On day 2 we started off from Madurai to Rameshwaram which is a 3.30hours drive of 170kms on NH49, Rameshwaram is 620kms from Bengaluru.
We reached Raameshwaram around 4 in the evening, parking our car outside the barricaded area in the narrow lanes around the Raamanathaswamy temple we headed straight for the darshan of Rameshwara linga, the presiding deity here. This early evening hour is perhaps the best time for the darshan as the crowds are lot thinner and we had an easy and comfortable darshan.
Raamanathaswamy temple is the 7th Jyothirlinga and part of the char dham yatra, it is the main attraction in the Ramanathapuram town in the Pamban island apart from the Ramapadam, RamaKunda, Laxmana theertham, Agni theertham and Dhanushkodi.
After vanquishing Ravana and returning victorious from the battle in Lanka, Lord Rama installed a Shivalinga here on the shores of Rameshwaram to invoke Shiva and rid himself from the Bramhahatya dosha of killing the scholarly brahmana(the one who has attained Bramhagyana) Ravana,.as Ravana was well versed in Vedas and a devout worshipper of Shiva.
We took a hotel that was just in front of the temple and went around walking in the vicinity that was lined with tiny shops selling a host of sea shells of all sizes and shapes. We walked up to Agni theertham that is just 100 metres from the temple, I was expecting a well, but the sea shore area on the eastern side of the temple, behind this arch is called Agni theertham.
It is believed that the lord of fire, Agni took a dip here to cleanse himself of the sin of enveloping Seetha devi in flames when she had plunged herself into the fires to prove her chastity to the people after her stay with demon Ravana.
We had dinner at a place called Gujarat bhavan that served explicit vegetarian food with no onion or garlic, the food was just okay but was hygienic in comparison to the other hotels in the locality! One other decent hotel to stay somewhat near the temple would be hotel Tamilnadu, it has a good vegetarian restaurant and the hotel is a 15 minute walk from the temple but is close to Agni theertham however we didn’t get a booking here and ended up staying in hotel Ambika.
If you want to stay close to the temple then choices of very good(3star type) hotels are fewer.
The next day morning we woke up to a picturesque sight, we were lucky to capture the sunrise in the backdrop of the sea.
I had only seen paintings like this earlier but to see the scintillating golden rays of the sun paint vivid shades of crimson on the horizon adding gleam to the holy waters was a precious moment.
Devotees with metal sticks inserted into their mouths a religious custom
When we stepped out of the hotel the multi layered queue was snaking up to our hotel doors and it began to rain, the surrounding gutters overflowed immersing us in deeper spirituality. I am deeply saddened to see our holiest places surrounded by filthy unplanned infrastructures and poor administrative works.
Before entering the temple one is supposed to take a dip at the Agni Theertham(the sea) and then proceed for the other theerthams inside the temple but since the place around Agni theertham had a vile stench of pollution and felt miserable to take a dip we simply sprinkled it on our heads.
You are required to deposit all your mobiles, cameras outside and purchase a ticket for the teerthasnaan(holy water bathing), you are also required to carry a set of dry clothes to change as you are not allowed to enter the inner sanctum with wet clothes as per Vedic practices. There are changing zones allocated within the temple.
The temple is as old as Ramayana but the structure was expanded in the 12th century over 350years under various rulers.
It is a massive maze of architectural wonder with thousands of pillars and shivalingas with various sculptures of gods and deities depicting different stories and has the longest pillared corridors measuring upto 4000feet. It has 22 fresh water wells, bathing with which expiates one’s sins.
The Theerthams inside the temple are Mahalaxmi theerta, Savithri, Gayathri, Saraswathi, Sethumaadhava theertha, Gandhamadana theertha, Kavatcha theertham, Gavaka theertham, Nala and Neela theerthams, Shanku and Chakkara theerthams, Bramhahathathi Vimochana theertham, Surya and Chandra theertham, Ganga, Yamuna, Gaya theerthams, Siva, Sathyatmatheertha, Sarva and Kodi theerthams.
There is another legend that says that originally sage Pathanjali created 112 theerthams to rid people of their sins by bathing in them, but some say it is only 64 theerthams spread out across the town of Rameshwaram out of which 22 are within the temple precincts itself and the rest are slowly being lost to encroachments and urbanization outside in the temple town.
But one nice thing here is, it is plastic bag free and the locals use cloth bags or wrap articles with paper when you buy a trinket, but still we get to see mounds of plastic wrappers and bottles, maybe somebody will soon introduce a metered drinking water kiosk to refill bottles to reduce the wrath of plastics.
We had got into the queue by 8am and finished the darshan only by 11.30am after all the theertha snaan.
