Rameshwaram Temple or the officially known Ramanathaswamy Temple is situated in the Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu. It is about 560km south of the state capital Chennai. Rameswaram is an island of a sandy pit of about 50km long and 12km wide in the Gulf of Mannar. This separates Sri Lanka from India in the Indian Ocean.
The Island is also known as the Pamban Island comprising mainly three areas. The famous Rameshwaram temple and surrounding places constitute the main area. Then there is Dhanushkodi, the lost town of yesteryear and the newly developed area surrounding the city.
Rameshwaram temple or Ramananathswamy temple is one of the Char Dham defined by Adi Shankaracharya. It is built on the eastern shore of the island. The historic temple makes the island town one of the sacred places for Hindus.
And, it is hailed as the Varanasi (Kashi) of the South and treated at par with Varanasi for centuries.
How Dhanushkodi becomes the lost town of yesteryear
The other important area on the island is Dhanushkodi, which is the southernmost coastal town. It is about 24 km from Rameshwaram. Dhanushkodi is the extreme southeastern tip of the Indian peninsula, where the Bay of Bengal meets the Indian Ocean. And, it is the closest point to the Sri Lankan coast about 46 km away beyond the sea.
Dhanushkodi was once a busy coastal town with fishermen, travellers, pilgrims, tourists, and others. It had a railway station, a small railway hospital, a higher secondary school, a post office, customs and port offices etc. There were regular ferry services between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar in Sri Lanka, transporting passengers and goods.
In a dreadful night of December 1964, the entire town was washed away by a severe cyclone that lashed Sri Lanka and the coastal Tamil Nadu. Dhanushkodi in the cyclone-prone high wind velocity zone was thus no longer suitable for habitation.
Today, Dhanushkodi is a temporary fishing village with a limited number of inhabitants. Tourist interest of the island is confined to its serine sandy beaches converging towards the end and disappearing into the sea. With an old temple, the wreckage of a church, and other damaged buildings, the town remains as a mute witness to the worst disaster ever hit the island in its history.
South Indian Kingdoms reign in Rameshwaram
Rameshwaram is an ancient place of the Ramayana era. The First Pandyan Kingdom of Madurai ruled the island until the 9th century CE. It remained a part of several south Indian kingdoms at different periods of time. This includes the Chola Kingdom (1012 to 1040 CE), the Jaffna Kingdom (1153 – 1186 CE), the Second Pandyan Kingdom (1253 – 1268 CE), the Vijayanagar Empire through the Madurai Nayaks (13th – 17th century) and the Sethupathi Kings of Ramnad.
Several rulers such as the Nizams, the Marathas, the Nawabs of Carnatic attacked the region at different times. In 1795, the British defeated the Sethupathis and took control of Rameswaram and held it as part of the Madras Presidency until 1947.
Rameswaram has very close connections with the epic Ramayana. Besides Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi, the neighbouring places such as Ramasetu, Devipattinam, and Thirupullani are all mentioned in the context of various incidents in the epic.
Rameshwaram Temple – Mythological Connection
According to the Ramayana, Rama Sethu is the place where Lord Ram built the bridge across the sea with the help of the Vanara Sena (army). He built it to cross over to Lanka to rescue Sita Devi from the captivity of the demon king Ravana.
Rameshwaram is the place where Lord Ram is believed to have prayed to Lord Shiva to absolve him of the sin of Brahmahatya (Killing a Brahmin). Because Ravan whom he killed in the battle to rescue Mata Sita was a Brahmin; born to a Brahmin father.
The main deity of the Ramanathaswamy temple is a Shivalingam installed in its first corridor. This is believed to be the Shivalingam created by Matha Sita for Lord Ram’s pooja. She created it using the beach mud and sand. This was necessitated as Hanuman was late to bring a Shivalingam from Kailash to commence the pooja.
It is believed that another Shivalingam installed in the Vishwanathar shrine in the first corridor of the temple is the one Hanuman brought from Kailash. This lingam is called Kasi Vishvanath Ramanthswami Ramalingam or Vishva Lingam.
According to scriptures, Lord Ram ordained that all pilgrims should worship the Shivalingam installed by Hanuman first before worshipping the main deity. Today, the Poojas and offerings in the temple are performed first to this Shivalingam.
Rameshwaram Temple History
The origin of Rameshwaram Temple dates back to the ages of the Ramayana. The temple got the name from Lord Ram, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He came here to worship Lord Shiva. Thus, Rameshwaram is considered a holy pilgrimage site for both Vaishnavas and Shaivas.
Ramanathaswamy Temple is one of the sacred Char Dhams (four holy abodes) in the country for Hindu pilgrimage. The other three are Jagannath Temple in Puri (Odisha), Dwarkadheesh Temple in Dwarka (Gujarat) and the Badrinath temple in Badrinath (Uttarakhand). This is also one of the 12 Jyotirlingams in India and therefore considered as a most sacred and powerful place of worship of Lord Shiva.
