Separated by the Pamban channel from Sri Lanka, the unspoiled and quiet town of Rameshwaram is one of the most sought -after pilgrim destinations in South India.
Taking the shape of a conch lies the island of Rameshwaram, on one end of the longest rail and the road bridge constructed over the sea. Regarded as one of the holy places of the Hindus, the island town is famous for its temples with intricately designed pillars on either side. Rameshwaram means ‘Lord of Rama’ in Sanskrit and it is from here that Lord Rama had built the bridge to Sri Lanka to rescue his wife, Sita from the King of Lanka.
The legend has it that Rameshwaram was the place where Lord Rama sought penance for having killed Ravana. To absolve his sins, Lord Rama decided to worship Shiva by installing a lingam and asked Hanuman to bring it from the Himalayas. Since it took longer for Hanuman to bring it, Sita built the lingam with sand and it is believed that the same is still present in the shrine of the Ramanathswamy Temple.
The temple has 22 teerthams or wells symbolising the arrows in Rama’s quiver. It is said that one has to take bath with the water drawn from all the 22 wells before reaching the main deity to offer prayers. The pillars in the lengthy corridors of the temple have exquisite sculptures carved on them and the ceilings have colourful paintings. The folk-styled dwarapalakas sculpted on the entrance of the main sanctum sanctorum are a symbol of impressive architecture.
The temple is famous for its long corridors with systematically arranged pillars. The corridors run between huge colonnades mounted on huge platforms. The third corridor is the longest in the world with 1,212 pillars. The temple also boasts of a collossal Nandi. The ancient shrine had thatched roof and the masonry structure was built by Parakrama Bahu of Sri Lanka. The shrines of Ramanathaswamy and his consort goddess Parvathavardhini are separated by a corridor.
There are many small temples in and around Rameshwaram which can be visited within two hours. Most of the temples are associated with the story of Ramayana. One of the temples is the Kothandaramaswamy Temple where Ravana’s brother Vibhishan is believed to have met Lord Rama to surrender himself. This is also the place where Lord Rama crowned Vibhishana as the king of the Lanka after slaying Ravana. The story is also depicted through paintings across the walls of the shrine.
This temple is built on a raised level in soft pastel colours. Carved with captivating paintings representing the instances from Hindu sacred text Ramayana, the walls of the temple are an example of astonishing architecture. The history of the temple is also depicted on the temple walls. Images of Goddess Sita, Lord Rama, Lord Lakshmana, Lord Hanuman and Vibhishana can be seen at the temple.
A visit to Dhanushkodi
From the temple town, the submerged town of Dhanushkodi is not far away. Situated 20kms from Rameshwaram, it is a busy port town and special permission has to be taken from the coast guards and navy for visiting this place.
Only a handful of villagers live at their own risk and peril as the corporation no longer maintains this town. Only jeeps are allowed on this terrain, guides take you to this place and you are given some hours to roam around the ghost city admiring the ruins and spend some time collecting pebbles and corals on the beautiful beach. People also perform ceremonies for their ancestors on the seaside. By evening high tide sets in and water floods the entire beach. The Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal meet forming the shape of a bow and arrow and hence the name Dhanushkodi.
In the town, you’ll come across some fishermen living in thatched huts near the sea and women selling conched shells. The ruins of the town are a favourite place for shooting films. Dhanushkodi is linked to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. Earlier, citizens from erstwhile Ceylon used to take jetty services to come to Rameshwaram, watch famous Tamil movies and return by the evening.
Pamban bridge which used to connect Rameshwaram to the rest of Tamil Nadu also got severely damaged during the cyclone which has now been rebuilt using more advanced techniques. By evening one has to return to the city as tourists are not allowed to stay in Dhanushkodi once high tide sets in.