A few months ago, I made a day trip to Rameshwaram, a small island off the eastern coast of India. This temple town named after the famous mythological hero Lord Rama is connected to mainland by a nearly 100 year old (1914) railway link that almost floats on the sea and by a parallel and much higher roadway bridge. A revered pilgrimage, Lord Shiva is worshipped as a Pillar of Light or Jyotirlinga in the temple in Rameshwaram. As per legend, a pilgrimage to Kashi is considered complete only after offering the holy water of river Ganges in Ramanathaswamy temple. When the train from Chennai rolled onto the bridge at 4.30 am in the morning, I craned my neck out only to be overwhelmed by the endless sea on either side merging into the greyish, crimson sky at dawn.
A short bumpy ride in the first available auto from the station through narrow streets and dimly lit alleys took me to Shankar Mutt (day boarding) next to the famed Ramanathaswamy Temple. There are lot of other places to stay in and around the temple to suit every budget. Headed to the temple after a quick shower before 5.30am to have a glimpse of the crystal idol “Sphatik Lingam” which is taken out for public viewing only at dawn for an hour. Reflecting solar energy, this lingam has tremendous healing potential and is also believed to be the mani of Sheshnag. Then walked towards the Agniteertham (Bay of Bengal) about 500 metres away which is usually bustling with people who are performing rites for departed souls to send them to light or simply taking a dip in the dark waters. It is believed that Lord Rama took a dip here after killing Ravana in the battle to rescue his wife Sita. If you are up to it just take the plunge in the sea which has very low surf and sticky clayish sand below. After a little bit of hesitation I took the plunge to take bath in the 22 wells that are located within the temple. Needless to say, it was an experience by itself.
Entered the main temple after quickly changing into fresh clothes. Built in 12th century AD by the Lankan King – Parakrama Bahu the temple was subsequently extended and maintained by local Sethupathy rulers. The 126 metre high 9 layered main entrance is topped by a beautiful canopy. The wall and ceiling paintings and murals narrate scenes of Ramayana explicitly. This is perhaps the only temple in India where 2 forms of Shiva installed by Lord Rama are worshipped one after the other. The black granite Vishwalingam brough by Lord Hanuman is worshipped first followed by the local sandstone Ramalingam created by Sita. This has been done for ages as promised by Rama to honour Hanuman who went all the way to Kailash to fullfill his masters desire. I stood behind scores of devotees holding sealed copper pots of Ganga water from Kashi to offer to the Lord to get divine blessings. I started counting the 1212 pillars in the corridor with intricate ceiling paintings and exquisite sculptures to give up within a brief while. The play of light and dark along the nearly 4000 feet long corridors around the temple is simply ethereal. Passing by the mandapam decorated with Rudrakshas where the Nataraja statue is placed as well as the one at the junction designed like a Chess Board made me wonder about the existence of immense design and creative talent that the artisans possessed centuries ago.
Lip smacking Breakfast in one of the small joints near the temple
Take a short trip to the bow shaped ruined town Dhanushkodi and it will be an experience to remember. Read The Ruins speak in Dhanushkodi for more.
Lunch and Local Sightseeing
Yet another feast of delicious local food and I took a trip around town to climb up the Gandhamadhana Parvat(hill) where Lord Rama’s footsteps are enshrined. You can get a good view of the Temple and far away Sri Lanka from here. Visit the Panchamukhi Hanuman Temple (Hanuman, Hayagriva, Garuda, Narasimha, Varaha) to see and feel the stones that were used to build the Rama Setu or Adam’s Bridge to cross over to Lanka. There are other smaller temples and teerthams (ponds, wells) of which I found Laxman Teertham and Bhadrakali Temple worthy of a visit. The aquarium near the bus stand has a decent collection of marine life on display.I called it a day and headed towards the station to head back.
Rameshwaram is an overnight journey from Chennai by Train or a 12 hour drive. Can be also reached from Madurai and Trivandrum.
If you have another 2-3 hours on hand and want to pack in more then you can rush through the local sightseeing and include Sethu Karai (point where the Adam’s bridge construction started), Tirupullani (reclined statue of Lord Rama after performing penance) and Devipattinam (9 planetary stones consecrated by Lord Rama to appease his stars) which are significant in the entire Lanka episode of Ramayana. The entire journey to and fro through soothing patches of green on either side is about 175 kms.