A religious tour to Rameswaram and its neighborhood

My grandmother Lalitha Bai had given me a number of tales connected with our culture and religion. Some of them were connected to her own experiences. I continue to cherish these stories. My first trip to the island temple at Rameswaram was motivated by one such story. I learned that my father, K.Govindarajulu, and his maternal uncle S.P. Ramanathan were born due to the grace of Lord Ramanathaswamy. My great grandparents, Parvathavardhini Thayar and S.N. Padmanabhan, were blessed with progeny after a visit to this holy island. Similarly, my grandparents Krishnan and Lalitha Bai were blessed with my father due to the grace of Lord Ramanathaswamy and therefore had named him after the deity - Ramalingam. However, my father's grandaunt Ranganayaki Ramaswamy would call him ' Govinda ' for she did not want her husband's name to come out of her lips! That had been a custom those days. My mother, Aravindakumari, had followed the same practice.

Well, one Udumalpet Krishnamurthy Iyer suggested that I undertake a visit to Rameswaram in order to be blessed with a good partner for life. I began right earnestly on 29/12/1994 in my 118NE Premier car along with my driver Kani and our retired staff Parai V Krishnan. We drove past Madurai and visited a few temples in Ramanathapuram before arriving at Rameswaram. The first halt was at Thiru Uthirakosamangai. This place was known as Adi Chidambaram, and it happens to be the oldest Shiva temple on Earth. Lord Mangalanathar and his consort Mangalambikai had blessed Mandodari on the very spot. She thereafter got married to the demon ruler Ravana.

The five-plus feet icon of Lord Nataraja is famous here. He is said to be made of a huge semi-precious stone and was always covered with sandal paste. Devotees could get to see his real form once a year. This was possible during Arudhra Darsanam. I decided to do it sometime, and this happened in the year 2000. The priest created a bit of awareness for us that day. We learned that there were four Chidambarams in all - Adi Chidambaram ( Thiru Uthirakosamangai ), Melai Chidambaram ( Perur - Coimbatore ), Chinna Chidambaram ( Thiruvinjaikulam - Kerala ) and of course Chidambaram. Somehow, I was lucky enough to visit all these shrines over a few years.

Thiru Uthirakosamangai was endowed with a number of lovely sculptures, and the village was home to a number of sculptors. I learned that a few of them had settled down at Thirumuruganpoondi near Tirupur in order to offer their services. Thiru Uthirakosamangai was a revered site ( Paadal petra sthalam ). We had a good darshan and moved over to Thirupullani. This was also known as Adi Jagannatham, for it was older than Puri Jagannatham. The Lord here blessed Dasaratha with Lord Rama and his brothers. This temple is a Divya Desam ( one of the 108 sacred temples as per the Ramanuja Sampradayam ). The temple has a shrine dedicated to Lord Rama in the reclining form. It was here that Lord Rama reclined in order to think and find a way to cross the ocean. Lord Lakshmana had taken his original form in order to serve as the couch ( Lord Adisesha ). The consort of Lord Jagannatha is known as Padmasini Thayar. Devotees were blessed with a good spouse due to her grace. Parai V Krishnan stated that I would visit her soon after my wedding.

All the temples in the region were managed by the Ramanathapuram Samasthanam Devasthanam. Her Highness Indradevi Nachiyar ( Queen of Ramnad ) was the Hereditary Trustee in those days. I deposited Rs.1500 at Thirupullani during my trip. The temple continues to send me the prasadam year after year. I was also lucky to get the book Sethu & Rameswaram by Vanamamalai Pillai from the great-grandmother Parvathavarthini Thayar of Salem. The book was in English, and it belonged to my great grandfather Setty S.N. Padmanabha Chetty. It was published in the year 1929.Ramalinga Vilasam happened to be the residence of the Sethupathy ( Ruler of Ramnad ). The Rajeswari shrine at Ramalinga Vilasam is said to be very powerful. Dr. Nandita Krishna of the CPR Foundation in Chennai reprinted the book later. I was asked to write the Foreword for the same. My interest in preserving has given me the opportunity. Lord Ramanathaswamy had blessed me in more ways than one.

We visited the Sethukarai Hanuman temple. Hanuman had begun his flight to Sri Lanka from this location. Our good luck made us visit the shrines of Agastya and Lord Srnivasa. Agastya had given the powerful Aditya Hrudayam on this spot to Lord Rama. The icon looked a little unique. We also visited the Navapashanam temple at Devipattinam ( Bay of Bengal coast ). Lord Rama had offered his prayers to the Navagrahams ( nine planets ) in the sea. We waded through the waters and offered our prayers. It was an unforgettable experience.

Finally, we reached Rameswaram by night and managed to get a room at the Railway Station. We engaged a guide and visited the Ramanathaswamy temple the next morning. The guide helped us to have a bath in all the 22 tirthas prior to seeking the grace of Lord Ramanatha. I was told to seek the special blessings of Lord Sethumadhava in the temple. He was said to be extremely important. The very sight of Lord Ramalingaswamy made me feel blessed. A number of non-Tamil priests officiated in this temple. We went to Lakshmana tirtham, the new Dhanushkoti ( the old one had been washed away by a cyclone many years before ), and a few other temples. Krishnan suggested that I visit Rameswaram along with my wife. I agreed to do so.

We moved over to Thiruchendur after a rough drive on the East Coast Road. I got the opportunity to pray to Lord Senthil Andavar, the deity who blesses people with victory. Thereafter we hastened in order to visit the Srivilliputtur Andal temple. We had a good darshan in this Divya Desam and managed to reach Hotel Pandian in Madurai that night ( 30/12/1994 ). Krishnan and myself were blessed with a visit to the Madurai Meenakshi temple on 31/12/1994. I happened to pray to Devi Meenakshi and her consort Sundarareswarar. The temple had been ravaged by the religious fundamentalist cum marauder Malik Kafur during the year 1311 AD. It was thanks to the efforts of Prince Kumara Kampanna and his noble wife, Ganga Devi that the city was released from the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. This prince belonged to the Vijayanagar Empire. The rulers of Vijayanagar had done a lot in order to preserve ancient Tamil.

The three of us had lunch at Madurai and drove back home on the evening of 31/12/1994. It had been a great year, and the trip was memorable. I got engaged to Sujatha on 5/3/1995 and was married to her on 12/6/1995. Padmini of Thiruppullani, Ramanathaswamy, Senthil Andavar of Thiruchendur, Andal of Srivilliputtur, and Meenakshi Sundareswarar of Madurai had blessed me with a good married life. It was my turn to thank them, and I visited Rameswaram once again in the January 1996. My wife Sujatha accompanied me during the trip, and we felt lucky to witness the Spatika Linga Abhishekham at Rameswaram. This sacred icon had been endowed by Adi Sankara.

Lord Ramanathaswamy has blessed me with seven trips to Rameswaram thus far. My visits to this sacred island took place with my full family many years later, and was lucky to take my son Madhav Balaji to this holy shrine. I have had a number of divine experiences due to these visits. The blessings of Lord Ramanathaswamy and Lord Sethumadhava continue to nourish me. I am looking forward to seeking the divine grace of our deities who are ever resident at Rameswaram many more times.

Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of The Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.