It is gratifying to know that one’s jottings are of some help to other netizens. So here are the notings from the next and the most important destination of our Yatra-Rameshwaram.
Our train, Rameshwaram Express, left Trichy at about 11:00 pm. Now it was about 5:30 in the morning when, as anticipated, train got dead slow, and on seeing outside it looked like we were on a ship. I knew it was crossing the legendary Pamban bridge which connects the Rameshwaram island – the island of Shankh (Conch) shape – with the mainland. I woke up a few others to let them feel the thrill of a train-ride over sea, howsoever short.
Majestic View of Pamban Rail Bridge
I remember, when I first visited Rameshwaram with a band of boys about 12 years back, I was a bit scared over the thought that our train was passing over the sea and even if one coach derails, it would pull the entire train down along into the deep blue. It was the same train and we had boarded from Trichy only, except, it was a narrower, noisier and shakier, but decidedly more exciting metre-gauge then. This scare is probably the reason that no chance is taken and trains snail-pace over the phoenix. Yes, the original bridge built by the British in 1913 was devastated in a cyclone in 1964. Afterwards, Indian engineers erected the new alignment along what remained of the old bridge. This bridge lies by side of a much taller recently built road-bridge. The main attractions of the rail bridge are two lifting sections to let ships pass. This bridge was converted to broad gauge in 2007. We will come back to Pamban bridge.
We were on platform after half an hour long slow motion and got a push trolley (the big one) for our 21 items this time also as we did at Trichy and the came out to face the Auto cartel. Not much of a hassle though. Ours was the only major train coming into the temple town, that has no agriculture. Here also we were to face the same old story of 10:00am check in cycle of Hotel Tamilnadu and here also they helped us by providing an interim accommodation, so that we could finish our daily ablutions, by the time our regular rooms were available. We inquired about the Darshan and pop materialized Mr Guide cum Pandit from some so far unnoticed existence nearby. He told that he would facilitate the Darshan. We accepted his proposal and told him to come after an hour.
We were in Rameshwaram, one of the holiest places. The place wherefrom the Rambhakt Vanar Sena built a bridge over sea to the Lanka. The place where Vishnu-incarnate Ram and his better half Sita had worshipped the Shiv. Could we find the Gilahari (squirrel) that had Master’s fingers caressing her? Or could we see the child APJAK hawking papers? Would we be able to locate the floating stones? Not sure, though sure that we shall be Kritkritya on seeing the Shivlingam that Sita Ram worshipped. But before that we would have to take bath from the water of 22, no less, wells after a sacred bath in the Agneetirtham, where Agni(fire) is said to have erupted from water to vouch for Sita’s purity. Jamane ko dikhana tha. Ram already knew.
So we were ready by the designated time(about 7:00am) with our change of clothes, to be worn after the 22 Snan (baths), in bags. Our guide, a sprightly man in early forties, took us to the Agneetirth, located near the TTDC complex. It is a very small beach formation, where the pilgrims bath before proceeding for the Rameshwaram temple, just about 100 meters away.
We took bath and were taken to the temple in wet cloths. We purchased entry tickets (about Rs 17 per adult) and were taken to the first kund. Since it was an early morning the place was not much crowded. Our guide would pull water in a small bucket and throw at us one by one. Saving our fresh clothes and Cameras was a challenge in such a watery atmosphere. As we proceeded through the 22 such ‘snans’, it was striking to note how water of every well was different in taste and temperature. By the time we reached the 22nd kund, having run around the entire compound, kids were shivering and the youngest one was in more pain. But then, no pain no gain. Perseverance is a priceless virtue. Tapa was an art of defeating the pain by numbing it down.
The 22nd kund was said to be as pure and pious as the Ganga of Benares. It indeed tasted very sweet. It was indeed some task to fetch water 14 times from each of the 22 wells and we were all appreciative of our Lungi clad guide. All the groups had their guide and I was wondering whether it would have been possible to do the 22 snan without the help of our guide. The guides were reluctant to pour water on anybody not part of their group.
After the Snan, we changed into fresh clothes, all of which were not dry. There are separate enclosure for changing for both the genders. Now our guide proposed us about the ‘Sankalp’ (pledge) and told us a few price options. We chose a moderate option of Rs. 351 per couple. He told us that this will cover a special Darshan in which we can sit near the deity and offer our ‘Puja’ in a relaxed manner. It sounded lucrative. He took us to a the outer compound where we all sat and a priest did the ‘puja archana’ for us. We were given the Gangajal and other items like Coconut and flowers for presenting to the Ramnathaswami.
Our guide took us to the inside of temple where long queues were present. We thought, ours is special and we won’t be standing in those when the guide told us to stand in ‘that’ queue for special Darshan. It was not moving and started from the very back of the main temple. We joined the queue and after about one hour we could enter the cage where we were asked to sit and we could see the Shining Deity of Ramanathaswami. The entire story of the temple is depicted by means of paintings placed on the walls in the waiting chambers, just before the entry to main front, where we were sitting.
We all went ‘natmastak’ (bowed) in front of Swamy and after about 5 minute rendezvous, were ushered out. The view was spellbinding. The chants filled the environment creating a trance like feeling. After this we went to see the Parvati temple, within the complex.
