India is a land of age old cultures and traditions and as an Indian, I feel proud of our ancient culture. The artistry of ancient temples and forts have always allured me more than visiting hill stations and beaches. As an ardent follower and explorer of Hinduism, I love travelling to famous temples, exploring the legends and folktales these monuments have beholden for centuries.
Hinduism has four shrines called the Char Dhams visiting which is a matter of paramount virtue for any Hindu. Being from Odisha, I had been to Puri dham numerous times. I had also been to Badrinath Dham in Uttarakhand. Currently residing in South India, it was time for me to reignite the pilgrim in me and visit the third dham– RAMESHWARAM.
Rameshwaram is an island situated in the Gulf of Mannar. Shri Ram worshiped Lord Shiva here to absolve sin of killing Ravana, a brahmin. The word Rameshwaram means eshwar (or God) of Lord Ram. Rameshwaram apart from being one of the Char Dhams is also one of the 12 Jyotirlings of Lord Shiva due to which it is a very revered pilgrimage site among Hindus.
I went to Rameshwaram with my college friend with whom I also went to Puri and Badrinath. We started our journey from Pondicherry. We took a bus which left Pondicherry at 12:30 AM in the night. Early morning we reached Rameshwaram. We enter Rameshwaram island by crossing the Palk Strait through a long sea bridge known as the Annai Indira Gandhi Bridge or the Pamban bridge. The view from this bridge itself makes Rameshwaram a worthy visit. It is more interesting to cross the bridge through the railways although you get a better view through the roadways. The feeling of having the ocean just a few feet below you as the train dawdles over the 2 km bridge is quite amazing. Here the blue ocean is quite calm and the view you get as you pass over the sea stretching to the horizons on both sides is quite enchanting. The view is particularly beautiful during sunrise. On crossing through roadways you can see the famous Scissor’s bridge on your left.
From the Rameshwaram bus stand, we took the temple bus which took us to the temple near which we had pre booked our hotel (Hotel Brindavan Residency). We checked in and freshened ourselves. From our hotel, we went straight to Agnitirtham. Before visiting the Ramnathaswamy Temple, you are supposed to go to the sea beach and take a holy dip in the ocean at a place called Agnitirtham. Normal practice for Rameshwaram pilgrimage is to first take bath in Agnithirtham i.e dip in the sea facing the east gate of Ramanathswamy temple and then take bath in 22 Kundas (wells). The sea at Agnitirtham is shallow, calm and is without any waves; it’s more like a lake.
After taking a dip in the ocean we went to the temple in drenched clothes. We took tickets from the counter which costs Rs.25. However, there are priests and touts wearing white shirts and dhotis who charge more but provide information and personal guidance. Cameras and cell phones are not allowed. There is a counter outside the temple where we can deposit them.
After completing our bath in the holy wells inside the temple premises we went back to our hotel room to dry ourselves The Ramanathaswamy temple has huge premises and there are broad corridors with large pillars. These corridors hold the world record for being the longest corridor in the world. We have to go through these corridors to the 22 wells which are situated in different parts of the temple. It is believed that the taste of the water in each well is different from the other. There are numbered placards mounted on the walls near each well naming the well and its benefits. The name of the 22 wells (called teertham) in order are 1-Mahalakshmi Teertham 2-Savitri Teertham 3-Gayatri Teertham 4- Saraswati Teertham 5- Setumadhav Teertham 6-Gandhmadan Teertham 7-Kavacha Teertham 8-Gavaya Teertham 9-Nal Teertham 10-Neel Teertham 11-Shanku Teertham 12-Chakkara Teertham 13-Bramhathi Vimochana Teertham 14-Surya Teertham 15-Chandra Teertham 16-Ganga Teertham 17-Yamuna Teertham 18-Gaya Teertham 19-Shiva Teertham 20-Sadyamirta Teertham 21-Sarva Teertham 22-Kodi Teertham. As one passes through these wells, there are people, who pull water from the holy wells by a bucket and pour it on the head of each pilgrim. In spite of being so close to the sea, the water in none of the wells is salty. After completing the bathing rituals in all the wells, we went back to the hotel to put on fresh dry clothes. Visiting the shivalinga in wet clothes is prohibited as per the scriptures. One must not bath again or eat anything before visiting the Shivalinga after completing the bath in the holy wells. After wearing dry clothes we returned to the temple for darshan of the Shivalinga. There are 2 shivalings inside the sanctum sanctorum one of which is made from sand by Sita Mata (Ramalingam) and the other brought by Lord Hanuman from Kailash parvat (Vishwalingam). Milk and gangajal from devotees is collected in a bucket by the temple priests, who then pours it on the shivalinga. There is Gauri temple and a Hanuman temple, inside the temple premises. The Hanuman temple has an idol which is 8 feet above ground and 8 feet below in sea water. It is said the sea does not move here as Hanuman keeps it under control. There was a long queue which led us through steps to a podium from which we good a perfect view of the divine shivalingas.
Darshan timings of the temple are 5 AM to 1 PM and then again from 3 PM to 9 PM. There is special darshan of the Sphatik Shivalingam from 5 AM to 6 AM. Exploring the temple took around 1.5 hrs after which we came back to the hotel. After having our lunch we booked an auto rickshaw which charged Rs.500 for 3 hrs and took us on a sightseeing tour of Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi.
Other major sightseeing places at Rameshwaram:
- Gandamadana Parvatham: This two storied temple has the foot imprints of Shri Ram on a chakra which is placed in the first floor. On ascending to the second floor you can see the complete island of Rameshwaram and the surrounding sea.
Saatchi Hanuman Temple: It has a Panchamukha Hanuman statue and floating stones which the locals claim to be stones used in the Ram Setu.
- House of Kalam: This is the house cum museum of the former President of India, Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam. Here you can see his childhood photographs, all his doctorate certificates and medals including the most prestigious Bharat Ratna. It a must visit if you are going to Rameshwaram.
- Dhanushkodi Beach: It is serene and calm sea beach without any waves. On a clear day, you can see Sri Lanka from here. Try that out !!! En route you will cross a ghost town with few abandoned houses and a ruined railway station which were destroyed in a cyclone. There is a ruined church as well.
- Bibhisan Temple: It is believed that at this place Bibhisan was anointed as the king of Lanka by Lord Rama after the death of his brother Ravana. This place is also believed to be the beginning point from where the Ram Setu connecting Lanka was built.
There are few other temples like the Laxman Kund, Sita Kund, Jatayu Tirtha etc which can be visited quickly.
After visiting these places we returned to our hotel and rushed to the bus stop for our return journey to Chennai. Overall it was a satisfying tour in which we got to learn many things relating to the Ramayana mythology and it was great to see those things in real about which we had heard in stories.
1. Book your hotel in advance and close to the temple.
2. Try to reach before 5 AM so that you can have darshan of the Sphatik Shivalinga.
3. Bathing in the 21 holy wells, although not mandatory, is an important part of the customs and devotees should not skip it.
4. Carry dry clothes with you to the temple if you are not staying nearby as you will not be allowed to have darshan of the jyotirlinga in wet clothes.