Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu
Rameswaram is one of the most sacred Hindu cities in Southern India. It enjoys several major religious distinctions. First is that it is home to one of the twelve sacred Jyotirlinga (a sacred object associated with Shiva). Second, it is one of four cities that mark the four cardinal compass points in Hinduism, in this case the south. Third, it is held to be the place where the deity Rama battled and defeated Ravana, the ruler of Lanka, and where he later expiated his sin. The latter event is commemorated at the Ramanathaswamy Temple
The legendary beginning of Rameswaram dates back to ancient times, and is one of the major stories recounted in the Ramayana. As the story goes, Ravana, the ruler of Sri Lanka, kidnapped Sita, the wife of Rama. Rama, bent on her rescue, followed them to Southern India, where he built a great bridge to the island (part of the ‘bridge’ survives to the present day in a form of an island chain). The two met and did battle, with Rama emerging victorious.
Later it was learned by Rama that his adversary was not a demon but rather a Brahmin. Repentant, Rama, aided by his wife and his associate Hanuman, sought to make amends. They established one of the twelve Jyortirlinga here, making it one of the most sacred places in India.
Rameswaram has been an important pilgrimage destination since ancient times. Settlements have been here for over a thousand years, and early temples commemorating the legendary events have been recorded here at least as far back as the early Middle Ages. Unlike India’s northern cities, Rameswaram was only minimally impacted by the arrival of Islam, and boasts one of the oldest uninterrupted Hindu communities as a result.
The current Ramanathaswamy Temple can be traced back nearly a thousand years, and elements from the Middle Ages survive. However, most of the temple dates from expansions and renovations centuries later. Today it is one of the most revered Hindu Temples in Southern India, and attracts many pilgrims both from India and Sri Lanka.
The Ramanathaswamy Temple is one of the largest temple complexes in India. It sprawls over a huge area, with multiple buildings interconnected by long columned promenades. The definitive features of the temple exterior are its two white carved-stone towers standing like sentinels at opposite ends of the compex, each peaking above the thick jungle growth.
What the temple is most famous for, at least among those interested in the architecture, are the phenomenally long column-lined corridors that connect the temple’s buildings. One of these stretches more than 800 feet, making it difficult to see one end from the other. There are many pools in the temple precinct for the cleansing of supplicants. The temple’s Linga, the aforementioned sacred object associated with Shiva, is kept in an inner sanctum that is off limits to non-Hindus (there are actually two lingas here – the official one, and another that was sculpted from sand by Hanuman).
The Ramanathaswamy Temple is located on the northeast side of Rameswaram on the east side of Pambam Island in site of the ocean, approximately 240 miles south of Chennai. It is open daily from 4:00am-8:00pm. There is no cost for admission, though there is a cost for a ritual cleansing. Web: www.rameswaramtemple.tnhrce.in (official website).
The city of Rameswaram and the surrounding island are loaded with temples. Some of the best commemorate events related to the events involving Rama. The Gandamadana Paravtham Temple is home to a footprint attributed to Rama. The Kothandaramar Temple is believed to be the site of the coronation of Vibhishana’s brother.