Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Shri Ramanathaswamy Shivlingam Temple Darshan and 22 Kund Snanams, Rameshwaram.

At the shore of Agni Teertham, Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu


Wash me, cleanse me, purify my heart and set me free. Psalm 51

----------------------------- **** -----------------------------

4 AM. It is pitch-dark when we set off from Brindavan Residency (our budget hotel in Rameshwaram) - gadget free, only a bag of clothes lugging on our shoulders - but for the sea of faithfuls the day has already begun. It's a day that is resplendent in the glitter of lights. It is the auspicious day of Diwali and we are headed towards the Ramanathaswamy temple in Rameshwaram before proceeding towards the shores of the sacred Theerthams to partake in the sacramental ritual of cleansing.

Sphatik (Emerald) Mani Shivling Darshan at 4.30 AM.

Fast-paced, we make our way towards the temple for the early sphatik mani darshan, gifted by the Shankaracharya to this highly revered temple dating back to the 12th century. It is a special darshan, that which opens at 4.30 AM in the morning every day and remains so only for an hour.

To partake in the darshan one needs to take a ticket priced at Rs. 50 and Rs. 10 at the counter; it is advisable to choose the tickets depending on the rush at the time of your visit. We take Rs. 10/- as there are no lines for the darshan, and right in an instant, I find myself standing across the pure crystal sphatika lingam rising proudly from the ground – its white glowing against the dark backdrop of the sanctum – I stand transfixed; the vision is enticing!

Sprinkling a few drops at Agni Theertham.

I remove my slippers on one of the steps of the Agni Theertham for Samudra Snanam (sea bath) and gingerly walk in the gently flowing waters allowing it to caress my feet. The water, true to the request of Lord Rama made eons ago, is one of the calmest I have ever come across but sadly, not very clean. 

She gleams in the halogen glow of the yellow lights above making her appear celestial. Enveloped all around is an unceasing hum of noise and chatter coming from pilgrims converging from different parts of India, also the world.

‘Sprinkle a few drops unto yourself’ casually instructs the guide that we had hired yesterday. He is leading us through the course of the bathing ritual and the darshan to the main temple.


Agni Teertham across the Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu
A dip in the Agni Teertham, anyone?

Feet deep in the sacred shallow waters, I close my eyes… This is the same sea that Lord Rama had crossed to barge into the territory of his arch rival, monster demon Ravan, echoes the guide’s voice as I arch my back and dip my hand in to sway a few drops onto myself.

2 or 3 nippy drops stick to my face, soak my senses.

It is said that the first kund / theertham now lies submerged under this sea, hence the bathing ritual commences from this place.

Just a stone’s throw from the Agni Theertham, 500 meters to be precise, stands the main temple, the holiest of the holy, the centuries old Ramanathaswamy temple in Rameshwaram, right at the centre overlooking the narrow bazaar lane and all the knick-knack shops lining the street. Pale yellow in appearance, the artistically sculpted temple is majestic and magnificent, even from a distance, its beauty and my admiration proportionally amplifying with each step that I take.

22 Kund Snan or Theerth Snan: Cleansing in the freshwater wells.

Head lowered, eyes closed, hands joined in prayer, I am standing anticipating a torrent from a bucketful of water poured from a height.  This sequence continues for 22 times, for each sacred theertham viz. Rama theertham, Sita theertham, Mahalaxmi theertham, Lakshman theertham, Gayatri theertham, Ganga theertham, Siva theertham, Gaya theertham, Yamuna theertham, Nala theertham, etc that lays scattered all round the temple premises. There are arrow marks to direct you from one well to the other. A peculiar characteristic of these Theerthams is that each tastes differently (soft or sweet but never salty!) and contains holy water induced with medicinal properties. Therapeutic, I can’t for sure say but legendary it definitely is!


Exteriors of the Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu
Mythical figures carved at the entrance of the temple.

Each theertham or freshwater well is soaked with an interesting intriguing anecdote connected with the epic Hindu lore Ramayana, and taking a bath in this fashion is almost like reliving all of them. Faith is all you need - right up your sleeve – for then, with each bath, you are also blessed with a promise in your heart.

Shivlingam Darshan at Shri Ramnathaswamy temple.

A small puja in the temple hall later, we proceed for the main darshan.


Walking to Shri Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu
The narrow bazaars leading to the Ramanathaswamy temple in Rameshwaram.

Rameshwaram, as the name indicates is the holy place of Rameshwara in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, hallowed by the presence of Lord Shiva (Eshwara) worshipped by Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu.

