Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chennai, Rameshwaram and Madurai

I have visited Chennai and Rameshwaram a couple of times. Both of these are fascinating places. Chennai is a metro and cosmopolitan city,bubbling with enthusiasm and energy, whereas Rameshwaram is a serene and famous pilgrimage centre for every Hindu.

In 2003, I had visited these places along with my family members.

We booked a cab to explore Chennai during day. We had reservation to Rameshwaram in the evening from Tambaram. Tambaram is in outskirts of Chennai.

Perhaps the name Chennai is derived from ChennaiPattinam, the name of the town that grew around Fort St. George, which was built by the British in 1640 CE. The city's former name, Madras, is derived from Madraspattinam, a fishing village north of Fort Saint George. Some time after the British gained possession of the area in the 17th century, the two towns, Madraspattinam and Chennapattinam, were merged. The British referred to the united town as Madras .

The region around Chennai has been ruled by various South Indian dynasties, notably the Pallava, the Chera, the Chola, the Pandya, and then the mighty Vijaynagar Empire. The town of Mylapore, now part of Chennai, is said to be once a major port during Pallava era.

The Portuguese arrived in 1522 and built a port called São Tomé. In 1612, the Dutch established themselves near Pulicat, just north of the city.

On 22 August 1639,British East India Company bought some land on the Coromandel Coast. The region was ruled by Venkatapathy, the Nayak of Vandavasi. He granted the British permission to build a factory and warehouse for their trading enterprises. A year later, the British built Fort St George, which became the nucleus of the growing city. Now Fort St. George houses the Tamil Nadu Assembly.

In 1746, Fort St. George and Madras were captured by the French under General La Bourdonnais, the Governor of Mauritius, who plundered the town. But the British regained control in 1749 through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and fortified the town's fortress wall to withstand further attacks from the French. By the late 18th century, the British had conquered most of the region around Tamil Nadu and the northern modern-day states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, establishing the Madras Presidency with Madras as the capital.Under British rule, the city grew into a major urban centre and naval base.

Our first destination was Kapaleeswarar Temple. It is said to be the biggest temple in the city and fine specimen of Dravidian architecture. It has 13th century inscriptions and a 37-metre gopuram remarkable for its intricate carvings depicting stories from scriptures.

It is said that Parvati (Karpakambal) in the form of a peacock, Mayil is said to have worshipped Shiva (in a legend similar to that at Mayiladuturai), hence the name Mylapore.

After getting blessed with darshan of Lord, we proceeded towards Parthasarathi Temple.

The 8th century Krishna temple was built under the patronage of the Pallavas and enshrines idols of the different incarnations of Sri Vishnu. The small temple inside is dedicated to Vishnu's consort, Vedavalli Ammai.

There are five shrines here. The primary sanctum enshrines Venkatakrishnan with Rukmini, Balaraman, Satyaki, Anirudha, Pradyumna in a standing posture facing east. There is a shrine to Ranganathar in a reclining posture; his consort is Vedavalli, in a separate sanctum. There is a shrine to Rama in a standing posture, flanked by Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Shatrughana and Hanuman facing east. There is also a shrine to Varadarajan in a seated posture on the Garuda mount facing east. There is also a shrine to Narasimhar in a seated posture facing west.

Our next destination was Government Museum. It has excellent collection and in my view, is a must for all visitors to the city. It contains exhibits ranging from contemporary artifacts to prehistorical findings. Sculptures and bronzes of various periods, sections for zoology, anthropology and geology impress every visitor. It has sections related to Archaelogy, Anthropology, Numistics, Zoology etc. The museum is superb!!

We then visited Marina Beach. It is said to be the second longest beach in the world with a strech of 4.5 kms (2.5 miles). Nearby is Anna Memorial, the memorial for Annadurai. Adjoining to this memorial lays another for Dr. M.G. Ramachandran leader of AIADMK. The evening visit here is very pleasent.

I remember that nearby there was a small Aquarium. But later when I visited, it was not there.

A big attraction in Chennai for nature lovers is The Snake Park at Guindy. This park with diverse Indian snakes and reptiles is worth a visit. I saw one snake specialist demonstrating taking out poison from a snake.

