Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram – Religious Significance
The temple is one of the holiest Hindu Char Dham (four divine sites) sites comprising Badrinath, Puri and Dwarka. Though the origins are not clearly known, the Advaita school of Hinduism established by Sankaracharya, who created Hindu monastic institutions across India, attributes the origin of Char Dham to the seer.
The four monasteries lie across the four corners of India and their attendant temples are Badrinath Temple at Badrinath in the North, Jagannath Temple at Puri in the East, Dwarakadheesh Temple at Dwarka in the West and Ramanathaswamy Temple at Rameswaram in the South. Though ideologically the temples are divided between the sects of Hinduism, namely Saivism and Vaishnavism, the Char Dham pilgrimage is an all Hindu affair.
There are four abodes in Himalayas called Chota Char Dham (Chota meaning small): Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangothri and Yamunotri – all of these lie at the foot hills of Himalayas. The name Chota was added during the mid of 20th century to differentiate the original Char Dhams.
The journey across the four cardinal points in India is considered sacred by Hindus who aspire to visit these temples once in their lifetime. Traditionally the trip starts at the eastern end from Puri, proceeding in clockwise direction in a manner typically followed for circumambulation in Hindu temples.
As per Shiv Mahapurana, once Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) and Vishnu (the Hindu God of saving) had an argument in terms of supremacy of creation. To test them, Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the Jyotirlinga. Vishnu and Brahma split their ways to downwards and upwards respectively to find the end of the light in either directions. Brahma lied that he found out the end, while Vishnu conceded his defeat. Shiva appeared as a second pillar of light and cursed Brahma that he would have no place in ceremonies while Vishnu would be worshipped till the end of eternity.
The Jyotirlinga is the supreme partless reality, out of which Shiva partly appears. The Jyotirlinga shrines thus are places where Shiva appeared as a fiery column of light. Originally there were believed to be 64 jyothirlingas while 12 of them are considered to be very auspicious and holy. Each of the twelve jyothirlinga sites takes the name of the presiding deity - each considered different manifestation of Shiva. At all these sites, the primary image is lingam representing the beginningless and endless Sthambha pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva.
The twelve jyothirlinga are;
1. Somnath in Gujarat
2. Mallikarjuna at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh
3. Mahakaleshwarar at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh
4. Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh
5. Kedarnath in Himalayas
6. Bhimashankar in Maharashtra
7. Viswanath at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh
8. Triambakeshwar in Maharashtra
9. Vaidyanath at Deoghar in Jharkhand
10. Nageswar at Dwarka in Gujarat
11. Rameshwar at Rameswaram in Tamilnadu
12. Grishneshwar at Aurangabad, Maharashtra