Rameshwaram is the only one of the four Dhams where the resident Deity is Lord Shiva. The other three have either Vishnu in one form or one of His avatars in residence. The temple is built on an island in the Gulf of Mannar at the tip of the peninsular that projects out of the Indian Subcontinent towards Sri Lanka. It is built on the site where Lord Rama, Vishnu's seventh avatar, worshipped Shiva prior to His attack on Lankapuri, the capital city of the Rakshasas to rescue His beloved wife Sita who had been abducted by Ravana, king of the Rakshasas.
The temple has additional significance because it is, firstly, a Jyotirlinga, and secondly, it is said in the scriptures that a pilgrimage to Varanasi to pay homage to Lord Vishwanath is incomplete without also paying homage to Lord Ranganatha at Rameshwaram. The Dham is also singular in that it is an important pilgrimage place for both Vaishnavites as well as Shaivites. Rameshwaram is called the "Varanasi of the South".
Pilgrims familiar with the "Ramayana", written almost 3,000 years ago, find significance in many landmarks about the place. One of the most significant of these is the Gandhamardhan Parvat (a hill) on top of which Rama's footprint is still found embedded in a rock at the topmost portion of the mountain. There are also other places of interest to the devout pilgrim and this is a favorite spot to cleanse one's soul if one is a Hindu.
Another belief is that Lord Sri Rama earlier constructed a mythological bridge to Sri Lanka from this Rameshwaram beach.
Places to visit
The famous Ramnathswamy temple was built in the 17th century and is situated close to the sea on the eastern side of the Rameshwaram Island. The Ramnathswamy temple is famous for its 1200 massive granite columns. The temple has 54 meter tall gopuram (gate-tower) and 1220 meters of magnificent corridors.
The Agniteertham is located at a few meters from the Ramnathswamy temple. It is believed to be located at the same spot where Rama worshipped Lord Shiva.
Dhanushkodi is located at the eastern end of the island. It is named after Lord Ram's bow and is at a distance of 8 km from Rameshwaram. The boulders in the sea between Sri Lanka and Dhanushkodi are known as Adam's bridge. It is believed that Lord Hanuman used them to reach across Sri Lanka.
At a distance of 24 km from Rameshwaram, Erwadi is an important place of Muslim pilgrimage. The tomb of Ibrahim Sahid Auliya is located at Erwadi. Muslims from across the globe visit Erwadi, especially during the month of December to participate in the annual festival held to pay tribute to the saint.
This sacred shrine holds a wheel with the footprint of Lord Rama. The shrine stands on the highest point on the island, around 2 kms from Rameshwaram.
The footprints of Lord Rama is placed on a Chakra at the Ramjharoka Temple. The chakra has been placed at the highest point of Rameshwaram. This point is at a distance of 5 kms from Rameshwaram town. Since it is the highest point of Rameshwaram, therefore it provides a fantastic view of the blue ocean waters below.
According to the ancient belief Vibhishana, the brother of demon king Ravana surrundered himself to Lord Rama at this temple and asked Rama to forgive him for the abduction of goddess Sita. Although Vibhishana was not straightaway involved in the kidnapping but he was ashamed of the fact that the gruesome crime was committed by his own brother Ravana. Kothandaramaswamy temple has images of Lord Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman and Vibhishana.
Rameshwaram has many small temples, apart from the main temples, dedicated to Lord Rama, Lakshaman, Sita and Hanuman. Each temple big and small of Rameshwaram does have a history of its own. Other than the temples, there is also a tomb of Saint Ibrahim Syed Aulia at Erwadi, about 24 kms away from Rameshwaram