From Kailash to Rameshwaram, India is dotted with energised Shiva temples. The 12 Jyotir Lingas, The 5 Pancha Bhoota’s and many more like the Temples at Tungnath, Jageshwar, Lingaraja Temple Bhubaneshwar, Brihadeshwara at Tanjore – the list is long. Some of the oldest temples in India are Shiva temples and the Himalayas are dotted with Shiva & Devi temples. I have had the privilege of visiting most of these lovely temples. I added to this by visiting Rameshwaram in Jan 2019.
Where is Rameshwaram located – How to get there?
Located on the Tamil Nadu coast in the district of Ramanathapuram it is just 18 Km from Sri Lanka. It’s not the Souther tip of India (Mainland S Tip of India is Tuticorin, while Indira Point in Andaman is the S Tip of the country). Rameshwaram is technically an Island and the Pamban Bridge connects it to the mainland. There are Trains from Chennai to Rameshwaram and the closest airport is Madurai (172Km – 3 hrs drive). The road from Madurai to Rameshwaram is in good shape. From Bangalore its a 10+ hr drive via Madurai. There are overnight trains to Madurai and from there taking a cab is the best option.
What is the significance of Rameshwaram?
As the name indicates Rameshwaram was the point in India from where Lord Rama and the Vanar Sena built the bridge to Lanka to battle with Ravana and free Sita. The sea here is shallow and its just 18 Km from Dhanushkodi to Sri Lanka. Dhanushkodi is a beautiful 20 Km drive from Rameshwaram town.
After winning the war the victorious army came back and Lord Rama is said to have built a temple for Lord Shiva atoning for the sins of having killed Ravana – A Brahmin. As the sanctum was consecrated by Lord Rama this is a very holy place for Hindu’s and both Vaishnavites, Shaivites and Indians from all over visit this Jyotirlinga. We found that 50% of the pilgrims were Marwari’s from Rajasthan.
Given the proximity to Sri Lanka, Dhanushkodi was in news during the LTTE strife and thousands of Sri Lankan refugees landed on the shores of India over here. Most of them are settled in and around Rameshwaram. This is probably the reason that we found the taste of food and the flavour of sambar lacking here in comparison to Chidambaram, Tiruchi, Tanjore and other Temple towns of S India.
How Big is the temple and how much time dos it take to cover the complex?
It’s a massive temple but large parts of it are closed. The temple in its current state was built by the Pandian kings whole ruled over Madurai and its architecture has similarities with the Madurai Meenakshi Temple. The temple is famous for its long corridors which are neat and well maintained. I found it bright and colourful and would have preferred if the original granite look was preserved.
The temple is open from 4.30 AM – 1 in the afternoon and in the evening from 3.30 – 8.30 PM. We were lucky not to have massive crowds and got an excellent Darshan in less than 15 minutes all the 5 times we visited.
You enter from the Eastern Gate. Cell Phones are not allowed, there are lockers outside. The first deity as you enter is not Ganesha but Hanuman as he was chartered to get the Lingam for the temple. As you enter you will see a ticket counter – buy the Rs 50 Ticket for the Main temple and a Rs 10 ticket for the Devi temple. This gives you excellent access to the Sanctum Sanctorum.
There are two Main Shiva Lingams next to each other. While the main one is said to be installed by Sita the one next to it was brought by Hanuman. Most people miss the adjacent one. That place is empty, needs no ticket and is equally energised. As you complete the circumblation you will see a small temple with the Jyotirlinga – A white Shiva Linga. The Devi temple is close to the main sanctum sanctorum – on the right. The Rs 10 ticket allows you to sit in the steps right in front of the Sanctum.
As you start walking out (You exit also from the East gate) ask for the Nataraja temple. Inside this is the Jeeva Samadhi of the great saint Patanjali. A nice place to stop and meditate for a few minutes.
On a good day you can cover all of this very comfortably in 60 minutes.
How do you offer special Pooja?
There is an early morning 4.30 AM Abhishekam done to the Sphatik Lingam in the main Sanctum Sanctorum. This draws a lot of crowd and can be accessed by paying the 50Rs special ticket.
