Spirituality is a conspicuous theme painted across the back and beyond of Tamil Nadu. One such shore here is a sacred boundary; where one God worshipped another God. Rameshwaram is a testament to South India’s colourful religious history. Alisha Roy brings you the story.
Floating between South India and Sri Lanka, Pamban Island, better known as Rameshwaram, is a small fishing town seeped in an ancient religious past. A 2 km-long (Pamban) bridge connects contemporary Tamil Nadu to this sacred land.
According to the Mahabharata; the Pandavas defined four places in the Indian subcontinent as the ‘Chaar Dhaam’ or ‘Four Holy Sites.’ Rameshwaram is one such pilgrim spot where devotees purge themselves of their worldly sins. Additionally, more than 2 million pilgrims visit this island annually for the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple.
Interestingly, the Ramayana states that Lord Rama prayed to Lord Shiva at the shores of this island before he led his army to battle in Lanka. As a mark of devotion, and respect for Lord Shiva, Lord Rama established the Shiva Linga here which later became the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple.
The Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple’s ancient architecture tempts the most jaded eyes. Made entirely out of black granite stones the roof of the temple is coated with gold. The temple complex is surrounded by an outer corridor, which at 3,850 feet is the longest corridor in the architectural world. Within the temple there are several shrines dedicated to various Hindu deities such as Nataraja, Anjaneya, Santanaganapati, Subhramanya, Sethumadhava, Visalakshi, Mahalaxmi and the temple’s namesake – Sri Ramanathswamy.
According to religious scriptures, the temple is an abode to one of the 12 ‘Jyotirlingas.’ It is believed that pilgrims who visit all 12 Jyotirlingas attain ‘moksha’ or free themselves from the divine cycle of rebirth and death. Devotees who visit the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple take a dip in its 22 pools. Also known as ‘Teertham’ these pools represent the 22 arrows from Lord Rama’s quiver. Other sacred summits, like the Hanuman temples and Rama and Lakshmana Teertham are known for their historic architecture and ritual bathing pools.
The conch-shaped island is a delight for any foodie who likes South Indian cuisine. The town offers fresh vegetarian meals in tiny eateries. In the travel circle, Hotel Guru, Anand Bhavan, Ahaan Restaurant and Shabari Restaurant are quite popular for serving the best of vegetarian fares from all parts of the country. Although the restaurants are not fancy, the variety of vegetarian delicacies make up for the mediocre set up. Dosas, Idlis, Jain food, North Indian Thalis and Indo-Chinese fast foods cater to the pilgrims and travellers here. Sweetshops which offer vegetable puffs and pastries are always up for grabs at the temple roads.
A scenic drive from the island, towards it eastern side, reveals stunning views of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal at the Dhanushkodi shoreline. This picturesque beach is a place to be in spite of the eeriness of its township. Located only 30km from Sri Lanka; the locale is close enough to pick up broadcasts from Sri Lanka’s radio stations. Local legend claims the Dhanushkodi Beach is shaped like a bow and gets its name from Lord Rama’s bow ‘Kodanda.’
Ariyaman Beach, also known locally as Kushi Beach, is more relaxed and pristine and caters to swimmers. The natural beauty of this shore comes with shallow waters and low key water sports. The beach is well planted with coconut trees which makes it a lush picnic spot.
The journey ‘beyond’
Adding to the mysteries of the island, the Ram Setu, or Ram’s Bridge is believed to have been built by Lord Rama’s ‘Vanar Sena’. It was the former land connection between India and Sri Lanka. This chain of limestone ridges is another landmark which makes Rameshwaram a unique place dating back to India’s mythological history. All included, this is a journey that one must make, to experience not just the scenic outdoors, but for tranquillity as well.