The most remarkable thing about the temple architecture is the long corridors, said to be the longest such. We also saw a beautiful chariot of gold and silver used for the procession during festivals. Then it was the turn of our guide to present his case for his charges, which he justified by saying that he is not a regular guide but does this service on a part time basis. Since agriculture is not done in Rameshwaram, the assistence to pilgrims is their major means of livelihood. Appreciating his efforts we paid him @ Rs 100 per adult in our group and he left satisfied.
After this we came out and did some souvenir shopping at the shops near the temple, before coming back to Hotel. Afterwards we had our meals on plantain leaves, with about 10 kinds of side dishes to be taken with Rice, in the Restaurant of our Hotel Tamilnadu. There were Chapatis too. It was good to see the manager himself standing by to ensure that service was up to the mark. It is no mean task to get the job done by old pampered staff.
There are plenty of other temples in Rameshwaram. Linked with the legend of Ramayana, around the main temple, the most commonly known being the Dhanushkoti, where Ram is said to have anointed Vibhishan the king of Lanka. To cover these places, usually people hire autorickshaws, drivers of which also double up as guides. Dhanushkoti was a Railway station in the eastern stretch of the island before 1964, when a massive cyclone not only devoured the town, but also uprooted the railway line. Old British documents are quoted to claim that there were visions to lay a railway line from Dhanushkoti to Srilanka. Now that seems like a dream, what with the current state of affairs.
The remnants of the meter gauge railway line along the road to Dhanushkoti were shown to us by the auto driver. At Dhanushkoti, lies a new temple built by some Calcuttan businessman, after the 1964 catastrophe, in which the original KodandRamar temple was inhumed, remnants of which are still visible overground. The Temple houses Ram, Sita, Lakhsman and Hanuman alongwith Vibhishan.
The road from main town to Dhanushkoti also extends till the very tip towards Srilanka, but ordinarily pilgrims are not allowed and taken past Dhanushkoti, and the area lay under army control. So we retreated back into the town from the fortification spot of Vanar Sena and were taken to Ram Jharoka, a temple at a hillock, from where Ram is said to have surveyed the place for mounting the attack on Lanka. His footmarks are worshiped here. It is a beautiful spot and the view around it is mesmerizing.
Thereafter, we went to the kunds (ponds) and attached temples devoted to Ram, Sita and Lakhsman respectively, before going to the Panchmukhi(Penta-mouth) Hanuman Temple, where samples of the floating stones used in Ramsetu are kept. There was no point in questioning the veracity of this belief. Faith is a matter of belief, beyond reason. Similarly, mythology too has to be accorded the benefit of doubt, and believed with reverence. Irreverence is nothing but selfishness, not that a vice but not a social virtue too. Mythology, along with Bhakti is a social melting pot. If a devotion of the subject-master kind is followed in all religions, there will be few inter-religion strifes.
So we bowed to the squirrel and to the Monkeys and the lord Hanuman, in gratitude for being of such help to our resident god Awadh-Naresh Ram (we belong to Awadh) in getting over the demons. After this we were taken to a temple of Krishna, so rare in the South, probably run by the ISKCON. It was dark and the Auto walas were dying to take us to the ‘market’. Well we gave in to their wishes and agreed to go there, to be lead to a solitary shop of overpriced souvenirs of Conch shell, and others. We all went up, did some purchasing and headed back to the main temple, where we left the autos. Some shopping there also later, it was decided to have a change of palette and go for Poori subzi from a shady looking hotel in front of the temple entrance, which was belting out steaming hot bellowed numbers. But to our luck or lack of it, by the time all of us could assemble, the hotel had probably run out of dough. All in all, it was not a very pleasant dining experience, notwithstanding aftereffects on bellies of such raunchiness.
Next morning SPV was seen shooting Sun rise, my father and father-in-law had gone to the temple and they got a quick Darshan just like that. We had to leave for Madurai. We hired a 19 seater bus, with a stylish but slowish driver. As we were moving out of the town, suddenly all of us were transfixed to suddenly see unfold in front of us the sky high Pamban Road bridge, which we could not see due to darkness and sleep while coming by train. It was breathtaking and we stopped our bus at mid-span of the bow shaped bridge-it is highest in the middle to allow ships underneath it. Many other vehicles had also stopped there.
On the one side of bridge, the railway bridge was so majestically announcing the prowess of the engineers, who had originally built and our engineers who very recently finished the reassembly of the bridged after it was dismantled and modified for running broad gauge trains. The entire structure of the cantilever drawbridge looked so fascinating in the backdrop of the deep blue.
We were soaking in the view on both sides of the bridge braving the strong wind, while chomping on pineapple and mango chops hawked by the enterprising ones, and suddenly we spotted a train coming at the mainland end of the bridge. We thought that we must see this train off through the bridge. It came near, nearer, more nearer, but it still looked far from our location. The train was barely moving. It eventually came to the lifting section and the driver graciously waved to the bystanders and went ahead. So did we. We had to reach Madurai as the train had to Rameshwaram.
Jai Ramnath, Jai Ram, Jairam Ramesh.