The temple of Ramanathaswamy, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is located in the island of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. The temple is one among the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams. Paadal Petra Sthalams are 275 holy temples, which are praised in the verses written by the Saiva Nayanars, in the 6th-7th CE. In the songs written by the three most respected Saiva Nayanars, namely Appar, Triguna and SambandarSundarar, the Ramanathaswamy is frequently praised. In the 12th century, the Panda dynasty who ruled the island expanded the temple and later the kings of Jaffna kingdom; Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan, and his successor Gunaveera Cinkaiariyan renovated the main shrines, in the temple. The style of architecture used in the temple is Dravidian. The temple is considered as a holy pilgrimage by the Vaishnavites, Smarthas and also Shaivities. It is also one of the twelve other Jyothirlinga Temples. In Jyothirlinga temples, Lord Shiva is worshiped in the form of a Jyothirlingam; which means pillar of light.
Many are confused regarding the name of temple being Ramanathaswamy temple, when the main deity is Lord Shiva. The legend behind the formation of the temple, states that, after the war between Lord Rama, and the evil King Ravana ended, the Lord, along with his wife Sita devi first landed on the island of Rameswaram. In here, Lord Rama was in need of a large Shiva Lingham in order pray to Lord Shiva, to purify his sin of slaying a Brahmin during the war. For this Rama ordered his monkey lieutenant, Lord Hanuman to bring a Shiva Lingam from the mountains of Himalayaas. But Lord Hanuman was delayed on his return, and took more time than expected, by this time, Sita Devi, created a small Shiva Lingham out of the sand from the seashore of Rameswaram.
The main idol of the temple is Ramanathaswamy, which represents Lord Shiva, and is in the shape of lingam. In the temple there are two lingams, the first and the main deity is the one built by Sita Devi from the sand of Rameswaram, called Ramalingam. The second lingam is the one brought by Lord Hanuman from Kailash, and is called Viswalingam. It is said that, when Lord Hanuman brought the Lingam from the Himalayas, Lord Rama had instructed is followers to worship the Viswalingam first, as it was brought from Kailash. Even today this instruction is being followed by the devotees without any fail.
The shrines for God Ramananthaswamy and Goddess Visalakshi are both placed in the opposite direction, separated by a corridor. For Goddess Visalakshi there are five different shrines, namely, Perumal, Sayanagriha, Utsava idol, Mohaganpathi and Parvathavardhini. In addition to the shrines, the temple also consist of number of halls called Mandappas, which are, Anuppu Mandapam, Nandi Mandapam, Sukravara Mandapam, and Kalyana Mandapam.
The temple consist of 64 water tanks called Thirthas, which are scattered around in different parts of Rameswaram. According to the writings in the Skanda Purana or the Maha Purana; a literature containing eighteen Hindu religious texts, 24 of the Thirthas are of great significance. Bathing in these Thirthas are considered to be an important part of the pilgrimage and according to the Hindu beliefs, it will help you to remove all your sins and hep you to attain penance.
The temple is considered to be one of the most holy place among the other Hindu temples, and is also one among the Hindu Char Dham. The Char Dham preached by Sankaracharya, comprises of four Hindu monasteries which covers four parts of India, which are the Badrinath Temple at Badrinath, in the northern part, the Ramanathaswamy Temple in the South, Jagathnath Temple at Puri in the eastern part, Dwarakadheesh Temple at Dwaraka in the western part.
The present model of the temple is the part of renovation conducted in the 17th century. The archeological studies conducted in the temple proves that, many articles in the temple, like the vimanan situated in the west corridor, belongs to the 11th or 12th century. It is believed that, during the rule of Jaffna Kings, of the Sethupathy Dynasty, the kings had made great contribution towards the renovation of the Ramananthaswamy temple. During the rule of King Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan (1380-1410 CE), it is said that, for the purpose of renovation of the sanctum, he had shipped blocks of stone from Koneshwaram Temple, Trincomalee. Gunaveera Cinkaiaryan, the successor of Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan, who was also one of the trustees of the Ramananthaswamy temple, contributed greatly for the well-being of the temple, and also supervised the structural development of the temple. For the promotion of Saivite belief all over the kingdom, he donated a part of his reveue to the Ramananthaswamy temple. During his term as the Pradhani Muthirullappa Pillai, he allocated immense amount of sums for the restoration of Pagodas, which were nearing to its ruin. He also reconstructed the Mantappams of the temple to the present condition that we see today. Records have been found, showing the contributions made by some of the Sri Lankan kings, and one of them is Parakrama Bahu (1153-1186 CE), who is showed to have spent enormous sums in the reconstruction of the temple.
The Mahasivaratri festival is the main attraction of the temple, which celebrates the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. The celebration last for about 10 days, in the month of February and March. Special pujas and preparations are made during this fest. Other important festivals in the temple are, Vasanthotsavam, Ramalinga Prathishtai, Tirrukkalyanam, Navarathri festival, Kantha Shashti, Aarudhira Dharshana.
The nearest airport to the temple is the Madurai Airport, and is located 149 km away from the temple. Regular trains and buses are available from major cities to Rameswaram. Once you reach Rameswaram, you can catch a bus or pick a taxi to the temple.
Ramananthaswamy temple is not just any other tourist spot or a holy pilgrimage, but this temple brings out the Indian culture and also the hidden history of the country of about many centuries back. Every year millions of people; tourists and devotees, visit the temple in the need of penance, to acquire the eternal peace and to learn about the fascinating culture history of the place.