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The Ultimate Pilgrimage

Rameswaram is where Lord Rama rested and prayed after his triumph over the demon king Ravan. A sacred site for both Vaishnavites and Shaivities, no Hindu pilgrimage is complete without a visit to this holy city.

The island of Rameswaram is one of the most venerable temple towns in India without a visit to which, the pilgrimage of a devout Hindu is not complete.

According to the epic Ramayana, Lord Rama(an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the protector), rested here before and after his battles with Ravana, the demon king, in Sri Lanka, just 24 kilometres away. It was here that Lord Rama prayed to Lord Shiva to forgive his sin of killing Ravana, thereby making it a sacred site for both Shaivites and Vaishnavites.

Rameswaram, a 61.8 square kilometers island in the Palk Straits is shaped like a conch (one of the two objects in Lord Vishnu’s hands) with the main body of the island given over to the majestic Ramanathswamy temple and other smaller temples. The tapered end is a sandy causeway to Dhanushkodi, so named after Lord Rama’s dhanush or bow.

It is believed that the legendary ‘Sethu’ or bridge to Sri Lanka was built from this point by Lord Rama’s monkey forces. Unfortunately, Dhanushkodi was washed away by a cyclone in 1964, but a temple, the Kothandaramaswamy, remained intact. Legend has it that it was here that Vibhishana, brother of Ravana, surrendered to Lord Ramayana apologized for the abduction of Sita. Beautiful images of Rama, Sita Lakshmana, a triumphant Hanuman and an apologetic Vibhishana stand inside the temple.

A leisurely drive along the Dhanushkodi road is a pleasant experience. The clear sea, backwater edged with waving bulrushes, surrounds the road. Some places, the road ids linked with dense casuarinas where the wind whistles in the trees. stretches of virtually untouched beach sparkle in the fading light and it is from here that you get a spectacular view of the sunset. Towards the end of the road a few transient settlements of fishermen can be seen in the fishing season.

The main attraction of the island, the Ramanathswamy temple is spread over 151 acres and is a magnificent example of Dravidian art. This temple took about 350 years to take its present form various release having contributed to its construction at different times from the 12th century onwards. Parakrama Bahu, the ruler of Ceylon guilt the sanctum sanctorum. The corridors and other vast structures of the temple and the Gopurams were built by the Sethupathis, rulers of Ramanathapuram since 12th century. The temple has two Gopurams at the eastern and western entrances, 130 feet and 80 feet high, respectively. The sanctum sanctorum is built of polished granite stone.

The presiding deity at the temple is Lord Ramanathaswamy and his emblem, the Ramalinga, is said to have been installed and consecreated by Lord Rama and Sita.

The legend goes that Lord Rama upon reaching Rameswaram after his Sri Lankan conquest, desired to worship Lord Shiva to absolve himself from the sin of killing Ravana. Hanuman was dispatched to fetch a Lingam(emblem of Lord Shiva) from Mount Kailash (abode of Lord Shiva) in the Himalayas. Hanuman could not return in time and when the auspicious hour of worship came Sita built a lingam of sand which later turned to concrete. This lingam was then worshipped. Hanuman, upon his return was disappointed. To soothe him, Lord Rama also installed the lingam which was brought by Hanuman. One is called the Viswalingam and other the Ramalingam.

The Ramalingam presides in the sanctum sanctorum. The shrine of Lord Ramanathaswamy’s consort Parvatha Vardhini (Goddess parvati), is to the right of the Ramalinga shrine. The image of Parvatha Rardhini is elaborately decorated and is taken around the temple parakrams on Fridays in a gold palanquin. The shrine of Lord Vishwanatha the Viswalingam, is situated to the north of the Ramanatha shrine. The Visalakshi shrine, the consort of Vishwanatha is adjacent to the Vishwanatha shrine.

Apart from the two revered lingams, there is the image of Lord Vishnu, as Sheshanarayana, lying on the Sheshnag, the sacred snake.

There are 22 wells or kundas in the temple, each with water that tastes different. These waters are said to have medicinal properties and are considered holy. The portion of the sea facing the eastern gopuram is called the Agnitheertham, a place here the sea is at its tranquil best. Pilgrims come to the temple after a holy dip at Agnitheertham and then bathe in the waters of the 22 wells.

A spectacular sight at the temple is the 1220 metre long corridor flanked by beautiful ornately carved pillers and intricately painted ceiling. The corridor seems to stretch to infinity. This is the longest corridor in the country. There are two other notable corridors in the temple.

On the highest point of the island, the Gandhamadhana Parvatham about five kilometers from the town, is the Ramjharoka temple where Lord Rama’s footprints are worshipped. This is a two-tiered mandapam offering a panoramic view of the island patches of green interspersed with shimmering backwaters bordered by a vivid circle of blue sea.

There are other temples in Rameswaram dedicated to Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman. The seas around Rameswaram abound in fish and have some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world. On a calm day, it is difficult to go in a boat to collect starfish and coral.

The mellow tinkle of bells on horse carriages, the chanting of the devout, the glow of oil lamps, the gentle beckoning of the swaying palms, the golden sands and the glorious sunset and sunrise lend to Rameswaram a gentle ambience of peace and piety.

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