Saturday, 4 May 2013

Lord Rama's Footsteps

The walkway to Villondi Teertham, a sweet-water well that appears mysteriously in the midst of the ocean.

Lord Rama's Footsteps


There is not a state in India that does not have a connection to the Ramayana. The scenes from the epic have covered virtually every land in the country. A forest lends a sacred touch, a river has a holy spring, and even the waves of the seas narrate the Lord’s name. Little shrines tell you legends of Rama’s presence. And his footprints are etched in the sands of time.Following Rama’s footsteps, I land in Rameshwaram, one of the most spiritual and mystical lands in South India, the setting of the legendary epic. This is where Rama and his army built a bridge across the oceans to defeat Ravana. This is also where he returned after a victorious battle and prayed to Lord Shiva to absolve him of any sin accrued during the war.
Every shrine here brings the Ramayana alive. But it is the ocean that fascinates me. The first view that one gets of Rameshwaram is the Pamban Bridge, which fan out across the ocean. Located at the tip of the Indian peninsula in the Gulf of Mannar, Rameshwaram is locked in an island connected to the mainland by the bridge. The waters change colours from emerald to sapphire blue. There is also geological evidence that there might have been a land connection across the sea to Sri Lanka. There is a mild flutter, a gentle vibration, as a few vehicles rush past me, oblivious to the grandeur of nature. I gaze at the sea as the many shades of blue merge with the foam and every wave takes on a different hue. These oceans take me on a trail of the Ramayana, where tanks and temples built on their shores fill you with tales.
It is afternoon and the blue skies look grey and the sea is choppy. The ocean parts ways as the road takes us to a small temple which seems to have been renovated. We climb some steps and look out through the arches at the sea. Another flight of steps takes me to the terrace. It is the highest point in Rameshwaram. I look out to see the sea stretching out in the horizon bordered by greenery and somewhere in the distance is the washed-away town of Dhanushkodi and even beyond that is Sri Lanka. It takes a moment to sink in. This is where I am told Rama surveyed the sea in front of him and his enemy on the other shore. I have followed his footsteps as I am standing in the temple where Rama’s “padam” or footprints are placed on a chakra.The RamanathaswamyTemple stands tall inside the town as devotees make their way to cleanse themselves with a sacred bath at the 22 wells or teerthams that surround it. Rameshwaram, I am told, has close to 64 theerthams and the holy water is stored in wells, ponds, tanks and one of them, the Agni Theertham, is the sea itself. Even today, it is believed that the tanks around the temple have a perennial source of water.