Rameshwaram (Tamil Nadu)
Rameshwaram, situated in the Gulf of Munnar, is surrounded by the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. The island of Rameshwaram is 52 square Kms. in area is in the form of the Panchajanya (the conch of Vishnu). In the epics, Rameshwaram is described as Gadamadana Hill. Sri Rama is believed to have installed the Jyotirlinga of Shiva at this place. He named it himself as Ramanatheshwara. Goddess parvati is known here as Parvata Vardhini. Varanasi in the north and Rameshwaram in the south are the two most venerated places of pilgrimage in the country.
The temple has a majestic appearance and is quite extensive. It is the practice of all devotees to bring the water from Holy Ganga in the North and perform Abhisekha with the Ganga water to Ramanatheshwara here. The devotees again bathe at Dhanushkodi and collect the sand from the sea at the place and immerse it in the holy water of Ganga either at Varanasi or Hardwar. Devotees first bathe in the sea at Rameshwaram and then again at the various sacred Tirthas which are inside the main temple. This pilgrim centre is held sacred by both Shaivites and Vaishnavites.
RAMANATHASWAMY TEMPLE : This is the main temple at Rameshwaram. Facing the sea, the temple stand on an elevated ground. 42 meters high eastern and western towers are profusely decorated with various deities and sculptures of mythological figures. The temple is a marvelous example of Dravidian manifestation of architecture. The sethupathis of Ramnad, the original custodian of this land, built this temple by and by from the 17th century. It took them 300 years to complete. The most interesting and arresting features features of the temple is the vast corridor six metres broad running round between the huge colonnade on a platform, to a length of 1220 metres. This temple holds high esteem due to huge Jyothirlinga of Shiva along with the famous Sphatika Linga installed by Adi Shankaracharya. A huge Nandi built of brick and mortal is found in front of the main temple.
AGNI TIRTHAM : Almost in front of the temple on the eastern sides, about 100 metres away from the main entrance is the sea shore, which is very calm and ideals for sea bathing. The place is considered very sacred and devotees bathe here before entering the temples.
SHANKARACHARYA MEMORIAL : An inspiring memorial has been erected in front of the temple, almost on the sea shore, to immortalize the memory of Adi Shankaracharya. This is a lofty tower formed into a shrine. On both sides are small idols of the renowned disciples of the Acharya, Padmapada, Sureshwara,Hastamalaka and Totaka. In the same enclosure, the twelve Jyotirlingas (Dwadasha Lingas) are symbolically installed. The meditations hall behind, the Paduka Mandapam and the Saraswati Library have been built recently by the Kamakoti Mutt.
RAMA TEMPLE : Very close to the Ramanathaswamy temple is a small shrine dedicated to Rama, Lakshmana and Sita where one fine not only less crowd by more quiet and peaceful atmosphere for any exercise of spirituals nature. This tiny temple is particularly attractive with full human-size stone idols. It is situated in the middle of a cluster of coconut palms which add air coolness to that of piety.
GANDHMADHANA PARVATHA : On the northern side of the temples is a small hillock, which has a tow storeyed small temples which has the foot print of Sri Rama carved on a stone slab. This temple is called as Ramji Paduka, the places where Rama rested. This is the highest point in the island and it is believed that Hanuman leapt from this hillock to Lanka. An excellent view of the surrounding area can be seen from the top of this temple.
DHANUSHKODI : Pilgrimages to Rameshwaram is complete only with a bath bin the sea at Dhanuskodi, the meeting places of the Bay of Bengal and the India Ocean, corresponding to Mahodadhi and Ratnakara, in the epics. It is situated at the southern extremity of the island on which Rameshwaram stands. Most of the original land here has been washed away by the cyclone in 1964, This is also the place where all the rituals are performed to the ancestors.
KODANDARAMASWAMY TEMPLE : Originally, this temple formed a part of Dhanuskodi. After the area was wasted away by the cy6clone, only this temple has remained intact. Traditions say that Vibhishana, brother of Ravanasura, surrendered before Rama at this spot. It is a beautiful temple having the idols of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman and Vibhishana.
KURUSADAI ISLANDS : To the west of Pamban bridge and between the mainland and the island is a vast area surrounded by a chain of coral reefs. It can be reached from Mandapam by a boat. The shallow water of this place sustain remarkable variety of marine life such as, star fish, algae, sea cucumber, crabs, sponges and sea cow. It is a paradise for biologist who can study the flora and fauna of this region.