|Rameshwaram is significant for the Hindus as
a pilgrimage to Benaras is incomplete without a Pilgrimage to
Rameshwaram. The presiding deity is the Linga Of Sri Ranganatha,
which happens to be one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of India.
Rameshwaram is also popularly referred to as the 'Benaras of
the south'. In order to attain Moksha it is believed that the
visit to Rameshwaram is mandatory.
History of Rameshwaram
According to the Hindu mythology i.e. the story of Ramayana
Lord Rama performed thanksgiving rituals to Lord Rama after
the battle at Sri Lanka and his triumph over the demon king
Ravana. Owing to this Rameshwaram attracts Vaishnavites (worshippers
of Lord Vishnu) and Saivites (worshippers of Lord Shiva) alike.
Sri Lanka is at a distance of 24 kilometers from Rameshwaram.
In fact the entire area of Rameshwaram is associated with various
incidents from the Ramayana. Rameshwaram happens to one of the
most visited pilgrim sites in India.
The Ramanathaswamy Temple
At the town's core is the Ramanathaswamy Temple, one of the
most important temples in southern India. Rameswaram is on
an island in the Gulf of Mannar, connected to the mainland
at Mandapam by rail, and by one of India's engineering wonders,
the Indira Gandhi Bridge. Ramnathswamy temple was built in
the 17th century. Situated close to the sea on the eastern
side of the island, this temple is famous for its 1200 gigantic
granite columns. The 54 metre tall gopuram (gate-tower), 1220
metres of magnificent corridors and the flamboyant columns
embellish and render fame to the temple. The great temple
of Sri Ramanatha is connected by tradition with Keshi. A pilgrimage
to Kasi is not considered complete without a pilgrimage to
Rameswaram. In olden days groups of pilgrims, many of them
quite old, walked huge distance to the two temples, taking
months and years, and some failing to survive the rigours
and dangers of such incredibly long journeys. Men and women
know this cost might be exacted of them, but they paid it
The Rameswaram pilgrimage has long been a tradition in South
India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, and has passed into folklore.
Many kings of old period themselves on having planted columns
of victory in Rameswaram. Krishna III the Rashtrakuta, in
the tenth century, the Hoysala, Vishnuvardhana, in the twelfth.
It was a king of Sri Lanka who according to inscriptions,
built the sanctum of the temple. The temple, which has over
the centuries grown into its present gigantic dimensions,
stands on the eastern shore of an island, which is shaped
like a conch, which Lord Vishnu bears in one of His bands.
No field is ploughed or oil pressed anywhere in the island.
A magnificent railway bridge, over a kilometre long and constructed
at the beginning of the twentieth century, connected it with
the mainland. To help the pilgrims walking incredible distances,
philanthropists used to construct rest houses at intervals
along the way.
The last of them before Rameswaram was Thangachimadam, a few
kilometres away on the island. Modern means of transport have
made these resthouses superfluous. But in their time they
were most useful, even vital. The Sethupathis of Ramanathapuram,
of which district Rameswaram is an administrative part were
called the guardians of the Sethu", the bridge which,
according to tradition, was built for Sri Rama to cross over
into Sri Lanka when He set out to recover Sita. The temple
264m east to west and 200m north to south, and with three
prakaras, two big gopuras and two more unfinished ones, faces
east, a few metres from the sea. It contains two Lingas under
worship. These are innumerable other shrines and twenty-two
"tirthas", or sacred bathing places.