Lord Shiva's 12 Jyothirlingas Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram
Sri Ramanathaswamy temple is situated close to the sea on the eastern side of the island, which is in the shape of a conch. The island is connected with the main land at Mandapam by an awe-inspiring rail bridge and a road bridge. In ancient days, the shrine was only a thatched hut. Over the centuries, the small shrine was gradually developed into what it stands today as a massive and magnificent structure. Different dynasties were ruling the Ramanathapuram region in different periods. Pandya Kings were ruling up to the 15 century. Later, the region came under the reign of Nayaks of the Vijayanagar empire, who ruled till around the 1 7 century. Then the Sethupathis, who were the earliest chieftains of the region, came to power. They lavished their funds for art and architecture of the Rameswaram shrine. Notable among them were Udayan Sethupathy, Thirumalai Sethupathy, Raghunatha Sethupathy and Muthuramalinga Sethupathy, whose statues are housed in the temple.
Mythology The temple of Lord Ramanathaswamy dates back to the period of Ramayana. The epic begins with the birth of the four princes in Ayodhya, but its subsequent scenes change in quick succession from the banks of the Sarayu River to this southernmost part of our land - the confluence of Mahodathi and Ratnakara. In Rameswaram, one can capture glimpses of scenes from Sundara Kaandam, the epic’s fifth canto, unfolding. Sri Rama, the Prince of Ayodhya, is an embodiment of love, virtue and Dharma. He undergoes a 14-year-long exile on the eve of his coronation to fulfill a promise of his father Dasharata.His wife Sita and his most caring brother Lakshmana accompany him to the forest. In his quest for Dharma, Rama vanquishes thousands of Rakshasas in the forests during the exile and brings peace and happiness among the Rishis and other inhabitants.
The exile passes off peacefully till the abduction of Sita by Ravana, the Asura king of Lanka, at Panchavati on the banks of Godavari. Rama is grief-stricken. He along with Lakshmana wanders through the forests in search of Sita. One day they meet Sugriva, an exiled monkey king from Kishkindha, and Hanuman, his minister, who vow to help Rama trace Sita. After regaining his kingdom, Sugriva dispatches search parties in all directions. Hanuman, Angada, Nala and others travel southwards and land on the Gandhamadhana Parvatha along the south-eastern coast. This is the present Rameswaram.
The famous Sundara Kaandam begins here with the unbelievable act of Hanuman taking Vishwa Roopam and leaping across the ocean from this hill to reach Lanka. After a frenzied search, Hanuman finally succeeds in locating Sita, held captive in Ravana’s Ashoka Vana. He hands over to Sita a ring from Rama as proof of his being Rama’s messenger. Assuring Sita that Rama will come soon, wage a battle against Ravana and end her agony, Hanuman takes leave of Sita after accepting with reverence her Choodamani (head ornament) as a token for Rama. Later Hanuman destroys Ashoka Vana and gets himself captured by Ravana’s son Indrajit. When Ravana orders setting fire to the tail of Hanuman, he sets the whole of Lanka ablaze with his burning tail. Hanuman takes the air route back to Gandhamadhana Parvatha, where the search party has set up camp. They all rejoice the glad tidings. Soon they reach Kishkindha. Hanuman meets Rama and gives him the Choodamani with the news that Sita is safe. Rama is immensely pleased with Hanuman and embraces him warmly. Sugriva organizes a big retinue of monkeys and bears from all over the land to proceed on the mission to rescue Sita. Headed by Rama and Lakshmana, they traverse the eastern coast.
Following tradition, Rama first invokes Lord Vinayaka (Veyil Ugandha Vinayaka) at Uppoor seeking to remove obstacles on his mission. He offers puja to Navagrahas at the present Devipattinam or Navapaashaanam by installing nine stones in the sea. He then reaches a marshy land known as Dharbaaranyam (because the place was full of dharba grass). He worships Adi Jagannatha, the presiding deity, and receives Divya astras and the Lord’s blessings for his mission.