We had booked a jeep at 1pm to Dhanushkodi through our hotel.
We quickly finished our lunch and at 1 o’ clock when the sun was at his raging best we boarded our rugged jeep and headed to the ghost town of Dhanushkodi.
It was here that Rama pointed his bow to Nala the vanara who with his army of monkeys built this bridge at Rama’s command to reach Lanka.
When lord Rama prayed to Varuna to pave way in the ocean, the Samudra Deva appeared and with folded hands requested Rama to commission his powerful and talented vanara(monkey) Nala to build this bridge as he was the son of the Vishwakarma, the architect of the universe, and that if he paved way now he might be compelled in future to pave way for others as well. The Samudra deva went on to say that even if Nala threw any of grass, stick or stone into the sea it would float. Hence the Vanara army of Rama built the bridge with floating stones which is today called as Ramasethu or Nalasethu. It was 100 yojanas long and 10 yojanas wide when constructed as per the Ramayana but today after 1.7million years it is 30kms long and 3kms wide.
Floating stone at Dhanushkodi
A radio carbon dating of this beach testified that it is 1.7million years old which dates around the Tretha Yuga.
Until the 1480AD people used this route but after a devastating cyclone, it was submerged under sea.
One cannot see the Ramasethu with naked eyes from the Indian shores today however it can be seen in the satellite image. From Dhanushkodi, Srilanka is only 30kms by sea.
Although many scientists, historians argue that it is just science, that limestone shoals float because of low density and air bubbles trapped inside the stone, which after some years when the air inside the shoal is released slowly with water seeping in, it sinks and that the whole theory of Rama building floating stone bridge is rubbished but strangely enough the scientists in India have found that there are many black and dense floating stones in Raameshwaram whose physical and chemical properties are like any other huge rock.
Lime stones or pumice are generally spongy, white and light and are found in Volcanic zones but no volcano has been recorded so far in this zone.
NASA image of Ramsethu
In 1966 the Gemini IX space mission had released an image that showed the ancient land connection between the two countries.
NASA released the satellite images of Ramasethu in 2002, and opined that it could be floating coral reefs but it is proven that coral reefs are dense calcium carbonate formations and cannot float.
Many ridicule the belief that monkeys built this masterpiece engineering piece and question how could monkeys build, but don’t we acknowledge Neanderthals or Darwin’s theory of evolution and endorse the fact that man did evolve from the monkeys? Don’t we keep excavating gigantic skeletons from pre historic times?
Today we use cloud computing technologies, I am able to store my weblog writings on air on an American server but what if the world submerges under water tomorrow, how will the future gen know about our technological sophistication? Couldn’t it be that, that in those days Nala and Neela had indeed mastered some exceptional engineering skills to architect the floating bridge 1.7million years ago whose exact proof was washed off with time. There are thousands of sacred Sanskrit texts telling us about Ramayana and Mahabharatha, millions of Indians today have their names after Rama, Krishna and Shiva but I have not found anybody by the name ‘Kamsa’ or ‘Shakuni’ or ‘Ravana’ except Sharukh Khan’s movies! We have millions of Laxmi, Saraswathi, Parvathis amongst us but have you met anybody by the name Shoorpanaka or Tataki or Puthini? There are numerous manuscripts that reiterate that Ramayana and the Ramasethu is our proud history and not mythology.
But then just because I cant read Chinese can I say that all the Chinese scriptures are bogus?
If Ramasethu is mythology then why did the British cartographer in 1804 name this as Adam’s Bridge? Adam, another mythical character in Islam!!
The reality is that Ramasethu was first mentioned in puranic verses of Valmiki’s Ramayana, the westerners heard about it only in the 9th century when traveler Ibn Kordadbeh referred to Ramasethu as Set Bandhai in his work ‘Book of Roads and Kingdoms’. But in 18th century the British called named it as ‘Adam’s Bridge’! It is well known that during the 18th century India was under the British, who thought that all our scriptures, traditions and practices were inferior and worked against us with the single motto of divide and rule, so it is evident that the British cartographer chose to name it after Adam, another mythical character in Islam and formally named it Adam’s bridge to pit the Hindus against the Muslims and erase our glorious past
Ironically the UPA government sanctioned the ‘Sethusamudram Project’ that involved dredging of Ramsethu, the historical and sacred bridge in order to establish shorter sea routes for the ships plying between eastern and western coasts of India that have to circle Srilanka. Dredgers worth crores of rupees were procured which strangely broke in the process, the project was a threat to the marine life and the valuable thorium deposits found in the area, dredging this route would throw open the route to international waters creating a security threat and additional burden to the defense forces of India, it might even increase the risk of Tsunamis, since it is not viable economically and ecologically,the project been stalled by the courts after a petition to reconsider the alternative 4 routes that were initially proposed and restore this significant historical and spiritual monument heeding to the sentiments of millions of Hindus.
