By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Ramesvaram, RAmeZvaram, Raameshvaram
Pilgrimage to holy places is an integral part of religion in practice. A devout undertakes the pilgrimage not only because it is a commandment of the scriptures, but also to purify himself and earn puṇya. Rāmeśvaram has been one of the four most important pilgrim centers. The other three significant pilgrim centers are:
It is one of the twelve jyotirliṅgas which every devotee aspire to visit at least once in his lifetime.
- 1 Legendary Significance of Rāmeśvaram
- 2 Town of Rāmeśvaram
- 3 Creation of Rāmanātha Temple
- 4 Present Scenario of Rāmanātha Temple
- 5 Other Pilgrimages around Rāmeśvaram
- 6 References
Legendary Significance of Rāmeśvaram
Town of Rāmeśvaram
The town of Rāmeśvaram is situated on a small island which is in the shape of a śañkha. It is spread in an area of 55 kms. by 12 kms. between the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar. It is connected with the main land by a railway and a road bridge of one kilometer.
Creation of Rāmanātha Temple
The major attraction of this place is the famous temple of Rāmanātha or Rāmanāthasvāmin. It is the Śiva temple founded by Srī Rāma himself. The present structure, which is of massive proportions, has taken several centuries to take this shape. Even a king of Sri Lanka, apart from the local kings, is said to have contributed to its growth and development.
Present Scenario of Rāmanātha Temple
Dimensions of the Temple
The main temple is situated at a distance of 200 metres from the sea covers an area of about six hectares. The specialty of this temple is its huge outermost corridor, rectangular in shape. Its total length is 1220 metres, the width of the path being 5.7 metres and the average inner height 9 metres.
Architecture of Temple
There are about 4000 pillars, each 3.7 metres high. All are located on platforms 1.5 metres in height. Images and motifs are in the Dravidian style and are extremely beautiful. The stone slabs used for the roof are 13 metres in length.
Number of Gopurams
Out of the four gopurams, the eastern one rises to a height of 42 metres and the western one, to 26 metres. Both are embellished with miniature figures. The other two gopurams are incomplete.
As one enters the temple from the main entrance in the east one comes across a huge Nandi. The principal sanctum contains the main liṅga known as Rāmanātha. This is supposed to have been prepared by Sītā herself.
On its left is the shrine of Pārvatī. Near the main shrine there are two subsidiary shrines dedicated to Viśvaliṅga and Viśālākṣī Behind the Rāmanātha shrine is another small shrine dedicated to Viṣṇu, known as Setumādhava.
In the campus, there are 24 tīrthas where the pilgrims are expected to bathe before visiting the main shrine. The first one, as we enter from the western entrance, is the Mādhavatirtha which looks like a small lake. The Setumādhava temple is by its side. Most of the other tīrthas are like small wells from which water has to be drawn for bathing. Each of these tīrthas is said to possess some special power to destroy sins or bestow extraordinary benefits here or hereafter.
Festivals of Rāmanātha Temple
The chief festivals celebrated at the Rāmanātha temple are:
- Mahāśivarātri during February-March
- Rāmaliñga-pratisthā - the day of establishing the linga by Śri Rāma, usually for three days in June
- Tirukalyāṇam festival - the day of marriage of Pārvatī and Śiva in July, lasting for seventeen days.
Uniqueness of Rāmanātha Temple
An important feature of this temple is its very rich array of diamond and golden jewelry accumulated over the centuries due to the munificent offerings of the devotees. In the olden days devout always cherished a strong desire to visit Kāśī bring the Gaṅgā water from there and bathe the Śivalilṅga at Rāmeśvaram with it.
Attractions Around Rāmanātha Temple
- About 200 metres to the east of the temple, the sea is called Agnitirtha where the pilgrims bathe before entering the main temple.
- The footprints of Srī Rāma are enshrined in a small shrine called Gandhamādana on a hillock which is about 2.5 kms. to the west of the main temple.
- The Kodaṇḍarāma temple, situated at a distance of 8 kms. from Rāmeśvaram towards Dhanuṣkoṭi, contains the images of Rāma, Sitā, Lakṣmaṇa, Hanumān and Vibhiṣaṇa. This is said to be the place where Vibhiṣaṇa surrendered to Rāma.
- Dhanuṣkoṭi situated at a distance of 20 kms. to the southwest of Rāmeśvaram is another important pilgrim center. This is the place where Śrī Rāma used his dhanus or bow partly to destroy the bridge built by the monkey army at the request of Vibhīṣaṇa who did not want his enemies to invade Laṅkā in future. It is actually the confluence of the two seas, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.
Other Pilgrimages around Rāmeśvaram
The pilgrims used to perform śrāddhas here. During the cyclone of A. D. 1964, this place was mostly devastated. A few of the other holy places near Rāmeśvaram are also connected with Śri Rāma which are:
- Darbhaśayanam where Śrī Rāma observed penance to please god Varuṇa.
- Ādi-jagannātha temple, which the king Daśaratha, along with his wives, visited and prayed for worthy sons.
- Devi Pattanam on the sea-coast, containing nine stone pillars representing the nine planets which Śrī Rāma worshiped for success in his mission.
- Jatātīrtha where Śrī Rāma washed his hair to get rid of the sin he might have incurred in the battle at Laṅkā.
- Puṇya means religious merit.
- It means conch.
- It is approximately 34 miles.
- It is approximately 7 1/2 miles.
- It is referred as the small town of Maṇḍapam.
- It is approximately 660 feet.
- It approximates upto 15 acres.
- It is 3700 feet.
- It is approximately 19 feet.
- It is approximately 30 feet.
- It is approximately 12 feet high.
- It is approximately 5 feet high.
- It is approximately 42 feet.
- Gopurams means towers.
- It is approximately 138 feet.
- It is approximately 85 feet.
- Nandi is the bull-mount of Śiva.
- It means Lord of Rāma.
- She is known as Parvatavardhinī.
- Viśvaliṅga is the liṅga brought by Hanumān.
- Viśālākṣī is an aspect of Pārvatī.
- Tīrthas means holy tanks.
- It is approximately 650 feet.
- It is approximately 1.5 miles.
- It is approximately 5 miles.
- It is approximately 12 miles.
- Śrāddhas means obsequial ceremonies.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore