It’s one of the holiest places a Hindu must visit in their lifetime…
Although lesser explored by foreign visitors, Rameshwaram, also known as Pamban Island, is one of India’s most beautiful religious sites and one of the four holiest places in the country that a Hindu must visit in his or her lifetime. Until 1918, people could only visit this island via boat but now you can take a train ride on a narrow, hundred-year-old bridge over emerald, blue water as far as the eye can see.
On the other side of Rameshwaram, around 40km away, lies Mannar Island in Sri Lanka. The legend goes that Lord Rama, a Hindu deity, built a passage between the two with the help of his army of monkeys in order to rescue his abducted wife, Sita. So around 500 years ago you could walk from India to Sri Lanka. However, a cyclone hit washing away most of the strait leaving behind only a string of coral islands.
Rameshwaram’s principal temple, Ramanathaswamy, was built in dedication to Lord Shiva by the 12th-century Jaffna rulers. Later in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Sethupathi Kings, who came from Hampi, made many additions such has the colourful corridors, the longest in all of India’s Hindu temples. They are so long in fact that from one end, you are unable to see a person standing at the other.
Before visiting the temple, you can join the worshippers taking a holy dip in the shores of the Agni Theertham where you’ll see people wading in waist high. Inside the temple you can also bathe in one of the 22 theertham wells – remember to take a change of dress! After spending time in the sanctum sanctorum and breaking for lunch, we visit Dhanushkodi, on the tip of the island and a real ghost town. Its inhabitants were tragically washed away by the same cyclone that demolished the passage to Sri Lanka with seven-metre-high waves. Today you can see a railway station, a post office and a few shops but no one lives there. It’s just another one of Rameshwaram’s fascinating stories.