Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple is one of the reasons for the popularity of Rameshwaram. It is not simply a temple, but a landmark in the history of the town and this is perhaps the reason the temple is situated right in the centre of Rameshwaram. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and every year thousands of devotees pay a visit to the temple. The temple is also revered because it is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas in the country. In these temples, Lord Shiva is revered in the form of a Jyotirlinga. His statue is not worshipped in these shrines.
The temple has a very old history but the present structure is believed to have been built by the rulers of the Pandya dynasty around 12th century. The art and architecture of the temple are marvels in themselves. But, the main reason the temple is visited by lakhs of devotees each year is because of its religious significance in Hinduism.
Adam’s Bridge, also popularly known as Rama Setu or Rama’s Bridge, was built by the army of Vanars or monkeys who helped Rama rescue Sita from Ravana. In Ramayana, the bridge is referred to as Setubandhanam. The bridge is actually a path made of limestone shoals that stretch between Pamban Island, which is on the southeast coast of Tamil Nadu and Mannar Island on the northwest coast of Sri Lanka.
Geologists have proven that the bridge was actually a walking path that formerly connected India and Sri Lanka. The sea that now separates the two countries is referred to as Sethusamudram or Sea of the Bridge.
The Bridge also finds reference in Christian mythology; Adam had crossed this bridge in order to reach the mountain (Adam’s Peak located in Sri Lanka) where he did his penance by standing on one foot for a thousand years. Hence, the name Adam’s Bridge.
The Annai Indira Gandhi Road Bridge is the official name given to the Pamban Bridge and the specialty of this bridge is that it is a cantilever bridge built over the Palk Strait. The bridge forms the connection between Rameshwaram and the rest of the country. The bridge was first of its kind to be built over the sea. It is ranked as the second longest sea bridge in the country with its length measuring 2.3 km.
The bridge was built as part of the South Indian Railway project. The construction of the bridge was started in 1887 and completed in the year 1912. Along with the construction of the bridge, the workers also built the famous Neel-Mandir Temple that has seven domes.
The bridge has withstood the test of times because of the hard work that has gone into building it into a strong and lasting bridge. The cantilever aspect of the bridge allows it to let the ships pass through underneath.
Agni theertham is the first water body situated outside the premises of the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple. The theertham is situated in one corner of the sea, unlike the other theerthams that are tank-like and located within the temple itself.
According to a legend, Lord Rama bathed in this part of the sea after killing the Lanka king Ravana. Rama is also believed to have invoked the blessings of Lord Shiva while washing himself in the sea. He was seeking absolution for having killed a Brahmin. This is one reason that bathing in the theerthams is believed to wash a person of their earthly sins.
Pilgrimage to Rameshwaram is said to begin only after first bathing in the agni theertham and all the pilgrims follow this religiously. However, of late many people have started complaining about the cleanliness standards of the area in and around the theertham. Pilgrims want the theertham to be better taken care of because of its religious significance.
Temple Tanks or Thirthas can be found both within Rameshwaram as well as on the outskirts of the town. It is believed that there are 64 Thirthas in and around Rameshwaram of which 24 hold religious importance for the Hindus.
Fourteen of the Thirthas are situated inside the premises of the Sri Ramanathswamy Temple. These Thirthas are patterned as tanks and wells, and it is considered auspicious to bathe in these thirthas. Bathing in the holy waters is known to rid one of all the sins in order to attain salvation.
The Thirthas are named according to the legends of their formation. For example, the Jadayu theertham is named after Jatayu, the King of Birds who fell on the place after getting his wings severed. The thirthas are known to hold religious significance because Lord Krishna is believed to have himself bathed in them. All pilgrims to Rameshwaram begin their journey by first bathing in the Agni Theertham.
Dhanushkodi is a small village (that has now taken the importance of a town) situated on the Rameshwaram Island. The village is at the southern-most tip of the island of the east coast. The village is only 31 km away from Talaimannar in Sri Lanka.
According to a legend Vibhishana, the brother of Ravana, asked Lord Rama to break the Sethu. Rama broke the Sethu using one end of his ‘dhanush’ or bow. The name of the place owes its origin to this legend. In fact, one can still spot a line of rocks and isles that are perhaps the remains of the bridge built to Sri Lanka under the leadership of Lord Rama. This bridge is still referred to as Rama’s bridge.
The water that originates from this Sethu is considered holy and pilgrims bathe here before starting their pilgrimage to Rameshwaram. Many people also believe that those going to Kashi for pilgrimage have to come to Dhanushkodi for a bath to complete their pilgrimage.
The Five-Faced Hanuman Temple is perhaps the most popular temple in Rameshwaram after the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple. The idols of Lord Rama, his consort Sita and Hanuman have been established in the temple. These idols were brought from Dhanushkodi to this temple during the 1964 cyclone that destroyed much of Dhanushkodi village.
Interestingly, it is believed that their souls are inside their idols. This is one reason the temple is frequently visited by devotees from all over the country. Another interesting feature of the temple is the floating stone placed right outside the temple. This stone is believed to be a part of the bridge, which was built by Hanuman and his monkey army in order to reach Lanka to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana.
Legend has it that it was at this place that Hanuman showed all of his five faces or forms. He was also decorated with senthooram or vermilion at this place by Lord Rama.
The Jada Theertham is located about 3.5 km from Rameshwaram on the way to Dhanushkodi. Many tourists on their way to the holy bath at Dhanushkodi make it a point to stop at Jada theertham as well. The theertham is again related to legends of Sri Rama, and it is believed that Lord Rama stopped at the place on his way to Ayodhya after killing Ravana and rescuing his wife Sita.
