regulations and restrictions. Vattalappam is a famous dish during Eid and some special occasions. Kilakarai is renowned for its communal harmony. The majority of the population here is Muslim with people of other faith Hindu, Christians living together. The communal harmony that always existed is best exemplified by the famous Rameswaram Ramanathaswamy and Jumma Pallivasal is interred here at Kilakarai, while the architecture is the same the workforce was provided by the erstwhile ruler Sethupathi of Ramnad and most of the materials for both the edifice were supplied by the Kilakarai merchant navies. The town is reminiscent of Spanish Moorish architecture and is located about 60 km south west of the temple town of Rameswaram.
It has the oldest mosque in India known as the Kadakarai Palli. It has a unique pre-Islamic heritage of more than 200 years. The Kilakarai Muslims or Kilakarai Moors form 80% of the population of Kilakarai. Ibn Batuta once said in his travel notes “it’s the place where most Arab settlers live and he was surprised to see them living as in Arab land”.
The migration of the people after the decline of the marine trade and industry resulted in people exploring the other parts of the globe. Kilakarai has a large expatriate population and a high literacy rate. This has enabled the people of Kilakarai to span the globe and become active merchants in the Middle and Far East, US and European markets.
Hameedia Primary School was started as a Madrasa in the year 1870, and gradually became a Thinnai Palli and became a registered School in 1938 due to the efforts of K.T.M. Hussain Sahib, fondly known as Haajiaar. This school is completing its sesquicentennial year (150th year) in 2020. The Hameedia Primary School Alumni Association – (HPSAA) consists of great stalwarts of Kilakarai including the founders of ETA, Crescent, Sathak Group and more than 100 institutions and business enterprises worldwide.
HPSAA is organizing an Annual Reunion and Trade Fair annually on 25th & 26th of December, commencing its 150th year in 2019. Trade Fair and business summits, Job Fair, Free Medical Camp, Food Counters, Seminars and Talk shows for the benefit of the People of Kilakarai on a high note. Leading Brands, institutions, Business houses are expected to participate in this year’s edition.
Hameedia High School founded in 1940s beside the old Arabic Madrasa Aroosiya Thaika, was a catalyst to more graduates from Kilakarai. With the arrival of Mohammad Sathak Engineering College and then the Tassim Beevi Kader College for Women the number of graduates from this traditional town has seen a steady rise.