Diwali Tour Part 2 – Rameswaram and Nainar Kovil



If Varanasi is the heart of the land that is India, Rameswaram is the foot. A journey to Kashi is invariably linked with a visit to Rameswaram. Aeons ago, it was Rama who consecrated the lingam at Rameswaram to atone for his sin of killing Ravana and all the other Rakshasas. Much, much later, in the holy city of Varanasi, Tulsidas made His story available for the common man in his own dialect with the Ramcharitmanas. At Rameswaram, the lingam is bathed with many materials, as in all places but the most important of them all is the water of the holy Ganges, obtained all the way from Varanasi. All through the year, the temple is thronged by devotees from all over India, all carrying a brass or copper pot of Ganges water as an offering to the lord. As at Varanasi, the rites to one’s forefathers occupy an important part of a journey to Rameswaram. The Teertha Shrardham at Rameswaram is traditionally performed at Dhanushkodi, the farthest point of India in this direction, and the nearest point to Sri Lanka, from where, it is believed, Rama built his bridge to Lanka. The whole of Dhanushkodi was destroyed by a cyclone in 1964 which wiped out the town along with its railway line. Till a few years back, there were a few ruins left as a reminder of that sad event, but now there is practically nothing left, but miles and miles of sand till we reach the sea. Only special jeeps are allowed to ferry devotees and tourists to this place, and they charge fixed rates, not open to bargaining. It is a journey worth taking for the pleasure of standing of one of the end points of India. The sea is clean, or rather, not as dirty as one would expect, considering the number of pilgrims it sees every day which is a relief these days. Traditionally, after the sankalpam and prayers at Dhanushkodi, a bow and arrow are drawn and prayers offered to it, and sand from this bow is scooped up and taken to Varanasi where it is made into a lingam and after prayers is immersed in the Ganges. We had already completed this ritual, and all we had to do was complete our Kashi yatra by performing Abhishekam to the lingam with the Ganges water that we had brought from Kashi.

We began the auspicious day of Diwali by having a bath in our room and headed to the temple for darshan of the special Spatika (crystal) lingam, which is taken out for Abhishekam and darshan every morning between 5 and 6 AM. There was a long queue for the darshan, but a special darshan ticket of Rs.50/- helped us bypass the crowd. Even then, we had to wait for about 15 minutes for our turn. It was worth the wait for two reasons – firstly, the Spatika lingam itself is beautiful and seeing the abhishekam was a divine experience. Secondly, we had nirmalya darshan of the main lingam in the sanctum. Here, it must be mentioned that the main lingam is made of sand, and is usually kept covered by a kavacham or covering, which makes it look like it is made of stone. All the abhishekams are performed to the covered lingam, for it will dissolve otherwise. The early morning darshan is probably the only time one can have a direct darshan of the original lingam.

According to legend, when Rama and Sita returned to the mainland after killing Ravana, Rama felt the urge to perform penance for his sin in killing Ravana who was a Brahmin, by virtue of birth to a rishi. To get rid of the sin of killing a Brahman, Rama wanted to install a lingam and perform the due prayers. He asked Hanuman to bring a suitable lingam for the purpose. Hanuman went to Kailas to bring a lingam, and returned carrying two of them. Meanwhile, it was getting late, and on the advice of elders, Sita made a lingam out of the sand, and Rama performed the appropriate prayers before Hanuman returned. When Hanuman returned at last, he was furious to see the lingam already consecrated and tried in vain to pull it out. At last, Rama pacified him, and decreed that the lingam brought by Hanuman be worshipped to first. This is the Visweswara lingam, and is placed just outside the main sanctum of Ramanathar. The second lingam was installed in a sanctum to Anjaneya (Hanuman) at the entrance of the temple. Traditionally, one first has darshan of Viwanathar, then Ramanathar, and finally, Hanumat-lingam at the exit. The Spatika lingam is believed to have been installed by Vibhishana, and it is this one which is considered to be one of the 12 Jyotirlingams.

After sunrise, we had a bath in the sea, where there was much water due to high tide, but the sea has been considerably dirtied over the years that I have visited it. Now, the first few steps into the water are through incredibly dirty layers of waste on the sand. We had to advance to waist level water to actually feel clear sand under our feet. We then went straight to the temple accompanied by a guide from the Kanchi Mutt, who led us through the 22 sacred wells, drawing out the water and pouring it over us. Much has been written about these wells, so it will suffice to say that this is probably the most unique and the best part of a visit to Rameswaram. I have been fortunate enough to bathe in these waters not once, but 4 times so far. This was the first time that Samhith was actually aware of what was going on, and he enjoyed himself thoroughly asking for water to be poured on him more than once at every well. It is amazing indeed that even today, after so many years, there is so much water left in these wells.