In a battle that follows, Rama, accompanied by Lakshmana and the Vanara Sena, vanquishes the ten- headed Ravana to the great relief of everyone. And, how all these happened within the time requested by Sita to rescue her is brought out beautifully by sage Valmiki in his epic. With the battle over, Rama, accompanied by Sita, Lakshmana and the army, returns to the shores of what is Rameswaram now. Here, as advised by Rishis, Rama decides to consecrate a shrine for Shiva to wash off the Brahmahatti dosha - the sin of killing Ravana, a Brahmin and great grandson of Brahma. A time for the auspicious ceremony is fixed. Rama rushes Hanuman to Mount Kailas to fetch a Linga. As the auspicious time for the installation has neared, but since Hanuman has still not reached, Sita makes a Linga out of sand and the puja is performed within the stipulated time. It is consecrated as Ramalinga. Meanwhile, Hanuman returns from Shiva’s abode with two Lingas. He is disappointed that the ceremony is already over. In anger, he tries to uproot the sand Linga with his tail, but in vain. Rama pacifies Hanuman and installs a Linga brought by Hanuman from Kailas to the left of Ramalinga, and ordered that all pujas be first performed for this Linga, called Vishwalinga. This priority in puja is followed even today. Rama then performs abhisheka with holy water from the Ganga. He aims an arrow at a point to create a spring and takes the purifacatory bath. This is the much-revered Kodi Theertha, situated in the first corridor of the Rameswaram temple.
This holy Theertha and several other sacred waters, mostly in the form of wells within the temple precincts in Rameswaram thus have a special sanctity attached to them with the touch of Rama’s holy feet.
The people of Rameswaram consider it sacrilegious to plough the land or use heavy stone crushers to produce oil since Sita made Ramalinga out of earth.
To worship Lord Ramanatha or Ramalinga, the hallowed sand Linga made by Sita and installed by Sri Rama, pilgrims enter through the eastern gopuram. They offer prayers to Lord Anjaneya smeared with sindhoor. Then comes the Nandi Mandapa, which houses the flag staff and the Nandi. The stuccoed massive image of the bull is made of lime stone, measuring 17.5 feet high, 23 feet long and 12 feet wide. On either side of the Nandi, one finds interesting sculptural representations of the ocean gods Mahodathi and Ratnakara. The sanctum is flanked on either side by shrines of Vinayaka and Subramanya. Inside the sanctum, we worship Sri Ramanathaswamy. It is said this Linga contains marks of Hanuman’s tail, with which he tried to uproot it in a fit of anger. The Linga is decorated with silver kavacha. It is customary to offer abhisheka to the Lord with holy Ganga water.
In the front mandapa, there is a canopy, carved under which are images of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman with the two Lingas brought from Kailas, and Sugriva, appearing to be informing Rama about Hanuman’s return. In three other canopies in the front hall, we find exquisitely-carved figures of Hanuman, Gandhamadhana Linga and Agastya Linga.
She is the consort of Lord Ramanatha and is enshrined separately to His right. There is a Sri Chakra installed inside. Special significance is attached to a Devi shrine situated on the right of the Lord’s shrine. In Madurai, too, the shrine of Meenakshi is situated to the right of Lord Sundareshwara. On Fridays, an especially decorated image of Parvathavardhini is taken round the temple corridor in a golden palanquin.
Vishwanatha & Visalakshi
To the north of Ramalinga shrine, Lord Vishwanatha or Vishwalinga has a separate shrine. This is one of the two Lingas brought from Kailas by Hanuman. As per tradition, pujas are first performed to Vishwalinga and then to Ramalinga. In the first inner corridor, Visalakshi, consort of Vishwanatha, is enshrined.
This is in the north-eastern corner of the corridor around the Visalakshi shrine. The gold image of the Lord is ceremoniously brought here every night from the main shrine and placed in the Oonjal (swing) by the side of the Devi’s golden idol. The Sayana puja and the early morning puja, when the Lord is taken back in a procession to the sanctum, are worth witnessing.
In the first inner corridor, devotees offer worship to the venerated Spatika Linga, installed by Vibhishana. This Linga is the southernmost among the 12 famous Jyothirlingas in the country.
There is a legend associated with this shrine. Once there ruled a Pandya king by name Punyanithi. As he had no issues, he along with his queen undertook a Sethu Theertha Yatra. Soon he found a baby girl in the palace garden and adopted her as his daughter. As years passed, the princess reached marriageable age. One day an old Brahmin from Kashi, holding Ganga water, appeared in the palace garden and sought her hand in marriage. The king got angry and ordered the old Brahmin to be kept chained in the temple corridor. That night the king had a dream in which he realized that the old man in chain was none other than Lord Vishnu with his daughter, Goddes Lakshmi, by his side. He fell at the Lord’s feet and sought forgiveness. He gave his daughter in marriage to Lord Vishnu at Rameswaram. He is known as Sethu Madhava or Shwetha Madhava (as his image is made of white marble). In Kashi, Lord Vishnu is worshipped as Bindu Madhava.
Getting there and Around
By Air- The nearest airport is Madurai which is 173 kms.
By Rail- Well connected to major cities like Chennai,Madurai,Coimbatore,Trichy and Tanjavur.
By Road- Connected with all important towns of Tamil Nadu,buses and taxis ply regularly.