Rameshwaram is of severe mythological importance, it may be scenically well endowed, but its true character is revealed in its collection of Lord Rama temples, each backed with a story from the epic Ramayana. Lord Rama camped here, worshipped here, solidified his plans of rescuing his wife Sita from demon king Ravana, sighed on having Sugreev’s support whose monkey army built him a bridge of stepping stones (Ram Setu) up to the Lankan coast, crossed-over to the other side, slain Ravana, returned with his wife, worshipped Lord Shiva to absolve from any sin he may have committed during this war, took a holy dip in the sea, and installed a sand Shivalingam which later became the greatly revered Ramanatha Swamy temple. Rameshwaram could be pilgrim-heavy, but there is still so much solitude, so much greenery, and so many heart-wrenching stories of bravery from the Ramayana, and real life too. The drive on the Pamban Bridge over a flat blue sea will be a perfect prelude to your journey into the land of Lord Rama.
Rameshwaram is a conch-shaped island connected with the mainland at Mandapam by the Pamban rail and road bridge. The Ramanatha Swamy temple is an iconic landmark of this little island town, and a greatly revered shrine of Lord Rama. In the early days, the shrine was no more than a thatched hut. This sprawling Dravidian style temple complex that you see today is an outcome of workmanship spread across several centuries.
Rameshwaram was ruled by the Pandya kings till the 15th century, followed by the Nayak kings of the Vijayanagar Empire who reigned till around the 17th century. They were overthrown by the Sethupathis, who were the earliest chieftains of the region. The Sethupathis had a penchant for art and architecture, and therefore splurged on the architecture of the Ramanatha Swamy temple. So much so, you will find statues of some of the most notable among Sethupathis kings in the temple precinct. Some of the most prominent Sethupathy chieftains were Udayan Sethupathy, Raghunatha Sethupathy, Thirumalai Sethupathy, and Muthuramalinga Sethupathy. During their reign, art and architecture flourished in the region.
Rameshwaram is of great religious interest to Hindus. Hindu mythology has it that at the site of the present Ramanatha Swamy temple, Lord Rama worshipped Lord Shiva to absolve from any sin he may have committed during his war against the demon king, Ravana. Ramanatha Swamy temple is an important pilgrimage centre also because it is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas – holy abode of Lord Shiva.
There are a number of town buses that take you to different points of interest in this little island town, including the iconic Ramanatha Swamy temple. These buses provide good service, and are a decent means of traveling within Rameshwaram. Tourists can avail this service beginning early morning till late in the day. Outside of the traditional way of traveling, one can even hire a bicycle or motor bike to explore the town, and browse its nook and cranny. One such shop from where you can rent a bicycle is located opposite the entrance of the temple on the East Car Street near the local bus stand. They charge a measly per hour tariff.
Tourist Traps in the City
Rameshwaram is a conch-shaped island town spread across 61.8 sq kilometers, with an average elevation of 32 foot (10 meter). At the core of town is the iconic Ramanatha Swamy temple that takes up a major land area. The island is connected to mainland India at Mandapam by the Indira Gandhi or Pamban Bridge. Intriguing as it is, the sea at Rameshwaram is a flat blue with waves of a maximum height of 3 meters (10 foot) making it look like a huge river from a distance. Hindu mythology has it that Lord Rama prayed to the sea god to let him pave a way to Sri Lanka where his wife, Sita was held captive by demon king, Ravana. Granting him his wish, the sea mellowed down so that he could build a bridge of stepping stones on it.
The climate of Rameshwaram is dry tropical with an average rainfall of 94cm, predominantly because of the Northeast monsoon between October and January. Temperature during the day is usually around 30 to 35 degree Celsius. The highest temperature recorded so far is 37 degree Celsius, and lowest 17 degree Celsius.
Haggling with local auto-rickshaw drivers is a norm, even at small touristy shops selling souvenirs. The locals have a traditional outlook, so when visiting a temple, however big or small, dress modestly and avoid wearing short or revealing clothes.
You get a great variety of handcrafted souvenirs made of wood, seashells, beads and palm leaves. At the local market of Rameshwaram, you will come across such oddball artifacts and more. The shops lining opposite temple entrances are the best places to find exclusive wooden jewelry, seashell trinkets, silver idols and showpieces made of palm leaves and conch among other interesting finds. A popular shop from where you can pick up exclusive handcrafted souvenirs is Khadicraft; it also houses an array of Khadi kurtas, shirts and skirts. Don’t miss out to shop for a couple of Rameshwaram silk sarees; they come in beautiful shades with intricate patterns, some sport fabric design while the others threadwork. Walk the stretch from the beach of Agnitheertham to Ramanatha Swamy temple, it is chock-a-block full with little kiosks hawking mirror souvenirs, seashell key chains, seashell earrings, neckpieces and fingerings to name a few.