Other special Puja’s are tricky. There are boards that mention many offerings and Pujas that can be done. But before you get a ticket you need to get an OK from the priest in the main temple that he is ready to conduct the same. We wanted to get a Rudra Abhishekam down for Rs 1500/-. The priests were hesitant – looks like they are on fixed monthly salary and there are too few of them, but they finally agreed. After getting the tickets you have to go to a counter and get the offerings (and flowers etc from outside) and then a few priests sit with you and chant the Rudram in an area adjacent to the main temple (In the hall where the Shiva Lingam brought by Hanuman is installed). Post this you get to sit in the main Sanctum Sanctorum for a few minutes and witness the Abhishekam. Its optional but the priest expects Tips for his service.
How to access the Holy Tirtha’s in the Temple?
There are 64 Holy Tirtha’s or Tanks / wells in Rameshwaram. Of these 22 are within the Temple and accessible from the North Gate at a nominal entry fee. As you walk by these Tirtha’s they pour water on you – this is supposed to cleanse you and redeem you. You have the option of taking some water in your hand and sprinkling it on your head. The 1st Tirtha (Agni Tirtha) is in the shallow waters of the Bay of Bengal in front of the temple
What else is there to see in Rameshwaram?
After the main temple visit you can cover all that is there to see in 3 hrs. A few Km from the temple on a hillock is a place called “Ramar Padam” – where you pay respects to footsteps of Lord Rama. Close to this place is a Pancha Mukha Hanuman statue which is housed within a small Ashram. The Jeeva Samadhi of the saint who started the ashram is also located here. In the Ashram you can see the floating stones with which the Vanar Sena built the bridge to Lanka.
Dhanushkodi is a 20 Km drive
Dhanushkodi is a 20 Km beautiful drive with the sea on both sides of the road. On the way to Dhanushkodi or on the way back stop by at two temples.
The Kothandaramaswamy Temple is located at a distance of 13 kilometres from Rameswaram. The temple is the only historical structure to survive the 1964 cyclone that washed away Dhanushkodi. The temple has the deities of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman and Vibhishana. Probably the only temple with a statue of Vibhishana.
Jada Theertham – It is said that Lord Rama and Lakshmana washed their hair (Jada) in this pond, after killing the demon king Ravana and before worshiping Shivalinga in Rameshwaram. Most people give a miss to the place. Take care to park your car a little far – as the area is sandy and our car got stuck.
While all this is Mythology there is also the Abdul Kalam memorial that you will pass on the main road as you enter Rameshwaram.
What is the best time to Travel?
Best time to travel is Nov & Feb. Dec to Jan 14th gets a little crowded due to holidays and Sabarimala season. Summers are extremely hot. This is cyclone prone area so avoid both the monsoons.
Where to stay?
There are numerous lodges and small hotels all around the temple. There is also a Hyatt Place. We stayed at a nice property called Jiwan residence – https://jiwanresidency.com. Located on the beach a 10 min walk from the E Gate of the main temple. No dearth of S Indian restaurants and you will find many Gujarati / Marwari Bhojanalayas. Unlimited meals are Rs 80/- . We hunted out this place called Murugan Mess inside a byelane close to the N Gate (Not accessible by Car) and enjoyed the fresh home made meal.
Sri Sankar Marvadi Bhojanalaya located on South car street was also a good find.
On the way back to Madurai are there any interesting things to see?
A small deviation but worth exploring place is Thirupullani. Adi Jaganatha Perumal temple in Thirupullani is considered to be one of the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Vishnu. Here Rama is seen in a reclining posture and is referred to as Dharbasayanar Ramar. Lots of stories associated with this temple which you can read here https://lakshmisharath.com/sea-sky-tirupullani-near-rameshwaram/
While at Madurai you must definitely visit the Madurai Meenakshi Temple. Here look for the Sundarandar Jeeva Samadhi near the Durga shrine in the Shiva Temple complex. Its a small caged structure and no-one knows about it. he was one of the 18 Siddhar’s.
But take some time to visit the Ramana Mandiram. This was the house where Ramana Maharishi lived as a child. This is where he had the realisation that he is not the body and overcame the fear of death.
Address : 21, 11, Chokkapa Naicken St, Valaiyal Kadai, Madurai Main, Madurai, Tamil Nadu 625001. Timings are from 10 – 1 and 5 to 7.30 PM