At a Glance
53 Square Kilometer
Geo Location
South India
Average Climate
17° C - 43° C
Best time to visit
October - April

Rameshwaram, a small island situated in the Bay of Bengal, off the coast of the Ramanathapuram and separated from it by the Pamban Channel, has a sanctity and importance not exceeded by any other place of pilgrimage in India. The Portuguese knew it as Ramanar Koil, and the Dutch called it Ramespuram. Rameshwaram (रामेश्वरम) is a town in Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu. The name Rameshwaram is due to the Lord Shiva whom Ram had worshipped there before the construction of the bridge. Dhanushkodi, about fifteen miles to the south of Rameshwaram, and forming the terminus of the Railway line, serves as the sacred Bathing Ghat to Holy Rameshwaram. Both, Rameshwaram & Dhanushkodi (धनुषकोडि), derive their importance and sacredness from their traditional association with the presence and doings of Lord Ram, the hero and deity of the epic Ramayana. Rameshwaram is highly sacred pilgrimage destination for the Vaishnavaites (वैष्णव) and the Shaivaites (शैव). The holy places related to Lord Ram and his doings are the main attractions of tourism in Rameshwaram.

Lord Ram, it is well-known, arrived here with his monkey-host to cross over to Lanka. After his victory over Ravan and return, it is stated, he was advised by the sages to worship Lord Shiva in the form of a ‘lingam’ to wash off the sin of having slain Ravan and his hosts. Ram’s faithful servant, Hanuman, the monkey-hero, was sent to the Himalayas to fetch a ‘lingam’ for installation and worship. An auspicious day had been fixed—the tenth day of the bright fortnight of the month of Ani—for installing the image. Hanuman did not return by that date and so an image of ‘lingam’ made out of sea-sand, lying nearby, by Ram’s divine consort Sita, was installed with due ceremony. Hanuman arrived subsequently and, finding his labours vain, tried to pull out the sand-made ‘lingam’, but all his attempts failed. At last Ram, in order to appease his servant, installed the stone ‘lingam’ brought by Hanuman to the north of the one already established and ordered that worship may be offered to the image brought by his faithful servant. The ‘lingam’ in the great shrine of Rameshwaram, being thus the one installed by Lord Ram himself, is considered supremely sacred and is an object of worship to all sections of the Hindus in India.

The Rameshwaram Temple, known as Ramanathaswamy Temple, is a large and magnificent one. It has three courts with gopurams (towers) in the outer court in all the four directions. The Rajas of Ramnad, who are called Setupatis (सेतुपति) or Lords of Setu or Rameshwaram, were largely instrumental in adding to the original temple; and their representations in sculpture are to be found in the colonnades in the outer court of the Rameshwaram temple. The Setupatis are the hereditary guardian of the Sacred Causeway at Dhanushkodi. In this capacity the Setupati is known to hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who annually visit the shrine of Sri Ramanathaswamy at Rameshwaram. The pilgrimage to Rameshwaram is considered incomplete unless a visit is made to Ramalinga Vilas and the Setupati at Ramnad. The courts in the Rameshwaram temple with their majestic colonnades and high ceilings form the most attractive and memorable feature.

There is also a temple to Lord Vishnu under the name of “Setu Madhav" whose image is made of white marble. Every visit to Rameshwaram must comprise in the end the worship of Setu Madhav who is considered the warden of the holy place.

The bath at Dhanushkodi, which should precede worship at the Rameshwaram shrine, can be done every day in the year, the place being so holy that there is no restriction as to the days when the bath should be had. The waters here represent the junction of Mahodadhi (महोदधि - the Bay of Bengal) and Ratnakar (रत्नाकर - the Indian Ocean).

Sculptural representations of both these Ocean-Gods exist by the side of the Big Bull, Nandi, in the Rameshwaram shrine in front of the ‘lingam’. One may refer to a curious figure half-buried in the ground near the bull. Tradition identifies it as that of a non-Hindu thief who, when attempting to rob the temple treasury, got transfixed to the place and became stone-blind. Besides Dhanushkodi, there are other sacred “waters’ —tanks, wells and the like—numbering some twenty-four, situated in and around the Rameshwaram temple wherein the pious pilgrim is bound to bathe. These are said to possess miraculous properties of curing several diseases. There are eleven important lingams especially important to this temple, and these are said to have been founded, respectively, by Hanuman, Sri Ram, Goddess Sita, Lakshman, Sugriva, Nala, the builder of the Ram Setu (Adam’s Bridge), Angad, Nila, Jambavant, Vibhishan and Indra.

Daily worship in the Rameshwaram temple is carried on 6 times a day. The last of them—the Palli-Arai procession as it is called—is a very picturesque ceremony and may be described. Every night the Amman (goddess of the temple- who has got a separate shrine) is decorated in the Navashakti or Shukravar (Friday) Hall in front of the Goddess Amman shrine. She is then taken in procession in a golden-plated palanquin to the God’s temple when the image of the God is placed in the palanquin. The procession -with both the deities then continues through the third court and finally ends in the Amman shrine. The idols are then taken out and placed in the Palli-Arai (bed-chamber) in the Hall within the Amman shrine. The chief annual festivals of the temple are—Pratishtanga in the month of Ani, Ramanathaswami’s marriage in Adi (July-August) and Mahashivaratri which is celebrated with very great ceremony.

There are a number of sacred places around Rameshwaram, consecrated to the memory of Lord Ram, and visited by pilgrims to Rameshwaram. In a place called Tellapur some twenty miles to the north-east of Ramnad, there is a Vinayak Temple, whose image is said to have been installed by Lord Ram himself. Devipattinam or Navapashanam, ten miles north-east of Ramnad, contains a temple to the Nine Planets, said to have been installed by Shri Ram himself for worship. Tiruppullani or Darbhasayanam, six miles south of Ramnad, is remembered and cherished as the place where Ram lays on a bed of grass (Kusha) awaiting the Ocean-God. Both figures of Ram lying on his bed of grass and the Ocean-God are to be found here.

The island seems to have a coral basis. The ordinary variety of coral here is shady brown in colour. But one often meets with a small bit of pure white coral three inches long on the beach. Bits of half-formed coral and many kinds of coral stones are plentifully strewn about on the sands of the Bay near Rameshwaram. The abundance of fresh water on the island in many of the wells, as well as the retention of percolated rain water on the extensive beach of the Indian Ocean to the south of Rameshwaram, is sufficiently accounted for by the hard coral stone basis of this island. The beach of the Indian Ocean at Dhanushkodi is plentifully strewn with multi-coloured shells and coral tubes of wondrous variety of form and the imagination can easily comprehend the reason for its being called the Ratnakara (Store of precious stones). The bits of coral stone are treasured by women-folk and incorporated in their domestic ‘pujapeetham’. They call them by a pious metaphorical name, the roots of turmeric that Sita had used. They also carry with them other treasures of the sea such as cowries, conches, and shells. These are also sold in heaps in the bazaar in the western corridor of the temple.

Palmyra trees abound, but the eye of the traveller, as he is whirled along in the train, is delighted with the sight of plantain and cocoanut groves. In this island the staple crops are maize and betel, though the vegetable required for the Indian table are cultivated in places. Good water is available at a tolerably high level and it is possible to extend such cultivation, considering the highly alkaline nature of the sandy soil. The drumstick grows in abundance and is of finer quality than elsewhere.

The Rameshwaram bazaar and vegetable market are mainly fed from outside. The plough is never used in cultivation on this island either because of the loose nature of the soil or because of some ancient prohibition due to the holy associations. The latter is the popular opinion.

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