Walking under the canopied massive multi-storied interiors framed by the simple yet elegantly carved row of pillars (a mammoth 1200 in number!) I crane my neck admiring the architecturally impressive temple corridor, the longest in the world - 197 meters long and 133 meters broad.


Interior corridor of Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameshwaram
A sneak peek in the famed interior corridor of the Rameshwaram Temple.

Tracing back the epoch roots of the Ramayana, this highly esteemed temple is one among the 12 Shiva Jyotirlingam temples in India, our guide chips in. It was expanded during the 12th century by Pandya Dynasty, and its principal shrines sanctum were renovated by Jeyaveera Cinkaiariyan and his successor Gunaveera Cinkaiariyan of the Jaffna kingdom. The temple finds a mention in the ancient Hindu Puranas like Skandha Purana, Shiva Purana and has been glorified by numerous saints and sages like Appar, Sundararand Tirugnana Sambandar with their hymns and verses over the years.


A Look at the Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu
Zooming in: Pay your respects at Shri Ramanathaswamy Temple.

Dig deeper and the story reveals…

The conch-shaped island is the place where Lord Rama arrived while searching for His beloved queen, Sita, abducted by the demon king Ravana residing in Sri Lanka. Back to the island again after killing Ravana, Sage Agastya met Lord Rama, along with Sita and Laxmana and advised Him on the Law of Karma. Lord Rama had killed a demon in the form of Ravana but at the same time, He had also killed a Brahmana as Ravana was the great grandson of Brahma Himself.

Rama was now stamped under the burden of a sin – Brahmahatya – a sin that He could free Himself off by worshipping Lord Shiva in the form of a lingam. Lord Rama asked His ardent follower Hanuman to fetch Him a lingam from Mount Kailash under a stipulated auspicious time. Unfortunately, Hanuman failed to return in time. To proceed with the worship as planned, Mother Sita herself made a lingam out of sand and the pooja was done.

Later, Hanuman returned and was dejected to know that His lingam was no longer required. To appease the disappointment, Lord Rama ordained that both the lingams (the one that Mother Sita made and the one bought by Hanuman, called Ramalingam and Viswalingam respectively) be placed adjacent to each other in the temple. Further, He also ordered that all worship be first performed on Hanuman's Viswalingam in the future.

Standing in front of my heart's desire... the beautiful Shivlingam in black stone, the Rameshwara or the Ramalingam, my heart erupts in singing songs of glory to The One that sits pretty, in a partially lit sanctum sanctorum. It is visible only from a distance, the barricades prevent stepping any closer. And yet, I catch the shafts of light gleaming in from a row of diyas through the door of the sanctum beyond… the priest is performing an abhishek or a pooja on the lingam: a bucketful of milk followed by a bucketful of water and a string of chants.


At the Shores of the Ramanathaswamy Temple Sea, Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu


As I close my eyes one final time, before moving out from the darshan area, I feel the light.., allowing it to seep in, flow through the darkest chambers of my heart. I ask for Father’s blessings to help me dissolve the impurities of my fickle mind in the fire (Agni) of His intrinsic ocean of love so that the petal of my being can once again bloom in the infinities of purity and good-heartedness...

Because that, is the ultimate washing, purification, cleansing of all.

A real, actual dip in the Agni Theertham...

THAT... which shall set me free.

Isn’t it?


Tips for travellers:

1. Hire a guide for bathing at Kunds: Hire a guide on the previous day of your slated darshan. A guide will charge you anywhere around Rs. 150 per person and you can get them lingering all around the temple. Either that or you can take a general ticket by paying Rs. 25 per person at the entrance. If you want a full bucket of water, go for a personalized guide (definitely better!) else settle for the general ticket.

2. Changing room after the bath: The temple has separate changing rooms for ladies and gents. When I step in, the changing room is clean (so fortunate!), perhaps one of the reasons being that it is very early in the morning.

3. Other Temples to visit: In addition to the main Shiva temple, the temple also has many other deities installed in many smaller temples strewn all around the campus. These includes Lord Vishwanatha, Goddess Parvati, Ashtalaxmi, Ganpati and others. Bowed my head in all these before making my way out of the temple.

4. Sphatik Mani Darshan: Go for Sphatik Mani darshan first thing in the morning before taking any bath, it is a special type of a darshan which starts at 4 AM.

5. What Not to carry inside the temple:


What not to carry at Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu


6. Temple Timings: 4.30 AM - 1 PM; 3 PM - 8.30 PM.

7. Contact Number: 04573 221 223.

Keywords:
pooja, darshan - prayer.
theertham - pilgrimage.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Planning Rameshwaram: An Introduction, How to Reach, Where to Stay.