Began as a small shrine dedicated Lord Shiva, the Ramanathaswamy temple is a massive temple complex today. Several rulers and rich royal families donated for the renovation at different points of time. The period between the 12th and 16th centuries witnessed major expansion. Structural additions like corridors, gopurams etc. took place during this period.
Rameshwaram Temple timings
The temple opens for poojas on all 7 days at 5:00 am and closes at 9:00 pm. There is a break of two hours from 1:00 pm. Means, the temple reopens for pilgrims at 3:00 pm
Built-in the Dravidian style, the temple is an architectural marvel. It occupies an area of 15 acres with huge outer walls flanked by grand gopurams (towers), called Raja Gopurams on its eastern and western sides. The west gopuram is a 5-storied and 78ft tall, while the imposing gopuram in the east is 9-storied and 126ft tall.
Ramanthaswamy Temple an excellent example of the famous Dravidian temple architecture
The inside corridors are unusually long. About 4,000 beautifully decorated pillars, running between columns built on 5ft-high platforms support these corridors.
The third corridor of the temple is the world’s longest and largest pillared corridor with a total of intricately carved and painted 1,212 pillars.
The Pillars are around 25 to 30 ft tall. The work on the third corridor took about 50 years to complete. Vijaya Regunatha Sethupathi started the work in 1722 CE. And, the ruler Muthu Ramalinga Vijaya Regunatha Sethupathi completed the work 50 years later.
A series of shrines at corridors
Rameshwaram Temple has a total of three large corridors with several shrines in each of them known as ‘Sannathi’. The first corridor houses the Ramanathaswamy Sannathi, where you can see the main deity.
Other Sannathis include Ramanathar Sannathi, Vishwanathar Sannathi, and Vishalatchi Sannathi. Here, Vishwanathar Sannathi has the Shivalingam believed to be the one brought by Hanuman from Kailash for Lord Ram’s pooja.
Similarly, the second and third corridors have a number of Sannathis with various deities, idols, shiva lingams, statues and colourful sculptures.
You can see various halls inside the temple, such as Anuppu Mandapam, Sukravara Mandapam, Setupati Mandapam, Kalyana Mandapam, and Nandi Mandapam. There is a 22ft-long and 16ft-tall huge statue of Nandi in the Nandi Mandapam.
Rameswaram Temple Theerthams
One of the important religious rituals during the pilgrimage to Ramanathaswamy Temple at Rameshwaram is bathing by devotees at various Theerthams or water bodies or wells.
You can see several wells in the temple complex and outside. Pilgrims believe bathing in these Theerthams would cleanse all your sins and purify your soul. It is also considered equivalent to penance or sacrifice for erasing your sins and negativity.
The Rameshwaram island has total 64 wells of which 24 wells are religiously very important.
Rameshwaram Temple 22 Wells Timings
The timing of the Rameswaram temple 22 wells is the same as that of the Darshan.
Out of the 64 Theerthams, 22 wells are within the temple complex. The largest and most sacred well is Agnitheertham.
This is outside the temple, on its eastern front in the waters of the Bay of Bengal. Hindus believe Lord Ram took bath here before he performed the pooja.
Here, a vast area of the sea is very shallow. Its sleepy, quiet waves rise no more than small ripples as in a river. After taking a dip in Agnitheertham, pilgrims proceed to the temple to take bath at subsequent Theerthams one after the other. They complete the ritual with a bath at the Kodi Theertham.
Climate in Rameswaram
Rameswaram has a hot and dry climate with low humidity and an average maximum temperature of 35°C and an average minimum temperature of 20°C. The island gets an average annual rainfall of 800mm from the northeastern (October to January) and southwest monsoons (July to September).
How to reach Ramanathaswamy Temple at Rameswaram
Rameswaram is situated 53.4km west of the district headquarters Ramanathapuram and is well connected with major cities by road and railways. The important cities in the nearby regions include Madurai (170km), Thoothukudi (190km), Tiruchirappalli (230km) and Kanyakumari (310 km).
The Rameswaram island is connected with the mainland by a rail bridge since 1914. Started as a meter gauge, it was upgraded to broad gauge in 2007. There are regular train services including express trains that connect major cities such as Chennai, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, and Coimbatore.
In 1988, the government built another bridge- a road bridge named as Annai Indira Gandhi bridge. Also known as the Pamban bridge, it gave a big boost to tourism on the island. The city is on the national highway NH 49 that connects Madurai with Dhanushkodi via Ramanathapuram. The Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation runs daily services connecting various cities to Rameswaram.
The nearest airports are Madurai (150km), Tiruchirappalli (230km), which connect all major domestic airports in the country. Rameswaram has a port and it sometimes operates a ferry service to Talaimannar of Sri Lanka.
Best Time to Visit Ramanathaswamy
October to April is the best time to visit Rameswaram as the climate is cool and pleasant at that time and ideal for sightseeing. Important festivals in the Ramanathaswamy temple, like Mahashivratri and Arudhra Darshanam, are falling due during this period.