Rameswaram Ramanathaswamy Temple History
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 huge temples are known for its long ornate corridors, towers and 36 theerthams. Rameshwaram Jyothirlinga represents the southernmost of the 12 Jyotirlingams of India and has been a time honored pilgrimage center held on par with Benaras. Rameshwaram Temple Jyotirlinga is associated closely with the Ramayana and Rama’s victorious return from Sri Lanka.
Legend behind Rameshwaram Temple
According to a popular legend, it was Lord Rama who installed this Linga here. Story holds that when Lord Ram was on his way to attack Ravana, he reached this place where he made a linga of sand and worshipped it. It is said that when Lord Rama was drinking water on the seashore there was celestial proclamation “You are drinking water without worshipping me “. Listening to this Lord Rama made a linga of sand and worshipped it and asked to be blessed so that he could vanquish Ravana. Lord Shiva blessed him accordingly. He also requested Lord Shiva to reside eternally here so that entire mankind should benefit from it. Shiva then manifested himself as the Linga and was installed there for eternity.
According to yet another legend, while returning to Ayodhya, Ram worshipped Lord Shiva in the form of a Shiva Lingam made of earth by Sita. It is said that Hanuman was entrusted with the task of bringing an image of Viswanathar from Benaras. Anticipating delay in Hanuman’s return from Benaras, Rama offered worship to a Shivalingam at a pre-chosen auspicious moment. It is said that the names Ramalingam and the town Rameshwaram were thus got.
There is yet another Shivalingam here Viswanathar is said to have been brought by Hanuman from Benaras. This Shivalingam is referred to as Kasilingam and Hanumalingam. Prayers are offered to Viswanathar before they are offered to Ramanathaswamy.
Structure of Rameshwaram Temple is spread over an area of 15 acres and has lofty gopurams, massive walls and a colossal Nandi. Rameswaram Jyotirlinga also boasts of a 4000 feet long pillared corridor with over 4000 pillars, supposedly the longest in the world. The carved granite pillars are mounted on a raised platform. Yet another fact about this corridor is that the rock is not indigenous to the island and is said to have been brought in from elsewhere in Tamil Nadu across the sea.
The eastern Rajagopuram towers to a height of 126 feet and has nine levels. The Western Rajagopuram is also quite impressive though not as tall as the Eastern one. The temple also has several mandapams with mini shrines to other deities. There is a huge Nandi measuring 12 feet in length and 9 feet in height with the idols of Viswanatha Naicker and Krishnama Naicker. The lingams are placed in the inner section of the Ramalingeshwara. High walls enclose the temple, forming a rectangle with huge pyramidal gopura entrances of each side.
The temple was originally a small thatched hut looked after by a ‘sadhu’. Subsequently over the centuries various people added to the structure among whom the ‘Sethupathys’ of Ramnad were significant. King Parakramabahu, King of Sri Lanka, constructed the sanctum around Sri Ramanathaswamy, Sri Viswanathar and Sri Visalakshi in the 12th century. The temple has three corridors (praharam). The outer corridor is flanked on either side by a continuous platform with large number of pillars, each adorned by intense sculptures. The longest corridors are the north and south corridors which from each end present a vista of receding columns and one cannot fail to marvel the grandeur and precision of the art ancient architects and artisans. The western tower is about 78ft high and the eastern tower about 126ft made up of nine tiers. There is an imposing ‘nandhi’ in front of the ‘moolsasthanam’. The sanctum of Lord Ramanathaswamy contains aLingam which is believed to have been installed by Lord Rama himself while on the north of this shrine is the sanctum of Lord Viswanathar which is believed to have been brought by Hanuman from Mount Kailash. There are other shrines dedicated to various minor deities and 22 ‘theerthams’ (source of sacred water) within the precinct of the temple. Devotees bathe in these waters before proceeding to the inner sanctum to receive ’dharshan’.
The Sacred pilgrimage to Rameshwaram
A Pilgrimage to Rameshwaram is among the important injunctions laid on the Hindu from time immemorial. The great temple of Sri Ramanatha is connected by tradition with Kasi. A pilgrimage to Kasi is not considered complete without a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram. In olden days groups of pilgrims, many of them quite old, walked huge distances to the two temples, taking months and years, and some failing to survive the dangers of such incredibly long journeys. The Rameshwaram pilgrimage has long been a tradition in South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, and has passed into folklore. Many kings of old prided themselves on having planted columns of victory in rameshwaram – Krishna III the Rashtrakuta, in the 10th century the Hoysala, Vishnuvardhan, in the 12th century.