Rameswaram is a small town on Pamban Island - an island in South India - separated from the Indian mainland by the Pamban Channel.
Rameswaram is the place used by Lord Rama to cross over to Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
Rameswaram is one of the four Char Dhams established by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century A.D.
A pilgrimage to Varanasi (Kashi) – famous pilgrimage in North India - is considered incomplete without a pilgrimage to Rameswaram.
For this reason, Rameswaram is a very important and frequented pilgrim centre.
Both the Vaishnavites and Shaivites visit this pilgrimage which is known as the Varanasi of the south.
I visited Rameswaram and found it much more than a religious place.
It is a nature lover’s paradise.
The Pamban Railway Bridge and Indira Gandhi Setu
There are actually two bridges over the Pamban Channel.
The older one is the 6,776 ft (2,065 metres) long cantilever railway bridge which was opened for traffic in 1914.
It still has a functioning vertical lift section that can be raised to let ships pass under the bridge.
It is so low, that from the train, you can literally wash your hands in the sea.
The railway bridge had meter-gauge (narrow gauge) railway tracks.
The Indian Railways upgraded the tracks to broad-gauge in August 2007.
The 2.3 kms long road bridge is also known as Pamban Bridge.
It is the longest sea bridge in India.
The beautiful bridge is located very high up in the sea.
From the middle of the bridge, you get panoramic views of the sea, the scattered islands and the rail bridge far below.
Lord Rama built a bridge at Rameswaram - the Ram Setu (also known as Adam’s Bridge) - to cross the sea to Sri Lanka to bring back his wife Sita, from her abductor, Ravana.
This is also the place where Rama worshipped Lord Shiva to be absolved of the sin of killing Ravana.
What is not known is that there is one more legend as to how Adam’s Bridge got its name.
According to this legend, Sri Lanka was the site of the biblical earthly paradise, and Adam’s Bridge was created when Adam was expelled from paradise.
After Lord Rama had defeated and killed Ravana, the Rishis (sages) advised Rama to install and worship a Shivalinga at Rameswaram, along with Sita and Lakshman, to expiate the sin of Brahma Hatya (killing of a Brahmin).
(Ravana was a Brahmin - the great grandson of Brahma).
Rama fixed an auspicious time for the installation and worship.
He sent Hanuman to Mount Kailash to bring a linga.
But Hanuman was late, so Sita made a make shift Shivalinga of sand.
By the time Hanuman returned with the linga from Mount Kailash, the puja (worship) was over.
Hanuman was disappointed.
To appease him, Rama also installed the linga brought by Hanuman (Visvalingam) by the side of the sand Ramalinga, and ordered that all rituals should first be performed to the Visvalingam.
In Rameshwaram Temple, you can have “Mani Darshan” (Glimpse of the Mani) early morning every day.
This “Mani” made of “sphatik” (crystal) is in the form of “Shivalinga”.
According to the Hindu texts, this is the “Mani” of “Sheshnag”.
The main deity here is in the form of a Shiva Linga with the name Sri Ramanatha Swamy.
The huge temple, built in the Dravidian style of architecture, has the largest temple corridor in India with 1000 beautifully carved granite pillars.
Construction of the temple started in the 12th century.
Different rulers added to the construction of the temple over a period of time.
The temple has 22 wells which are considered sacred.
The water of each well has a different taste.
Places to see around
This is a place 22 km from Rameshwaram where Lord Ram built a floating stone bridge – the “Ramasethu”.
The remnants of the Ramasethu are submerged under the sea as shot from Gemini 1 satellite of NASA in 2004.
The southernmost tip of Pamban Island is called Dhanushkodi.
The road ends at a fisherman’s village.
But the Kothandaramasamy Temple here remained intact.
Dhanushkodi is 18 kms from Rameswaram.
According to mythology, it was here that Vibishana, brother of Ravana, surrendered before Ram. Dhanushkodi has a fine beach.
On the way to Dhanushkodi, during the winter months, you can see millions of migratory birds, including flamingoes.
To the south of Rameswaram are dozens of islands.
Kurusadai Island is an uninhabited Island lies to the west of the Pamban Bridge between the mainland and Pamban Island.
10,500 sq. kms of the sea around here constitute a Marine Biosphere, a paradise for Marine Biologists and nature lovers.
There are plenty of coral-reefs and fishes.
You can also see dolphins and sea-cows (Dugong).
Kurusadai Island is about 4 KMs from Mandapam.
But you have to obtain permission from the Director of Fisheries, Chennai.
Large ships cannot navigate through the shallow waters of the strait and have to travel around Sri Lanka.
As early as in 1860, there were suggestions and proposals to dig out a shipping canal.
The present Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, is mired up in politics and litigation.
Apart from being a holy place, it is a paradise for nature lovers.