Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram – Legends
Lord Rama made a Shiva Linga before proceeding to Lanka:
According to a popular legend, it was Lord Rama who installed this Linga here. Story holds that when Lord Ram was on his way to attack Ravana, he reached this place where he made a linga of sand and worshipped it. It is said that when Lord Rama was drinking water on the seashore there was celestial proclamation “You are drinking water without worshipping me”.
Listening to this Lord Rama made a linga of sand and worshipped it and asked to be blessed so that he could vanquish Ravana. Lord Shiva blessed him accordingly. He also requested Lord Shiva to reside eternally here so that entire mankind should benefit from it. Shiva then manifested himself as the Linga and was installed there for eternity.
Story behind two Lingas “Ramalinga” and “Vishwalinga”:
The temple of Lord Ramanathaswamy dates back to the period of Ramayana. The epic begins with the birth of the four princes in Ayodhya, but its subsequent scenes change in quick succession from the banks of the Sarayu River to this southernmost part of our land - the confluence of Mahodadhi and Ratnakara. In Rameswaram, one can capture glimpses of scenes from Sundara Kaandam, the epic’s fifth canto, unfolding.
Sri Rama, the Prince of Ayodhya, is an embodiment of love, virtue and Dharma. He undergoes a 14-year-long exile on the eve of his coronation to fulfill a promise of his father Dasaratha. His wife Sita and his most caring brother Lakshmana accompany him to the forest. In his quest for Dharma, Rama vanquishes thousands of Raakshakas in the forests during the exile and brings peace and happiness among the Rishis and other inhabitants.
The exile passes off peacefully till the abduction of Sita by Ravana, the Asura king of Lanka, at Panchavati on the banks of Godavari. Rama is grief-stricken. He along with Lakshmana wanders through the forests in search of Sita. One day they meet Sugriva, an exiled monkey king from Kishkintha, and Hanuman, his minister, who vow to help Rama trace Sita. After regaining his kingdom, Sugriva dispatches search parties in all directions. Hanuman, Angada, Nala and others travel southwards and land on the Gandhamadhana Parvatha along the south-eastern coast. This is the present Rameswaram.
The famous Sundara Kaandam begins here with the unbelievable act of Hanuman taking Vishwa Roopam and leaping across the ocean from this hill to reach Lanka. After a frenzied search, Hanuman finally succeeds in locating Sita, held captive in Ravana’s Ashoka Vana. He hands over to Sita a ring from Rama as proof of his being Rama’s messenger. Assuring Sita that Rama will come soon, wage a battle against Ravana and end her agony, Hanuman takes leave of Sita after accepting with reverence her Choodamani (head ornament) as a token for Rama. Later Hanuman destroys Ashoka Vana and gets himself captured by Ravana’s son Indrajit. When Ravana, orders setting fire to the tail of Hanuman, he sets the whole of Lanka ablaze with his burning tail.
Hanuman takes the air route back to Gandhamadhana Parvatha, where the search party has set up camp. They all rejoice the glad tidings. Soon they reach Kishkintha. Hanuman meets Rama and gives him the Choodamani with the news that Sita is safe. Rama is immensely pleased with Hanuman and embraces him warmly. Sugriva organizes a big retinue of monkeys and bears from all over the land to proceed on the mission to rescue Sita. Headed by Rama and Lakshmana, they traverse the eastern coast.
Following tradition, Rama first invokes Lord Vinayaka (Veyil Ugandha Vinayaka) at Uppoor seeking to remove obstacles on his mission. He offers puja to Navagrahas at the present Devipattinam or Navapashanam by installing nine stones in the sea. He then reaches a marshy land known as Dharbaaranyam (because the place was full of Dharba grass). He worships Adi Jagannatha, the presiding deity, and receives Divya astras and the Lord’s blessings for his mission.
In a battle that follows, Rama, accompanied by Lakshmana and the Vanara Sena, vanquishes the ten - headed Ravana to the great relief of everyone. And, how all these happened within the time requested by Sita to rescue her is brought out beautifully by sage Valmiki in his epic. With the battle over, Rama, accompanied by Sita, Lakshmana and the army, returns to the shores of what is Rameswaram now.
Here, as advised by Rishis, Rama decides to consecrate a shrine for Shiva to wash off the Brahmahatthi dosha - the sin of killing Ravana, a Brahmin and great grandson of Brahma. A time for the auspicious ceremony is fixed. Rama rushes Hanuman to Mount Kailas to fetch a Linga. As the auspicious time for the installation has neared, but since Hanuman has still not reached, Sita makes a Linga out of sand and the puja is performed within the stipulated time.
It is consecrated as Ramalinga. Meanwhile, Hanuman returns from Shiva’s abode with two Lingas. He is disappointed that the ceremony is already over. In anger, he tries to uproot the sand Linga with his tail, but in vain. Rama pacifies Hanuman and installs a Linga brought by Hanuman from Kailas to the left of Ramalinga, and ordered that all pujas be first performed for this Linga, called Vishwalinga. This priority in puja is followed even today.
Rama then performs Abhisheka with holy water from the Ganga. He aims an arrow at a point to create a spring and takes the purifactory bath. This is the much – revered Kodi Theertha, situated in the first corridor of the Rameswaram temple. This holy Theertha and several other sacred waters, mostly in the form of wells within the temple precincts in Rameswaram thus have a special sanctity attached to them with the touch of Rama’s holy feet.
The people of Rameswaram consider it sacrilegious to plough the land or use heavy stone crushers to produce oil since Sita made Ramalinga out of earth.
Legend of Sethu Madhava:
The legend of Sethumadhava is linked to Ramanathaswamy Temple. Once there ruled a Pandya king, Punyanidhi. He did not have an heir and so he and his queen decided to go on the Sethu Theertha Yatra. He found a baby girl in the palace garden and adopted her as his daughter. As years passed, the princess reached marriageable age. One day an old Brahmin from Kashi, holding Ganga water, appeared in the palace garden and sought her hand in marriage.
The king was furious at the audacity of the Brahmin and ordered him to be chained in the temple corridor. That night the king had a dream in which he realized that his daughter was Goddess Lakshmi and the suitor in the guise of the old man was Lord Vishnu. Punyanidhi fell at Lord Vishnu’s feet and asked to be forgiven. He gave his daughter in marriage to Lord Vishnu at Rameshwaram. He is known as Sethu Madhava or Swetha Madhava (as his image is made of white marble). In Kasi, Lord Vishnu is worshipped as Bindu Madhava.