Rameswaram, an island about 160 km Southeast of Madurai is connected to the mainland both by a railway and a road bridge. It is a major pilgrim site. It is believed that the pilgrimage one undertakes in Kasi in the very north should culminate in bathing in the sacred waters of Rameswaram in order to obtain the full benefit. According to ‘Ramayana’, the Hindu epic, Lord Rama himself had installed the Lingam in this place which therefore gains an added importance and is held in high esteem by all the Hindus of India both Vaishnavites and Saivites. The other pilgrimage point in this island of Rameswaram is Dhanuskodi that is also called ‘Sethu’. It is considered meritorious to take a dip in the sea off the coast of Dhanushkodi. There are several other small temples of interest scattered around this island.
Rameswaram is connected by road to all important towns in Tamilnadu. There are rail connections with all major cities like Madras, Madurai, Coimbatore, Trichy and Tanjavur. The nearest airport is Madurai.
The mainland is connected by an impressive bridge called Indra Gandhi Bridge and busses ply to and from many towns in Tamilnadu. This is a railway terminus for the Southern Railway and there are daily trains from Madras, Madurai and Coimbatore.
Rameswaram Temple Tower
The Longest Corridor in the world
The temple was originally a small thatched hut looked after by a ‘sadhu’. Subsequently over the centuries various people added to the structure among whom the ‘Sethupathys’ of Ramanad were significant. King Parakramabahu, King of Sri Lanka, constructed the sanctum around Sri Ramanathaswamy, Sri Viswanathar and Sri Visalakshi in the 12th century. The temple has three corridors (praharam). The outer corridor is flanked on either side by a continuous platform with large number of pillars, each adorned by great sculptures. The longest corridors are the north and south corridors which from each end present a vista of receding columns and one cannot fail to marvel the grandeur and precision of the art of ancient architects and artisans. The western tower is about 78ft high and the eastern tower about 126ft made up of nine tiers. There is an imposing ‘nandhi’ in front of the ‘moolasthanam’. The sanctum of Lord Ramanathaswamy contains a Lingam believed to have been installed by Lord Rama himself while on the north of this shrine is the sanctum of Lord Visvanathar which is believed to have been brought by Hanuman from Mount Kailash. There are other shrines dedicated to various minor deities and 22 ‘theerthams’ (source of sacred water) within the precinct of the temple. Devotees bathe in these waters before proceeding to the inner sanctum to receive ‘dharshan’.
Ramayana, the Hindu epic, tells the story of Rama who declared war against the powerful Ravana, the King of Lanka who had imprisoned Rama’s wife Sita. In the fierce battle that ensued Ravana was defeated and killed by Lord Rama. Sita was released from Ravana’s prison. Rama and Sita returned to the island of Rameswaram, which was then, called ‘Gandhamadana malai’ on their way back to Ayodya. The sages and ‘rishis’ assembled in Remeswaram to receive Rama and his consort advised him that as he had killed Ravana, a brahmin, he should atone for his sin of ‘brahmahastya’ by performing a purificatory rite in front of a Lingam. As there was no Lingam available, Rama asked Hanuman to obtain one from Lord Shiva himself from Mount Kailash. Hanuman went to Mount Kailash and sat in prayer to Lord Shiva requesting a Sivalingam. Days passed and Hanuman had not returned. As the auspicious time was approaching Sita moulded a Sivalingam out of sand and Rama performed his purificatory rite in front of this Lingam. Later Hanuman arrived with his Lingam given by Lord Shiva and was dejected to find that his efforts were in vain. Lord Rama seeing his dejection told him to throw away the Lingam made out of sand and to install the Lingam given to him. Hanuman then tried to lift the Sivalingam already installed but could not move it. So Rama advised him to install his Sivalingam near the one already there and requested all his followers to worship this Lingam first before worshipping the Lingam installed by himself. So this practice continues until this day as the devotees first offer prayers to this Lingam from Mount Kailash as Visvanathar before offering prayers to Lord Ramanathaswamy.
Festivals and Opening Hour
Mahasivarathri – 10 days- during Feb/March;
Brahmotsavam – 10 days- during Mar/April;
Ramalinga pradhistai – 3 days- during June/July;
Thirukkalyanam – 17 days- during July/Aug;
Navarathri – 10 days- during Sept/Oct;
Kanthasashdi – 6 days- during Oct/Nov.
Aaruthra Dharisanam – 10 days- during Dec/Jan.
In addition to these there are other weekly and monthly ‘pooja’ conducted on special days based on Hindu calendar.
The temple is open from 5am to 1pm and from 3 pm to 9 pm for the devotees and ‘pooja’ is performed six times on a normal day. There are additional ‘pooja’ on special days. In addition it is possible to arrange special ‘pooja’ on behalf of the devotees by paying the appropriate fees at the ‘Devasthanam’ office.
Devotees come to this temple to bathe in the various ‘theertham’ in order to obtain merit for the souls of the dear departed ones and to wash away their own sins. There are 22 ‘theertham’ (wells or tanks) within the precinct of the temple and another 31 scattered around the island of Rameswaram and beyond. Most of the devotees take a dip in the sea called ‘Agni theertham´ in front of the temple. With wet clothes they proceed to the temple and draw water from each of the 22 ‘theertham’ inside the temple before arriving in front of Lord Visvanathar to offer their prayers before praying to Lord Ramanathaswamy. The other striking feature of this temple is the corridors said to be the longest in the world. The outer wing of the corridor measures 690 ft in the east-west direction and 435 ft in the north-south direction. There are a total number of 1212 pillars or columns each sculptured to a similar profile and these frame the corridor on either side. The height of this corridor is 22 ft and when viewed from the corner where the north or south side corridors meet the west or east side corridors the sight is breathtaking.