The intensity of faith, the bustle of rituals, the depth of history,
the music of silence, the picture of simplicity, the intrigue of legendary stories…

Holy town of Rameshwaram - the station

Welcome to the Land of Rameshwaram!

11 - 15 November 2016:

I had a taste of all of the above and more in my recent trip down south to the holy pilgrim town of Rameshwaram during the auspicious festival of Diwali.

Along with Dwarka, Puri and Badrinath - Rameshwaram is one among the chaar dhaams of the Hindus situated on the Panbam island in the state of Tamil Nadu, connected to the Indian mainland via the architectural marvel Panbam bridge. According to Ancient Hindu Puranas or Scriptures, a pilgrimage to holiest of the holy city Varanasi is incomplete without a visit here. How deeply rich is this land's antiquity!

The prospect of the trip, my second call to the place (the first one being when I was very young) excited me as soon as my father had suggested it. Excitement further soared when the trip was stamped - with the tickets to the place being booked 2 months in advance.

PLANNING RAMESHWARAM:

We had 3 days to spare for the holy town, arrival and departure inclusive, followed by 1 day in Chennai from where we had our flight back to Mumbai.

While the Temple Darshan was scheduled for the main Diwali day, a lot of flexibility went into the planning and itinerary of the other days.

The mystical abandoned town of Dhanushkodi was one place that ranked high up as one of my places to visit along with a few other places in and around the town that were duly jotted down by dad after reading a few random blogs on the internet.


I, to my credit, scouted for a good hotel for our stay both in Chennai and Rameshwaram. Rameshwaram is packed with hotels for every budget, pocket and needs, so do your research and choose accordingly.

WHERE TO STAY IN RAMESHWARAM? HOTEL BRINDAVAN RESIDENCY.

TTDC’s hotel had fabulous reviews and pictures on TripAdvisor, immediately capturing my attention. I tried booking their sea-facing family room but alas! All their sea-facing rooms had gone.

Next, I settled for Brindavan residency, and though it didn’t afford a sea-facing view, it definitely proved worth the money.

Brindavan Residence, Where to stay in Rameshwaram

Brindavan Residency is a neat, budget hotel conveniently located at walking distance to the temple and the sea-shore, Agni Teertham. Despite its proximity to the sacred shores, the location of the hotel is such that it keeps all the cacophony of the pilgrim centre at bay. We booked a 4 bedded family room (Rs. 2200 per night) for ourselves in advance via e-mail by paying a sum of Rs. 1000 upfront.

Brindavan Residency, Where to stay in Rameshwaram

Brindavan Residency room, where to stay in Rameshwaram

The room was not very spacious but comfortable enough for our two nights stay. The bathroom was well-kept and clean as well. The room came with Wi-Fi, good enough for me to engage in a few Instagram posts and some twitter as well.

We booked a cab from the hotel for the third day for Dhanushkodi + sight-seeing for Rs. 1800/- and found it pretty reasonable considering the places we covered.

Tariff for 4 bedded AC: 2200/- incl. taxes.
Address:
Hotel Brindavan Residency A/C,
21/26-A1,Agasthiyar Theertham St, Near Agni Theertham, 
Rameswaram-623526.
Phone: 04573-222252.
Mobile: 09655814595 , 09443060011.
Email: info@hotelbrindavanresidency.com / hotelbrindavanresidency@gmail.com

HOW TO REACH RAMESHWARAM?

Rameshwaram is located on the Panbam island connected to Indian mainland via the iconic Panbam bridge. The best period to visit Rameshwaram is between October and April.

We reached Chennai from Mumbai by air and then took a connecting train - Rameshwaram Express (16101) to Rameshwaram from Chennai.

Landscape view from Rameshwaram Express from train

Views like these kept me enthralled throughout the train journey.

And then, there came the Panbam Bridge, India's first sea bridge and second longest! No matter the nature of the transportation mode, don’t miss the sight of this engineering spectacle Panbam Bridge - it is a major highlight in the journey to this pilgrimage city!


I clicked this sight of the pedestrian version of the Panbam bridge from the train moving on the rail bridge while standing at the door, much to the chagrin of my brother!

Panbam bridge from the Rameshwaram express

And this picture of the clear aqua blue Rameshwaram Sea
or the Palk Straight from the other door.

Crossing the Panbam straight from Rameshwaram Express train

Besides railways, alternatively you can go for air or roads to reach the place. Rameshwaram is well connected to all major cities across India and can be reached through air, railways and roads.

By Air: The nearest domestic airport is in Madurai, 163 km from Rameshwaram. Once you reach the airport, you can take a private cab or taxis to reach the pilgrim town.

