Glory of Bharath  »  Bharath Darshan

Dear Sai Brothers and Sisters,
Our journey this month is to the place where Lord Siva was installed by Lord Sri Rama himself.

Rameshwaram Temple is situated in the island of Rameshwaram, off the Sethu coast of Tamil Nadu and is reached via the Pamban Bridge across the sea. The holy island of Rameswaram is known for one of India's most venerated and most visited Shiva shrines, dedicated to Sri Ramanathaswamy. It is so intimately associated with the life of Sri Rama, that both Saivites and Vaishnavites consider every grain of Rameswaram's sand very sacred. There is a traditional belief among the Hindus that a pilgrimage to Kashi will be complete only after a visit to Rameswararn. Pilgrims aspire for a holy dip in the sea at Dhanushkodi, revered as Sethu Theertha, where the Mahodathi (Bay of Bengal) meets Ratnakara (Indian Ocean).

The sanctity and antiquity of Rameswaram is summed up in the old saying Aa Sethu Himachalam. The merits of Sethu Yatra are described in the Vedas and in almost all the Puranas -- Agneya, Bhagavatha, Padma, Shiva and Skanda Puranas, to mention a few. Numerous literary works in Sanskrit and Tamil from the period of Valmiki Ramayana extol the significance of Sethu Yatra. The four Saivite saints Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manickavasagar have sung in praise of Lord Rarnanathaswamy. Saint Thayumaanavar was a staunch devotee of Goddess Parvathavardhini.

Rameswaram is the abode of one of the 12 Jyothirlingas of India. It is also considered one among four most sacred pilgrim centers of India. They are Rameswaram in the South, Badrinath in the North, Puri in the East and Dwaraka in the West. Among these, Rameswaram is dedicated to Shiva, while the other three are dedicated to Vishnu.

Rameswaram is an acclaimed Parihara Sthala, where it is believed all sins get absolved. Devotees take holy dips at Sethu Theertha, Agni Theertha and other sacred waters, offer pujas to get progeny, perform Shraadha for their ancestors and do Naga Prathishta (installing serpent deity).

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 17th 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.

The temple of Lord Ramanathaswamy dates back to the period of Ramayana.
Before his march to Lanka, 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.

Ramanathaswamy Temple
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 temple corridor
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.

Sayanagruha (Palliyarai)
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.

- October 11
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