RAMESHWARAM Where we find legends come alive in every corner
The ocean’s spread out in front of me and I am at a loss for adjectives. The many shades of blue merge with the foam and every wave takes on a different hue. I am in one of the most spiritual and mystical parts of South India, the setting of a legendary epic, and yet all that interests me is the aquamarine waters of the ocean changing colour by the minute.
The Pamban Bridge fans out in front of me taking me to the sacred town of Rameshwaram. There is a mild flutter, a gentle vibration as a few vehicles rush past, oblivious to the grandeur of nature. I wait to see if a train will chug along on the railway bridge, but all I get to feast on is an uninterrupted view of the sea.
Rameshwaram is many things to many people. A mythical destination, it certainly cannot be called touristy. Yet, it is the setting of the Ramayana that pervades the landscape. The gods and their stories come alive in every corner. I am not just referring to the temple but to the many tanks or wells as well, called theerthams, which surround the town.
Rameshwaram has 64-odd theerthams. The sacred 22 are within the temple, so I take some time off to visit the others. Some are in the form of wells, some ponds, others are tanks and one of them, the Agni Theertham, is the sea itself. They are located in forests, in temples or towns, on the highways, mud roads and in the middle of the ocean. It is like following in the footsteps of Rama, as every drop of water narrates a story. While some of the theerthams are named after Ramayana characters, I find a couple that transport me into a different world.
On the way to Dhanushkodi, the scenery gives way to dense undergrowth. We stop the car in front of thorny shrubs and walk through the trees until we see a board that says ‘Jada Theertham’. Inside the thicket, we find a tank under a peepal tree with a temple close by. A priest tells us that this is where Rama washed his hair (jada) after he killed Ravana and installed a lingam here. Another legend says this is where Jatayu, the king of birds, fell after his fight against Ravana.
I head next to Villondi Teertham, in the middle of the ocean. A few kilometres out of town I reach a shore with white sands. The sea is pristine blue, the azure waters sparkling in the sunlight. A bridge appears in the middle of nowhere that leads right into the ocean. A small well here is filled with water. You are allowed a sip of the absolutely sweet water. “This is where Rama shot an arrow to ensure that sweet water would flow to quench Sita’s thirst,” says the caretaker. It’s believed that Rama’s bow and arrow are buried here and hence the name Villondi Teertham.
Standing there, looking into the distant horizon, I can almost imagine the army of birds, squirrels, monkeys and bears getting ready to fight the war against Ravana. And as the breeze comes calling, I am lost in the world of epics and legends.