Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram – History
Ramanathaswamy Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to god Shiva located on Rameswaram island in the state of Tamilnadu, India. It is also one of the twelve Jyothirlinga temples, where Shiva is worshipped in the form of a Jyotirlingam (English: pillar of light). It is one of the 274 Paadal Petra Sthalams, where the three of the most revered Nayanars (Saivite saints), Appar, Sundarar and Tirugnana Sambandar, have glorified the temple with their songs. The temple was expanded during the 12th century by Pandya Dynasty, and their principal shrines sanctums were renovated by Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan and his successor Gunaveera Cinkaiariyan of the Jaffna kingdom.
The temple has the longest corridor among all Hindu temples in India. The temple is located in Rameswaram, an island town in South India, considered a holy pilgrimage site for Shaivites, Vaishnavites and Smarthas. The temple is one of the famous pilgrimage sites and there are historical references about it. The Maratha kings who ruled Thanjavur established chatrams or rest houses all through Mayiladuthurai and Rameswaram between 1745 and 1837 CE and donated it to the temple.
Pre Historic Rameshwaram:
According to the Ramayana, Rama, the seventh incarnation of god Vishnu, is believed to have prayed to Shiva here to absolve sin of killing a brahmana, committed during his war against the demon king Ravana in Sri Lanka. Rama wanted to have the largest lingam to worship Shiva. He directed Hanuman, the monkey lieutenant in his army, to bring the lingam from Himalayas. Since it took longer to bring the lingam, Sita, the wife of Rama, built a small lingam out of the sand available in the sea shore, which is believed to be the lingam in the sanctum.
There is so much controversy regarding the age of Ramayana. (modern historians place the life time of Valmiki variously between 500 to 100 BC and According to the scriptures , Rama took his birth in Thretha yuga (1.2 million years ago) and at the same time Valmiki is also been a contemporary of lord Rama) Scientific dating of Ramayana performed by astronomical scholars said that Lord Rama came to Rameswaram and worships the lord Shiva (Ramanathaswamy) by 7292 BC. But there is no clear evidence which deciphers the exact timing of the Rama’s arrival to Rameswaram and the Shiva linga (the main deity of Rameswaram temple) installed by lord Rama in the Rameswaram.
As per the available information in Vedas and Puranas, Rameswaram is called as “Gandhamadhanam” during olden days and it is also said that even before the arrival of Rama, there is a Shiva temple existed in the Rameswaram.
Rameswaram is ruled under the various dynasties. They are;
· Pandya kingdom (Before the chola kingdom Rameswaram is under the rule of Pandyan kingdom of Madurai till the 9th century CE)
· Chola kingdom (1012 to 1040 CE)
· Jaffna kingdom (1153 – 1186 CE)
· Pandya kingdom (1253 – 1268 CE)
· Vijayanagara kingdom (Madurai Nayaks) (13th – 17 th century)
· Sethupathis (Those who are assigned by Madurai Nayak’s to rule Ramanathapuram)
Historical evidences states that Various types of conches (mainly the Right hand conch) and pearls (white, black, brown) are exported to different countries like China, Arabia, Sumeria, Egypt, Rome etc., during the period of Pandya and Chola kingdom. Rameswaram acts as an important Harbour in that time.
Though Cholas and Pandyas are the great kingdoms and they contribute in the establishments of various temples in their reigns, their contribution in the development of Rameswaram temple is very little. The Sethupathi kings are the major contributors in the construction of Rameswaram Temple as we saw now.
Evolution of a Grand Temple:
Till the 10th century the Rameswaram temple is in the form of a small thatched shed, which is maintained under the governance of a saint. The temple and its structural constructions as we see now are mainly evolved between the period of 12th and 16th century CE. There are many Sannathis (small temples) present inside the Ramanthaswamy temple, out of them 5 Sannathis namely
· Naleswarar Sannathi
· Neeleswarar Sannathi
· Kavayeswarar Sannathi
· Bapa Paksheshwarar Sannathi
· Punya Thaaneswarar Sannathi
These Sannadhis are constructed by Paranthaka chola and Raja Raja chola during the period of 10th and 11th centuries. These temples are situated in the west side of the third corridor (Moondraam Prakaram).
Srilankan king Parakrama Bahu (1153 – 1186 CE) built the main Sannathis inside the temple and the first corridor during the end of 12thcentury. They are;
· Moolavar Sannathi (Ramanathaswamy Sannathi in the first corridor )
· Parvatha Varthini Ambal Sannathi
· Kasi Vishwanathar Sannathi
· Visalatchi Sannathi
In 1404 CE Harihara - II of Vijayanagara dynasty inaugurate the works of second corridor but the works were not completed (At 16th century the eastern parts of the second corridor was built by Thirumalai Sethupathi).
After that Udaiyan Sethupathi with the help of Srilankan (Tamil) king Pararaajaseka Aryasakravarthy in 1414 CE started the renovation process and the reconstruction of the Ramanathaswamy temple by obtaining granite stones from Srilankan Mountain Thirukonamalai.
The great Nandhi statue of 17 feet height and 12 feet width in front of lord Shiva was built by Chinna udaiyan kattathevar. The Palliyarai and the front pavilion of the Ambaal Sannathi were built by Ravi Vijaya Ragunatha Sethupathi.
The west gopuram (78 feet height west gate tower) and the outer walls of temple were built by 1434 CE with the help of donations provided by a Nagoor vysya devotee.
In the year 1722 Vijaya Ragunatha Sethupathi laid the foundation stone for the outermost third corridor of the Ramanathaswamy temple, the work later carried out by Chella muthu Vijaya Ragunatha Sethupathi and completed by 1772 in the rule of Muthu Ramalinga Vijaya Ragunatha Sethupathi.
The small part of east gate tower was already started by Thalavai Sethupathi during 17th century and not get completed. This East Gopuram (East gate tower 126 feet height and had 9 tiers) was built around the years between 1897 to 1904, by means of the donations provided by the Devakottai A.L.A.R family.
During the years 1907 to 1925 the innermost corridor (first praharam) was renovated, the lime stone pillars and structures were replaced by granite by the help of A.L.A.R family’s donations. The first Kumbabishekam was conducted on 1925.
The temple was renovated on various years and Kumbabishegam were done, the list of Kumbabishegams and the corresponding dates are listed below;
· Second Kumbabishegam - 27 -02- 1947
· Third Kumbabishegam - 05-02- 1975
· Fourth Kumbabishekam - 05 -02 -2001
· Fifth Kumbabishegam - 05 -02 -2007
The construction of The Sethupathy mandapam which is in front of east Gopuram was (gate tower) started on 19 -11 -1969 and completed on 11 -12 -1974 by Ramanatha Sethupathi.
North and South Gopurams (gate Towers):
At present the construction process of North and south gopurams (gate tower) are going on. The funds were provided by Tamilnadu Government’s HR & CE ministry (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments), Kanchi Kamakoti mutt trust and Sringeri mutt trust.