Rameshwaram is one of the most sacred pilgrimage destinations in India. The island, situated in the Ramanathpuram region of Tamil Nadu, sits in the Gulf of Mannar close to Sri Lanka. It is connected to the Indian mainland at Mandapam by Indira Gandhi Bridge.
No pilgrimage is over without taking a trip to the holy island of Rameshwaram. Whosoever visits Varanasi is supposed to make a trip to Rameshwaram to consider the pilgrimage completed. This island is home to one of the most fascinating temples in India.
Rameshwaram is the place where Lord Rama offered thanks to Lord Shiva in return for his support in defeating King Ravana. This makes Rameshwaram an important pilgrimage destination for devotees of both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, and the small island receives several million visitors a year.
The renowned Ramanathaswamy Temple is located right in the center of Rameshwaram. Calling it a mere temple is not doing any justice to the grandeur of its structural marvels. Brush your hands on the chiselled walls of this temple and it will feel as if you are reading poetry written on stone.
The magnificent temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas situated in different parts of India. Ramanathaswamy Temple also has its name in history books as it has the largest hallway anywhere in India. The construction of Ramanathaswamy Temple which began in the 12th century was contributed to by many rulers. During its construction period, many dynasties came and fell and each of them put their input into the temple. However one thing that did not change was its Dravidian style of architecture. Ramanathaswamy Temple is an epitome of Dravidian architecture.
The list of unique features in its construction seems to be endless. The temple is spread over an area of 15 acres, has lofty gopurams, massive walls and a collossal Nandi. The stuccoed image of Nandi is about 6 metres tall and 7 metres in length.
There is this huge pillared corridor that is of approximately 1220 meters in length. Throughout the length of the hall, there are 4,000 brilliantly carved pillars, the alignment of which will leave you totally amazed. The carved granite pillars are mounted on a raised platform. What is unique about this corridor is that the rock is not indigenous to the island and it was brought in from elsewhere in Tamilnadu across the sea.
The 54 meter tall Gopuram has become the symbol of divinity in the heart of many pilgrims; such is the beauty and presence of it. This Gopuram has nine levels. The Western Rajagopuram, though impressive, is not as tall as the Eastern one.
Another famous feature of Ramanathaswamy Temple are the 22 wells spread throughout the premises, It is said that water from each well tastes totally different. and have curative features.
The temple had humble beginnings with an ancient shrine housed in a thatched hut until the 12th century. The first ever masonry structure was built by Parakrama Bahu of Sri Lanka.
The Setupathy (architects and stone masons) rulers of Ramanathapuram completed the rest of the temple. Although manly Dravidian in style some of the temple vimaanams resemble the Vimaanams of the Pallava period. The temple has also received royal patronage from several kingdoms such as Travancore, Ramanathapuram, Mysore and Pudukkottai.
Much of the additions were carried out between the 12th and the 16th centuries. The long corridor (3rd prakaram) dates back only to the 18th century.
Theertham (Water springs): There are 36 Theerthams in Rameshwaram of which 22 are in the temple. The waters possess medicinal properties and bathing in these is considered to be of great significance. The Agni theertham refers to the ocean (the first well) while the Koti theertham is located within the temple itself.
The Shivastalam is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in India. It represents the southernmost of the 12 Jyotirlingams of India and has been a time honored pilgirmage center held on par with Benares. The island-temple town is located off of the Sethu coast of Tamilnadu (south eastern). This shrine is regarded as the 8th of the Tevara Stalams in the Pandya region of Tamilnadu.
This temple is associated closely with the Ramayana and Rama’s victorious return from Sri Lanka. Rama worshipped Shiva in the form of a Shiva Lingam made of earth by Sita, while returning to Ayodhya.
Hanuman was entrusted with the task of bringing an image of Viswanathar from Benares. Anticipating delay in Hanuman’s return from Benares, Rama is said to have offered worship at a pre-chosen auspicious moment to a Shivalingam fashioned out of earth by Sita. This lingam is referred to as Ramalingam.
There is yet another Shivalingam here – Viswanathar, said to have been brought by Hanuman from Banares. This Shivalingam is referred to as Kasilingam and Hanumalingam. Prayers are offered to Viswanathar before they are offered to Ramanathaswamy.
Rama also worshipped Tilakeswarar at Devipatnam nearby enroute to Sri Lanka.
There is also a shrine to Sethu Madhava and Lakshmi in Rameswaram. Sethu Madhava is also referred to as Sweta Madhava, the term Sweta referring to the white stone with which the image is made.
The Gandamadana parvatam: is a hill on the island which bears a small shrine containing imprints of Rama’s feet held in worship .