Rameswaram (joining of two words in Sanskrit – Ramah and Ishwaram – meaning the God of Rama), is a temple town at the Southernmost tip of Indian Peninsula on the Pamban Island. It’s significance is from the Hindu epic Ramayana (Story of Rama) – Rama had launched his army to Lanka from here to rescue his wife Sita who was abducted by Ravana, the king of Lanka. Why the name Rameswaram? Rama installed a Shivalinga here and worshipped Lord Shiva here. There are two stories about whether it was before the war to get Shiva’s blessings or after the war to get rid of the “paap” of killing Ravana who was the son of a Brahmin (killing a Brahmin is considered a big sin in Hinduism). I won’t be able to explain the complicated philosophies of “paap”, “punya”, “mukti” etc here. Whatever the story, today it is one of the four holy places that the devout Hindus want to visit in their lifetimes. The other three are – Badrinath in the North, Jagannathpuri in the East and Dwarika in the West. Interestingly, all four are associated with Lord Vishnu or his incarnations – Rama and Krishna. In the other three, the main deity of worship is Vishnu while at Rameswaram, the main deity is Shiva. The temple is therefore, accordingly called “Ramanathswamy” temple – the temple of the Lord of Lord Rama!
It is a very big temple compound today and hosts millions of pilgrims from all over India every year. The carvings are so beautiful and must have taken a long time to build. I wasn’t sure if photography was allowed inside or not – it is usually not allowed inside temples – so I refrained from it. Expand the pics to see the details on the entrances.
The people of all ages can be seen here – some chanting loudly the name of Shiva, some silently, some trying to find their way, some following the crowd, some admiring the architecture, some just trying to understand what’s going on. One of the interesting things for me was to see the brisk business that priests did to perform some special poojas for the pilgrims, which is a common site at all the big temples – irrespective of location. Please do not think of this as a judgmental statement if it appears to be that. It’s just another way of earning a living.
Another thing here which caught my attention was that the floor of the whole temple was wet. I got to know the reason later – when I visited it the second time in the morning – there are 22 places (kund / teertham) where the devout take a bath. The first teertham – Agneeteertham – is at the sea outside and the rest of them are either wells or ponds inside the temple.
In the sea, you can take a dip yourself and then walk to the temple. A man or two at each pond/well then pull out water in a bucket from those teerthams and drench the already soaked devotees. A purification ritual I believe, before meeting the God. So that explained the wet floors – dripping devotees walking from one teertham to the next.
The idols of the deities in the temple are beautiful – mostly of black stone which is what is used in the South in contrast to white stone, usually marble, used in the North. The whole ceiling is also adorned with beautiful colorful floral paintings – somehow reminded me of mandalas. There were also some areas with statues which were colorful but those looked a bit in disrepair.
Once done with the darshan and special pooja (Rudrabhishekam), we checked out from the hotel and went ahead to look at some other beautiful sites of Rameswaram. First stop was the Ramarpatham temple. There were stories from a part of Ramayana hanging around the temple. The location is believed to have the footprints of Rama. We had some refreshing tender coconut there which felt great in the summer heat (well technically it was not summer yet but the Sun didn’t care about those technicalities). There was a Shivalinga at the sea there and the devotees were paying their obeisances there.
We then proceeded towards Dhanushkodi – which used to be a village but got destroyed in a Tsunami in 1964. At the end of the village, is the end of Indian border. The fantastic thing is to see the mixing of oceans there (of course, it’s difficult to make out the difference but the notion of it being the place where Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal would be mixing up makes it special for you :-)).
Then since it was getting hotter every minute, we decided to return. It would be a three and a half hour journey to Madurai in that heat when even the air-conditioner of the car would not have any effect.
On the way back, we also saw a temple of Hanuman – the Panchmukhi Hanuman Temple where apart from a huge statue of Hanuman with five faces, there were a few stones considered to be part of the Ramasetu – the bridge constructed by Rama’s army on the sea to reach Lanka. The stones were porous and could therefore explain why they floated instead of sinking in the sea when the bridge was to be constructed. (Satellite images today do show a stone structure like a bridge sunk now under water, connecting India with Srilanka from Dhanushkodi).
Then we kept driving back until we reached the comfort of our hotel in Madurai, briefly stopping for lunch in between. We were exhausted but felt good after having seen what we had come this far to see.
How and when to go to Rameswaram:
There are flight connections via Bangalore/Chennai to a temple town called Madurai. From there, one can go either by road or by train. There are three trains that ply between Rameswaram and Madurai. There are also buses that can be taken from Madurai. We took a taxi. The road is good. Best time would be to go in winter. It was already very hot in the beginning of March when we were there.
Where to stay:
There are lots of hotels of all price ranges and several lodges around the temple. Some of the hotels can be booked online but you can also find accommodation directly when you arrive there. Of course, online booking makes things easier. We took the TTDC (Tamil Nadu tourism department) hotel which was booked in advance via their website. It is not a luxury hotel but is very good and conveniently located. The food (all vegetarian) was quite good too.