By Road: Via road, the city is well connected to major cities in Tamil Nadu like Madurai (169 km), Tiruchirappalli (271 km), Thanjavur (231 km), Kanyakumari and Chennai (600 km) via frequent buses.

From Chennai, it takes around 10 hours to reach the destination.

By Train: Rameshwaram is well connected with major cities like Coimbatore, Trichy, Madurai, Thanjavur and Chennai by Indian railways as well so reaching Rameshwaram by trains is easy.

As the rickshaw driver charged Rs. 100 to drive us to our hotel, I looked forward to explore this little but deeply mythical Land of Lord Shri Ram… the same place where He built a bridge to cross over to Sri Lanka to rescue His beloved, Sita from the demonic clutches of Ravana... the same place where He prayed to Lord Shiva to absolve Him of His sin of killing the demonic monster Ravana, a brahmana... today, I am back from Rameshwaram but remnants of the time I spent wandering among those sacred sands continue to stick in the chambers of my soul. Will spill a few of these in the posts to follow. Do come along!

Friday, January 1, 2016

41 Beautiful Travel Quotes (Plus Video) to Inspire the Traveller within You!

Who doesn't like to have a dash of some inspiration?

I, for one, absolutely do. That’s one reason I love reading quotes and sayings by great thinkers and writers of all times – and what amazes me more is that there is always one for every season, no matter what your mood, what the feeling! 

That's the same reason this year I decided to ring in My Yatra Dairy's 2016 with a good dose of inspirational quotes to uplift our spirits and inspire all of us to pack our bags, set out, and TRAVEL! Yes, travel and possibly get a fresh perspective on life. Because, sometimes all we need is a little power-packed nudge to remind us how awesome life really is. Isn't it?


41 INSPIRATIONAL TRAVEL QUOTES (2016):


1. Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first. ~ Ernestine Ulmer.

2. Life is your mirror. What you see as your outside always comes from your inside. ~ Anonymous.

3. Let go or be dragged. ~ Anonymous.

4. The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust.





5. The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller.

6. … travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. ~ Mary Ritter Beard.

7. A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. ~ John Steinbeck.

8. All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. ~ Martin Buber.




9. Your heart is the size of an ocean. Go find yourself in its hidden depths. ~ Rumi.

10. One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. ~ Henry Miller.

11. Wherever you go, go with all your heart. ~ Confucius.

12. What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And  when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.




13. Your wings already exist. All you have to do is fly. ~ Anonymous.

14. Collect moments, Not things. ~ Anonymous.

15. It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. ~ Henry David Thoreau.

16. Wherever you are - be all there. ~ Jim Elliot.




17. The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter. Paulo Coelho.

18. I understand that everything is connected, that all roads meet, and that all rivers flow into the same sea. Paulo Coelho.

19. We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls. Anais Nin.

20. Traveling makes one modest -- you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. Gustave Flaubert.



21. Take only memories, leave only footprints. ~ Chief Seattle.

22. Of all possible subjects, travel is the most difficult for an artist, as it is the easiest for a journalist. ~ W. H. Auden.

23. Once you have tasted the taste of sky, you will forever look up. ~ Leonardo da Vinci.

24. If you can still feel romanced by a sunset, you're closer to your Maker than you thought. ~ Beth Moore.




25. Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys. ~ Richard R. Niebuhr.

26. Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart. ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel.

27. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old. ~ Franz Kafka.

28. A good traveller is one who knows how to travel with the mind. ~ Michael Bassey Johnson.




29. A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for. ~ William G.T. Shedd.

30. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. ~ J. R. R. Tolkien.

31. Your acts of kindness are iridescent wings. ~ Rumi.

32. All I want is an open road and an open heart. ~ Anonymous.




33. The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page. ~ Saint Augustine.

34. To travel is to take a journey into yourself. ~ Danny Kaye.

35. Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith. ~ Margaret Shepard. 

36. You can find me where the music meets the ocean. ~ Zac Brown Band.




37. Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. ~ John Muir.

38. To unpathed waters, undreamed shores. ~ William Shakepeare.

39. I swear to you, there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell. ~ Walt Whitman

40. Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.

41. Excuse me while I kiss the sky. ~ Jimi Hendrix.

INSPIRATIONAL TRAVEL QUOTES VIDEO.

And if this still isn't enough inspiration for you, here's the video for the extra adrenaline rush! It's compiled using the same quotes as above (all due credits to the authors above); the pictures are all mine.

(You can also watch this on You Tube here: https://youtu.be/HozHWoA8qTY)


Which are your all time favorite travel quotes that never ceases to inspire?
Do add to the list in the comment section below!

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