He prepared a lingam and worshipped it. The lingam is called the Sri Ramalinga. Rama also washed his ‘jada’ or hair in the water in order to absolve Himself from the sin of having killed a Brahmin. Only after ‘washing off’ his sins did He start worshipping the lingam.
The temple is very small compared to the other temples in and around Rameshwaram. In fact, the temple has been built inside the premises of another theertham, the Kaveri theertham. Some people also believe that Jatayu, the King of Birds lost his life at this place after his wings were severed by Ravana.
Kothandaramar Temple is located in Rameshwaram and holds both historical as well as religious significance. This temple is considered as the place where Lord Rama anointed Vibhishana as the king of Lanka after killing Ravana. In fact, a painting on the wall of the temple is proof to the coronation.
The existence of the temple came under threat when the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project was laid out. However, better sense prevailed and a heritage temple was saved from destruction. This temple is also the main source of livelihood for the local fishermen and traders who are completely dependent on tourism for their daily wages.
The Kothandaramar Temple has a very interesting Calcutta connection. It is a known fact that the Bengali philanthropist Ramkumar Bangur had parts of the temple reconstructed between 1976 and 1978. Today, the temple is under the care of the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple and is one among the 31 such sub-temples in Rameshwaram.
Gandhamathana Parvatham is a small summit to the north of the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple. The hillock is at a walking distance of 3 km and is known to be the highest point in Rameshwaram. There is a small temple, the Ramarpatham Temple that has been built on top of the hillock.
On the way to the Gandhamathana Parvatham is a hall with two floors; in this hall you can see Lord Rama’s feet imprinted on a wheel. Also, on the way to the mountain is situated a small temple that according to legends had been built on the spot where Hanuman found Sita’s jewellery that she dropped when Ravana abducted her and took her to Lanka.
Tourists flock to the hillock because the peak offers a majestic view of the Rameshwaram Island. One can see the crystal blue of the sea surrounding the emerald green of the island. It is indeed a pleasurable site.
The Ariyamaan Beach, located on one side of the Palk Bay, is popular among the tourists because it is maintained properly making it absolutely neat and clean. The beach also attracts quite a lot of the local population because picnicking is the only source of entertainment for the people of Rameshwaram.
In fact, plenty of people from the nearby districts also visit the beach on weekends. The Ariyamaan Beach is a beautiful beach with sparkling blue waters that remain calm for most part of the day. A gentle and cool breeze blows on the beach throughout the day, making it an ideal spot for a picnic. The beach is at a distance of 27 km from the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple and is about 150 m in width and about 2 km in length.
Enhancing the beauty of the beach is the casuarina plantation that has been added by a private builder who has introduced features like children’s park, swimming pool, boating, artificial thunder, surfing and other activities. All this has only been an added advantage from the point of tourism.
The Nambu Nayagi Amman Temple in Rameshwaram is held in high esteem by the locals. The temple is at a distance of 8 km from the main temple at Rameshwaram. One has to travel towards Dhanushkodi from Sri Ramanathswamy Temple to reach Nambu Nayagi. The temple is dedicated to Lord Rama and thousands of Rama devotees flock to the temple every year during Dushera.
It is believed that the temple was built sometime in the 14th century and was constructed by the locals of Rama. This is perhaps the reason that the temple is situated a little away from Rameshwaram. The area surrounding the temple has been done up really well. A tired traveler can rest under the shades of the trees planted around the temple.
The surrounding gardens bloom during spring time, and the riot of colourful flowers is a scene to behold. The pleasant and holy sounds emanating from the huge bells installed in the temple are sure to soothe both the body and mind.
The Ramalingavilasam Palace belongs to the dynasty of Sethupathi Kings and was constructed by Kizhavan Sethupathi, who ruled over Ramanathapuram between 1674 and 1710 and was a very popular king. Within the Palace is a huge hall that used to be the Darbar of the kings where they would meet the people of their kingdom to solve their grievances.
Ahead of the Darbar lies the dwelling quarters of the royal family and these have been done up magnificently. On the walls of the Palace are the murals depicting the grandeur of life led by the Sethupathi royal family. The murals also show the scenes from the battle fought with the Marathas.
The murals also prove the liaison between the Sethupathis and the European traders. Apart from their historical representation, the murals are also important from the art point of view. The life-like murals have been done up exquisitely proving that art and architecture flourished under the patronage of Sethupathis.
The Kurusadai Island is considered a paradise of exotic and nearly extinct marine species. Most of the people visiting the island are either marine specialists or aquatic researchers who have a keen interest in studying and discovering more about marine life. However, the island is popular among tourists for its distinctive coral reefs as well.
The island is about 7 km from Mandapam and is a delight to visit. One can spot dolphins and sea cows making merry in the Gulf of Mannar. A unique feature of this part of the sea that distinguishes it from the surrounding water is the presence of balanoglossus – an organism that is considered a rare and precious form of living fossils.
Another valuable asset of the marine biosphere in the islands is the sea anemone. This organism can turn into the shape of an amoeba if it is disturbed or threatened by the presence of some foreign body close by. The place is a must visit though you will have to take permission from the authorities concerned.
Vilundi Theertham is one of the 24 theerthams that are a must visit according to Hindu religion. This theertham was created when Lord Rama struck an arrow into the sea to draw drinking water for his wife Sita. The well that was made as a result of the strike gave out water that was delicious to drink.
Every year, the theertham is visited by thousands of Hindu devotees who bathe in its water to rid their sins. The theertham is in the Thangatchimadam village that is close to Pamban. Apart from the religious importance, the water body is significant for the locals of the village.
In 1979, a structure was constructed in order to make it a source of drinking water for the local population. However, the structure is now spoilt because of the salt present in the air leaving the locals disgruntled. Efforts are being made to get the government to build another such structure.