Kanyakumari takes its name from the Kumari Amman or Kanyakumari Temple, situated in the town, on the sea-shore, the very confluence of the three water-bodies - Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. In his work on ancient India, Ptolemy had identified Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin) along with the Gulf of Mannar as a centre for pearl fishery. He also identifies Korkai, a place to the east of Kanyakumari as an emporium of pearl trade,also Travancore Census 1931 says that Paravars ruled that Coast and built the temple for their reverence to Sea Goddess..
There are multiple myths revolving around this place:
- According to Hindu legend, Kanya Devi, an avatar of Parvati, was to marry Shiva, but as he failed to show up on his wedding day, the rice and other grains meant for the wedding feast remained uncooked and remain unused thereafter. As the legend goes, the uncooked grains turned into stones as time went by. Some believe that the small stones which look like rice on the shore today, are indeed grains of the wedding that was never solemnized. Kanya Devi is now considered a virgin goddess who blesses pilgrims and tourists who flock the town.
- According to another Hindu legend, Lord Hanuman dropped a piece of earth as he was carrying a mountain with his life-saving herb, Mrita Sanjivani from the Himalayas to Lanka (Sri Lanka) during the Rama-Ravana war. This chunk of earth is called Marunthuvazh Malai, which is literally translated to "hills where medicine is found".This is said to be the reason for the abundance of unique native medicinal plants in the area. Marunthuvazh Malai is located near Kottaram about 7 km from Kanyakumari town on the Kanyakumari-Nagercoil highway.
- The sage Agasthya, who was himself an expert in medicinal herbs, is believed to have lived around this site in ancient days. The reason why, some believe, so many medicinal herbs are to be found on these hills near Kanyakumari. There is even a village by the name Agastheeswaram close to the town, named after the sage. Today, there is a small Ashram on the middle of the Maruthuvazh Malai hill, which tourists visit (after a short trek from the base of the hill), both to visit the Ashram and also to take a glimpse of the sea near Kanyakumari a few kilometres away, and the greenery below.
Kanniyakumari has an average elevation of 0 metres (0 feet). It lies at the meeting point of the three bodies of water: the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Mannar and the Indian Ocean. It is the terminating point of the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats. On the north and the east, it is bounded by Tirunelveli District, while on the west and northwest it is bounded by Kerala state.
It is suggested that there once existed a continent called Kumari Kandam to the south of Kanyakumari, often compared with Lemuria.