I went through this phase when I was completely fascinated with Ramayana and looked forward to visiting places connected with the mythology .Close home from Bangalore, Rameshwaram seemed to be the ideal place to further my tryst with Ramayana. I set out from Bangalore on a Friday morning by train for Rameshwaram, enroute Chennai. My fellow passengers were bewildered that I was undertaking this fascinating journey, in search of Ramayana and not to complete a pilgrimage initiated in Varanasi. At 4am, I was at the door of the compartment, peering outside to watch the train curve and sway on the Pamban bridge over the sea. Within minutes, the train rolled into Rameshwaram and I quickly made my way out of the station.
I noticed a small counter at the Ramanathaswamy Temple doorway offering assistance services for pilgrims interested in taking the 22 ritual bath in the temple wells better known as Teerthams. The number 22 owes its origin to the arrows in Ram’s quiver. After moments of hesitation, I decided to take the plunge. My assistant arrived with a small tin bucket tied to a long rope and gestured me to head towards the sea better known as Agnitheertham for the purification bath. From far, the sea appeared like a large lake with brackish waters and sand below. I had to make way through several groups of people sitting by the sea and offering prayers to departed ancestors. As I waded through to reach deeper inside, my feet got stuck in several pieces of discarded clothing that formed a layer over the sand bed. Pilgrims apparently leave behind some clothing as a mark of washing over their sins. Each pilgrim, was taking the customary dip in their own way, some loud chants, some soft murmurs for wish fulfilment, some out of fear, some out of sheer reverence and some like me trying to figure out what this experience was meant to be. Incidentally, the sand here is black and quite clayish. I noticed, some pilgrims taking dollops of it in their hand and moulding into a sort of lingam and offering it back into the sea after a quick prayer.
Next, I headed straight into the temple dripping from head to toe. For the next one hour, I trudged from well to well, cherishing the refreshing 22 baths. The temperature of the teertham water varied and so did the salinity ranging from neutral to very sweet. I moved from well to well, beginning from Mahalakshmi, followed by Gayatri, Savitri, Saraswathi, Gavya, Gavyaksha, Nala, Neela, Sethumadhava, Gandhamadhava, Brahmahatya Vimochana, Shanku, Surya, Chandra, Chakra, Shiva, Sarva, Satyamrita, Gaya, Ganga, Yamuna and finally Kodi which is supposedly equivalent to a dip in the Ganges. Incidentally, each one has a story attached to it, in some way related to Ramayana and or removal of sins. I was strictly told not to take a bath in tap water that day, to allow the healing properties of the well bath to soak in.
What an experience it was !! No, I did not sneeze, nor did I have a runny nose . I came back to the temple feeling as fresh as ever. After a quick visit to the main shrine, I headed straight to the food joint next door serving steaming south Indian meals. I still relish the lip smacking sambhar. On a closing note, I must say that the home cooked pure south Indian food in Rameshwaram has something in it to even force the diet freak to overeat. Don’t miss the hot food after the cool bath !!