Now back to our trip, we headed to Dhanushkodi, the tip of Pamban island connecting the Mannar island of Srilanka. Dhanush means bow and kodi means end, it is some 18kms from the Rameshwaram temple.
Sand tracks in the backwaters of Dhanushkodi
Only jeeps and buses with 4/4 gears can ply here on the bumpy trails of sandy backwaters of Bay of Bengal. It is an 8km drive from the check point. The buses charge Rs.150 per head and allows you to spend 30minutes but the jeep that we took charged 1500 for 3hours from our hotel in Rameshwaram it included the to and fro drive time as well, so more or less we only got an additional 60minutes than the bus passengers. During the 2004 Tsunami, the locals reported that minutes before the Tsunami the waters in Dhanushkodi had receded some 1600feet revealing the submerged areas just before the violent wave came dashing. Earlier there was a train from Madras to Dhanushkodi called the ‘Boat Mail’ that was destroyed in the cyclone.
The sangam point, where the calm blue waters of Bay of Bengal meets the furious green Indian Ocean is some 4kms walk from here where one can see the tip of the land with an endless expanse of blue green waters is believed to be the exact point where Rama’s army built the bridge.
In 1964 a devastating cyclone struck the little town of Dhanushkodi and washed away 1800 people along with a passenger train uprooting even the railway tracks. Schools, hospital, post office and the entire village was buried under water, since then the area is identified to be prone to such calamities and is declared a ghost town.
However the fishermen community still brave it out here and live in thatched settlements amidst the ruins selling a range of sea shell products.
I had already bought a Spatika linga, some conches in the lanes of Rameshwaram. Spatika is a gemstone made of silicon and oxygen, wearing it is said to bring an electro chemical balance in the body and has positive healing properties on the body. Even conches are of different varieties, I bought a Ganesha Shanka and Mahalaxmi Shanka.
We could not walk up to the tip of the land as it was a 4kms walk that didn’t seem achievable in the hot sun with kids and the time constraint as we were supposed to come out of the place before 5pm. However we were happy to be on the shores(Dhanushkodi Theertham) where Lord Rama had set his foot
We spent some time playing in the blue waters and walked along the serene white shores as the mighty Indian Ocean roared thumping and thwarting furiously against the white sands.
You have to come here in the morning and strike a deal with the driver that you spend 3hours exclusively here on the beach else taking a jeep doesn’t make much sense unless you are a big group.
You can see ruins everywhere and spot some broken remains of the railway track.
Crystal clear Backwater beds en route our drive
But the good news is that the Indian Government is now building a road upto the shores of Dhanushkodi connecting mainland India to its southern east tip so that tourists and pilgrims don’t have to take the tedious bumpy ride on the jeeps.
On the way back we also visited the Kodanda Rama temple, it is the place where Veebheeshana the brother of demon king Ravana surrendered to Rama.
And later he was named the sovereign of the demons of Lanka after Ravana’s killing and crowned the king by Lakshmana at the behest of Rama.
We had dinner at hotel Tamilnadu, the food was decent.
Gandhamadana hill, Rama Padam found here
The next day we visited the Gandhamantana Parvata, a small hill where Rama’s foot steps are preserved on a circular rock.
We then visited Rama Kunda, where Rama took bath after the bloody war. There was a fisherman who was selling the floating stone that he claimed had got it from the Srilankan side. I ended up buying a chunk of it for 200 bucks.
This local site seeing is not much of a distance and can be covered in your own vehicle, the auto guy was demanding Rs.700 for the same but when we drove ourselves it was all very close within a short radius.
Next we visited Laxmana theertham and also visited the temple here
Temple at Laxman thirtha
We then headed back to our hotel and checked out , had lunch in the vicinity and bid goodbye to Raameshwaram.
En route we saw Viloondi theertham, the place where Rama shot his arrow and dug a sweet water well in the salty sea to quench Seetha’s thirst.
By 3pm we were driving on the Indira Gandhi road Bridge along the Pamban railway bridge, India’s first sea link.
We were lucky to see the train cross the bridge, the shore here is bordered by many Shivling like rocks and the spot is worth a stop by.
The craze to view the train run on the sea amongst fellow tourists had led to a mini traffic jam as many stopped by the bridge for some customary photography. The rocks lining these shores look like Shivlings
That was the end of our Rameshwaram trip and we were then off to Tanjavore.