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 Vishnus 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 Ramas dhanush or bow.
It is believed that the
legendary Sethu or bridge to Sri Lanka was built from
this point by Lord Ramas 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
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 Ramanathaswamys
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
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 Ramas 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.