The word “Rameshwara” means “Lord of Rama” i.e. “Lord Shiva”, the presiding deity of the Ramanathaswamy temple. As per Hindu epic Ramayana, post the war with Ravana of Lanka, Lord Ram along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmanan came here and worshiped Lord Shiva, in the form of Lingam to absolve any kind of sins that would have been committed by them during the war against the mighty Ravana.
I left for Rameshwaram from Chennai by train, which is an overnight journey. The next morning when I woke up, I was awestruck by the view outside. The train was moving slowly on the Pamban Bridge, a cantilever bridge, which connects Rameshwaram situated on Pamban Island to the mainland India. And as I looked down, I saw crystal clear water that was a blend of turquoise blue and green. Truly breath taking! And added to that was the architecture of the bridge itself, which was magnificent and majestic.
The train halted at Rameshwaram station, which is immeaditely after crossing the bridge. There are plenty of hotel/lodge options for one to choose from. I had made prior reservation in TTDC hotel which is economical, clean and most importantly – beach facing.
After getting refreshed, I set off to Dhanushkodi, the place where as per the epic Ramayana; Lord Rama built a bridge called “Ram Setu” over the ocean with the help of his Vanarsena (army of monkeys). The purpose of building the bridge according to the epics was to make a connection between the mainland of Bharata (India) and Srilanka, in order to help Lord Rama to bring back the kidnapped Sita, his wife, safe from the clutches of Ravana. The bridge is believed to be built with the help of floating stones which got submerged in the ocean over a period of time. Though today one can faintly make out these stones, every ariel survey of this place shows sufficient proof that suggests that there indeed was a land connection between India and Srilanka once upon a time.
A dip in the sacred ocean and some rituals completes your pilgrimage to Dhanushkodi, this holy spot, which is the confluence of the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. The blend of white sand, pristine blue ocean and the beam of sun’s rays falling on it makes this spot almost picture perfect.
My next halt was at Agni Tirtham, one of the Thirthas (holy water bodies) of Rameshwaram. Agni Tirtham is one of the most visited Thirtams by people for a holy bath. There are 64 Thirthas, holy water bodies, in and around the island out of which 24 Thirthas are designated as important, bathing in which is an integral part of the pilgrimage to Rameshwaram. Of these 24 Thirthas, 22 of them are within the Ramanathaswamy temple. (Bathing in the waters of the Thrithas, is believed to be a processes to absolve ones sins and those of our ancestors as per Hindu beliefs)
Ramanathaswamy temple is one of the ancient temples of South India with huge Gopurams and long corridors. The primary deity of this temple is Lord Shiva in the form of a Lingam. The temple has two Lingams one which was assembled by Goddess Sita from sand, known as Ramalingam and the other one which Lord Hanuman brought from Mount Kailash, known as Vishwalingam. Its said that Lord Rama instructed that Vishwalingam would be worshipped first as it was brought by Lord Hanuman, and that tradition has continued on since then. The temple has umpteen numbers of shrines of various God and Goddesses. There are 22 wells, Thirthas, inside the temple premises, each of which has holy water and the holy water from each of these wells, are legendary in their own rights. Inquisitively I asked the priest, “What’s with number 22?”to which he replied, that the number indicates the arrows in Rama’s quiver. As part of the rituals, One goes to each of these wells, draws water from them and pours it on ones head and prays, and this same ritual is done at all 22 Thirthas to complete the prayers.
Drenched in holy water, after finishing my visit to all of the 22 Thrithas, I got back to my hotel and retired for the day with plans of visiting few more temples, the next day. After visiting Dhanushkodi and Ramanathaswamy temple I was now looking forward to visiting other shrines and immersing myself into their architecture and their interesting stories.
Next day, I got up early, to make the early morning darshan (getting to see the idol of the diety in the temple) of the almighty in Ramanathaswamy temple. Subsequently, I proceeded to Devipattinam, the very famous Navagrah temple built inside the sea. This temple is said to be installed by Lord Rama himself.
As the name suggests, the temple once upon a time, had 9 pillars each denoting one Graha of human life. I could figure out only 5 of them as the rest 4 have slowly and gradually submerged in the sea. I remember being told by someone, who had visited the temple almost thirty years back that all the 9 pillars were pretty much visible then. That thought made me think, how the sea levels have risen slowly and engulfed our mother Earth due to global warming! I guessed, probably Lord Rama would have installed the pillars as yardsticks for us to keep an eye upon and be aware of the wrath of nature. (For all End of the World Conspiracy Theorists, this is a must visit place!!)
My next halt was at one of the most ancient Hindu temples, Uthira Kosa Mangai. This Shiva temple is considered to be over 3000 years old!! The main deity here is Mangalanathar (Shiva) along with his consort Mangaleshwari.
A huge Nandi statue in the sanctum is an eye catcher. The main attraction of the temple is the idol of Natarajar known as Margatha Natarajar. Made of emerald, this idol remains smeared with sandal paste throughout the year. Only in the month of Margzhi on Thiruvathira Nakshatram the sandal paste is removed and abhishekam (a devotional activity) for the idol is performed.
Ramar Padham, Lakshman Theertham, Panchmukhi Hanuman temple were few of the other temples which I visisted in the due course of the day. Ramar Padham is a two tier temple built on a hillock. The first tier has Lord Rama’s feet imprinted on a chakra (wheel) and the second tier is an open terrace sort of a thing which gives you a bird’s eye view of Rameshwaram city and Dhanushkodi. This temple is considered to be built on the highest point of Rameshwaram and as per legend, Lord Rama had a view of Srilanka from this point.
Lakshman Theertham is a temple constructed to offer prayers to Lord Lakshman. The temple indicates the position Lakshmanan has been given in Lord Rama’s dynasty. The temple is beautifully designed with sculptures of Lakshman, Rama and Sita carved out from marble.
Panchmukhi Hanuman temple has a huge black colour idol of Lord Hanuman, having five heads. The five heads signify five different gods in one god i.e. Hanuman, and those five gods are; 1-Hanuman, 2- Hayagreeva, 3-Narsimha, 4-Garuda, 5-Varahswami.
Having done all these temple visits, my pilgrimage trip to Rameshwaram came to an end and I headed back to Chennai content and happy. I would recommend a trip to Rameshwaram to all, if not to absolve our sins and those of our ancestors, but for the scenic beauty of the place by itself, at least once in ones lifetime.
· One would need at least two days to go around this temple town.
· If possible, plan your trip during the weekdays in order to get a good darshan (getting to see the idol of the diety in the temple) and avoiding the huge crowd during the weekends.
· A Rameshwaram trip without taking holy bath would be an incomplete pilgrimage trip, so carry along sufficient clothes, preferably light ones which will dry up soon.
This is a guest post by Pooja Sriram, a marketing professional, who along with various freelancing jobs pursues her creative interests. When she is not busy working or making Tanjore paintings / murals, she indulges in cooking and traveling with her better half. She can be reached at poojaleo2[AT]gmail.com. You can check her creative pursuits at WishBox Creations.