While we were making rounds of the wells, we had darshan of Lakshmi Narayana and Sethu Madhava. The shrine to Sethu Madhava is near the teertham of the same name, and it is considered auspicious to have his darshan after bathing in the water of the teertham. Sethu Madhava is one of a trinity with Veni Madhava at the Sangam at Allahabad and Bindu Madhava at Varanasi. These are all small idols of Vishnu found at the sites at about the same period. While the Veni Madhava and Bindu Madhava idols are made of black stone, which is a rarity in the north where these idols were found, the idol of Sethu Madhava is in marble, a rare occurrence in the south. Thus, in a way these idols are unusual in their respective areas, and their names being similar, it probably led to an identification of these three idols as a trinity, and it being auspicious to see all the three idols.

It is forbidden to enter the temple in wet clothes, so we went back to our room to change into our new Diwali clothes, and went to the Kanchi Mutt where arrangements had been made to perform the necessary puja to the Ganges water which we had brought from Varanasi in sealed copper pots. Once we were through with the puja, we trooped to the temple, guide in tow, and were led straight to the sanctum where we witnessed the abhishekam of the lord with the water of one of the holiest river of India.

Once the abhishekam was over, it was like a huge load was lifted from our shoulders, for our Kashi yatra had finally concluded successfully. To be precise, it was really my in-laws’ Kashi yatra, for ours will only truly begin when we take over the responsibilities and the tasks of our parents, when we actually take their place. However, bringing their Kashi yatra to a close brings us a great deal of satisfaction.

We then made a pradakshina of the sanctum, noticing the architectural marvels of days gone by, visiting the other sanctums of gods and goddesses which graced this huge temple. One of the things I will always remember about this temple is the Rudraksha mandapam – the mandapam where the idol of Nataraja, the lord of dance, is placed. The whole mandapam is decorated from walls to ceiling with the Rudraksha beads, which are so dear to Shiva. There was even a canopy (too big to be called an umbrella) over the idol, wholly made of Rudrakshas. I have never seen anything like it before, and I yearned to take a photograph, but not only had I left my camera and mobile behind, but I knew in my heart that even if I had my camera, I wouldn’t have been allowed to photograph the idol. Interestingly, in many of the temples we later visited, I saw a similar canopy of Rudrakshas over the head of the main lingam; however, none of them was as ornate or as beautiful as this one.

We had lunch at the residence of the priest. Talking of food, there is every type of cuisine available at Rameswaram – from Gujarati and Marwari to Jain and Punjabi – every region has its own restaurant. However, for one yearning to sample an authentic south Indian meal, there is nothing like eating at a priest’s house. There are lots of them around – the road opposite the main temple gopuram leading to the sea is lined with homes of Brahmins who make a living out of cooking. Just walk along the road, enquire about home cooked food, and you will find yourself being surrounded with people inviting you to their house. Better still, go to the Kanchi or Sringeri mutt and enquire. They will make all arrangements for you at extremely reasonable rates.

Soon after lunch, we packed our bags, and started for our next destination – our ancestral temple, or ‘Kula Deivam’ – Nainar Kovil. On the way, we decided to make a halt at Devipattinam, as we had time to burn before the temple at Nainar Kovil opened after lunch.


Devipattinam
is well known for the Nava Pashanam, or nine stones, which represent the Navagrahas. According to legend, these stones were installed and worshipped by Rama on his way to Rameswaram. Moreover, the sea bed is covered with a kind of grass similar to the sacred ‘Darbha grass’ , and is called the ‘Ocean Darbha’. A temple on the beach has the main deity named Dabharanyeshwarar. The story might be true or a myth, but the nine stones standing all by themselves in the middle of the sea make for an impressive sight. I remember the very first time I visited the place after my marriage. I was absolutely stunned at the sight, and though at that time I was sorely afraid of water, I bravely held my husband and mother-in-law’s hand and walked to the stones, and even did the pradakshina, praying to them reverently. I wish I had known about them before, and had taken my camera along to capture the sight as it was then, for this time, I had absolutely no desire to take any photos, leave alone get into the water. In preparation for this place, we had all changed from our brand new clothes to other used ones, so that we could walk in the water with them and then change back. But what a shock we received when we actually reached the place! In the name of improvement and providing conveniences for the tourists, a sort of bridge has been built to the stones. Moreover, they have now been surrounded by a brick structure replacing the plain railings of the past. All this has sort of given an enclosure-like look to the place, separating it from the wide open sea. To top it all, the water around the stones has already started stagnating, and will surely lead to deterioration of the stones themselves. All in all, it was such a sorry sight that all of us lost our desire to wade into the water. Only Shankar and Samhith ventured in to do one pradakshina and half heartedly performed the required pujas.

