The Temple Town of Rama’s Ishwar: Rameshwaram
I enjoy road trips; there is always something that catches the eye……people, landscape, birds, ruins, abandoned structures, amusing sign-boards or plain and simple food from a wayside eatery we might stop at.
It’s usually me who insists for a road-trip but this time the suggestion came from dear husband. He didn’t have to ask me twice…
So there we were one lazy morning in October with an overnight bag and camera driving towards Rameshwaram. My itinerary for the Rameshwaram trip was very simple…to pray at Ramanathswamy temple and visit Dhanushkodi, in search of bridge to Lanka(read about the trip here) that Rama made with stones that floated.
The road trip takes just a little over four hours from Thanjavur and I wanted to take it slow…no rush…with as many pit-stops. And it was soon after we left the town that I made a first stop for these gentlemen, the village guards, outside a small village temple.
These Aiyanars are the guardian deities of villages, sometimes quite elaborate and colorful and are depicted as warriors on white horse or riding elephants.
Having almost always missed the Aiyanar dieties, it was logical to stop at the first one that I spotted before driving past further to Rameshwaram.
Home town of the Missile Man of India, former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Azad, Rameshwaram, derives its name from two words that is Rama’s Ishwar or Rama’s God. Located at Pamban Island, it is one of the four important pilgrimage destinations for Hindus; the ‘char-dham‘. This small town is of religious importance for both the devotees of Lord Shiva and Vishnu. If mythological stories are to be believed, it is here that Lord Rama prayed to Shiva after rescuing Sita from Ravana’s Ceylon, the present day Sri Lanka.
The religious town settled around the ‘Ramanathaswamy temple’ has sixty-four Teerthams, the holy water-bodies, with the most important being the Agni Teertham that is the sea, Bay of Bengal, itself. Devotees throng to this temple town to take a dip in these teerthams and hope to be absolved of all sins.
That a memorial dedicated to the former President, the scientist who was instrumental in world acknowledging India’s defense prowess, lay in pathetic state of neglect did not seem like a sin to locals there. I was much pained to see such callous indifference towards a great personality of the nation. But I guess there are greater sins….
Years ago, as a child on a family trip to southern part of country, I remember visiting many temple towns and getting wet and cold due to buckets full of water poured on us from the temple water tanks. But I am okay with whatever my sins are so taking a dip in sea or temple water tanks was not on my to-do list.
It was only after we neared the Pamban bridge that connects the Pamban Island also known as Rameshwaram Island to mainland, that the sea along the road-side attracted me. I could see bobbing boats and trawlers on the deep blue waters…the sea was many shades darker…very distinct from the sunlit azure skies above.
The road bridge next to the Pamban Bridge had more vehicles parked on it than crossing it. The first sea-bridge of India, it was completed in 1914 when the British Raj was looking to increase trade with Ceylon. For local villagers, a cantilever bridge that opens up in two parts to let the boats and ships pass through is nothing less than a wonder….so they stop with newly acquired smartphones and wait patiently on the road till the bridge opens up.
I stopped too…but for these views!!
By the time we crossed Pamban bridge, the sizzling sun had slightly deflated our energy and we delayed going to Dhanushkodi… a mistake! It takes roughly an hour road time to reach Dhanushkodi from where we had booked a room.
In an effort to dodge the harsh sun, we lost out on daylight hours at Dhanushkodi. The rickety mini van that carried visitors from private vehicle parking further to Dhanushkodi added to the delay.
The first stop of the mini-van was Ariyaman Beach, popular among tourists as well as locals for a peaceful evening by the sea. Small makeshift eateries, water sports, picnic spots seem to be the favorite pass time of revelers.
But I was more interested in Dhanushkodi. However, a small temple in what seemed
like a little hut was the only link to the mythological stories in the ghost town that greeted me there. The members of a large family that sat enjoying the beach considered it their right to warn us of not venturing alone further down the sea.
Always intimidated by vast ocean I had no reservations heeding the advise of locals. As such the dark of night had slowly crept all around us and there was no point spending any more time at a desolate beach.
I was told that temple was less crowded in morning hours. But the next morning the winding queue that greeted us did not qualify for a less crowd.
Procession of women, young girls and few women carried fresh sprouted lentils in a pot atop their heads. No one could explain me properly due to language barrier but I assumed these women had come with the offerings for Shiva’s consort Parvathi. Shiva and Parvati, they say, bless you with a happily married life.
The queue, within the temple that has the longest corridor and a vibrant colorful ceiling, was impregnable….but there was another lingam brought presumably by Hanuman from Himalayas called Vishwalingam which had hardly any crowd and that is where I paid my obeisance.
The colorful splashes on the ceiling, the dwarpala statues on columns kept me enchanted and then I came across a big stone bull, the Nandi, placed outside Parvati’s temple. People whispered in the ear of the stone bull….Apparently if one whispered a secret wish in the bull’s ear it was conveyed to goddess and fulfilled!
And before I bid farewell to those elaborate never-ending corridors, whisper I did….