The New Arch at Devipattinam

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
The new structure enclosing the navapashanam

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
The Navagrahas- only 4 are visible due to high tide

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Shankar and Samhith doing the pradakshina

On the brighter side, we found a boatman who agreed to take us for a round, and we enjoyed the row boat ride. The boatman even used his oar to pull out a bunch of the Darbha grass from the sea bed for us to look at. Once we were through with the boat ride, we had no further reason to hang on, and made our way towards Nainar Kovil.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
A view of the village from the boat

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
A fisherman in his boat

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Some of the Sea - Darbha


The one and a half hour drive to Nainar Kovil soon lifted our spirits, for we had the luck to see a large number of peacocks. The first time we passed one, we went back to take a second look. From then on, our driver drove slowly looking out for other peacocks, waiting for me to take photographs. Finally, Shankar put his foot down, and declared that if we wanted to reach Thanjavur in time for bed, we didn’t have any more time for peacocks. At a rough count, we must have seen at least 20 to 30 peacocks, which is probably a much larger number than what we will see at any zoo or park.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip

Some of the peacocks we managed to capure on film


We reached Nainar Kovil just after they opened the doors, and gave the priest all the materials we had brought for the puja. This time, we didn’t halt for the full puja, but the priest obligingly draped the lord and the goddess with the veshti and sari we had brought along.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Nainar Kovil

According to the sthala puranam, or temple legend, this was the place a thief running from a tiger/lion climbed atop a tree and spent the night plucking and dropping leaves to stay awake. Unknown to him, the tree was a bilva tree, and under it was a Shiva lingam, and to top things up, it also happened to be Shivaratri. Thus, in all ignorance, he had worshipped Shiva on one of his most important days, with the leaf dearest to him. When day broke, he was surprised to see Shiva ganas who had come to escort him to Kailas on the strength of the puja he had performed. When he realized the importance of what he had done unknowingly, he repented, and asked time from the Shiva ganas, and spent the rest of his life performing good deeds, and repeating the name of Shiva. Take a look at the gopuram of the temple illustrating this story.

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
The story of Nainar Kovil on the Gopuram

While we spent some time looking around the temple, and noticing the recently made changes, Samhith was fascinated by a hand pump at the edge of the temple pond and spent the time trying it out. He was fascinated by the sight of the water gushing out when he managed to press the pump handle!

From Diwali 08 - Thanjvur Trip
Samhith tries out the hand pump


We started from Nainar Kovil around 5:30PM, and found ourselves at Pudukkotai around 8:30PM. We thought of having dinner there, it being a big city, but we hadn’t bargained for it being Diwali! Almost every hotel and restaurant in the city was closed – the only open ones serving only non vegetarian food. We searched high and low and were ready to settle for the night with juices and fruits, when thankfully, we stumbled upon Hotel Maaris. We were practically the only diners, but the chap happily cooked us food which tasted wonderful. If it hadn’t been for that one, we would have gone to bed hungry or thirsty, for when we reached Thanjavur, we found every hotel closed there too. In fact, this problem dogged us through the whole trip, for we happened to be traveling during the Diwali weekend, when every worker goes home on a holiday, and doesn’t return till he has used up his Diwali bonus. Every hotel we visited till Sunday, the 2nd of November was short- staffed, and very few items on the menu were available. The Diwali weekend isn’t a good idea to travel if one if finicky about food.


We found rooms at one Hotel Vasantha, which was clean and neat, but lacking in service ( again, a Diwali problem, we were told), and retired for the night. The next few days, we knew would be hectic, and we needed all the sleep we could get.

Comments

  1. I hailed from Naiynaar Koyil, it is very nice to read about my native place from someone writings :D.

    Last time when I visited Rameswaram I was very much upset that I need to Rs 42 as entrance fee and Rs 100 to a person who helped us do the 22 theertham. Although the government trustee told us it is only Rs 12 I couldn't we were asked to pay extra fee with no receipt.

    Other it was great experience. Thank you for sharing your thought with us.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Where did you stay in rameshwaram.how to do the booking in mutts? pls let me know.we are planning to take our inlaws there.

    ReplyDelete

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