In the evening, we boarded the meter gauge train to Tambaram. We took a little snack at station. The problem that we found later was that there was no pantry car in that train and hence we were without food in the night. Also the train got late and as far as I remember, the scheduled time to raech Rameshwaram was around 2 PM but it reached around 6 PM.

The big attraction through this train that we found was crossing the Pamban bridge. This bridge is on the Arabian sea. It has to be noted that Rameshwaram is an island. It gave us a thrill when the train crossed the ridge over the sea.

We took a hotel near railway station. After taking rest for a little we headed towards Temple in the evening itself.

there are many good hotels in Rameswaram. In my another visit I had stayed at TTDC hotel. which is very close to Agniteertham and has sea facing rooms.

Rameshwaram is the place from where Lord Rama, built a bridge across the sea to rescue Sita, from Ravana. This is also the place where Rama worshipped Lord Shiva to cleanse away the sin of killing Ravana.

Rameshwaram is significant for the Hindus and it is said that a pilgrimage to Benaras is incomplete without a Pilgrimage to Rameshwaram. The presiding deity is the Linga worshipped by of Sri Rama, which happens to be one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.

According to the Hindu scriptures i.e. the story of Ramayana Lord Rama performed thanks giving rituals to Lord Shiva after his triumph over the demon king Ravana. Sri Lanka is at a distance of 24 kilometers from Rameshwaram. In fact the entire area of Rameshwaram is associated with various incidents from the Ramayana.

RamnathSwamy Temple as seen from Gandhmadan Parvat (Ram Paduka)
After getting refreshed, we walked towards the Ramnathswamy Temple.

There are 24 Tirthas in Rameswaram. One should take a bath in all. It starts from Agni Theertham. It is a beach and bathing there was a fun.

Devotees after taking bath at Agni Theertham, walks towards the temple in wet cloths to bath in other Theerthams inside the temple. Help of a local panda is required to take a good bath on each of these wells.
The list of theethams are as below:

1) Agni Theertham - The beach east of Ramanathaswamy Temple is known as Agni Tirtham. It is said that Ram took bth here after killing Ravana and Agnidev came to prove the chastity about mother Sita.

22 Tirthas inside temple are

1) Mahalakshmi Tirtha – King Yudhistra took bath here and became rich
2) Savithri Tirtha – Kashyapa got rid of his curse after holy dip in this theertham
3) Gayathri Tirtha – King Kasibar got rid of his curse
4) Saraswathi Tirtha – King Kasibar got rid of his curse
5) Sethu Madhava Tirtha – Will be blessed by Mahalakshmi and get purified of impure thoughts
6) Gandhamadana Tirtha – Will get rid of poverty
7) Kavatcha Tirtha – Get rid of sins and will not go to hell
8) Gavaya Tirtha – Will get shelter under Karpaga Virutchaga or Kalpa Vriksha tree
9) Nala Theertham – Will be blessed by Lord Surya and reach heaven.
10) Neela Tirtha – Equivalent to having performed various yagnas and will obtain Agni Yoga
11) Sanku Tirtha – Sage Vatsanabha got rid of his sin of ingratitude
12) Chakkara Tirtha – Sun God had got his hand turned golden
13) Brahmahathi Vimochana Tirtha – Helps to get rid of Brahma Hathi Dosham
14) Sooriya Tirtha – Helps to obtain knowledge of the past present and the future
15) Chandra Tirtha – Helps to obtain knowledge of the past present and the future
16) Ganga Tirtha – Gananasuruthi Rajah attained wisdom
17) Yamuna Tirtha – Gananasuruthi Rajah attained wisdom
18) Gaya Tirtha – Gananasuruthi Rajah attained wisdom
19) Siva Tirtha – Completion of Bhaira Brahmahathi
20) Sadyamirtha Tirtha – Emperor Bururoonu got rid of his curse
21) Sarva Tirtha – Sutharishna got prospered after getting rid of his blindness (from birth) and illness
22) Kodi Theertham – Sree Krishna got rid of his sin on killing Kamsa

There is also one Setu Teertha at Dhanushkodi, but not many people visit that place.
After getting purified in this way, we changed our cloths and headed towards the sanctum. A darshan of Lord and the mother blessed us all.

The legend is that this Lingam was established by mother Sita after returning from Lanka. It is said that Hanuman was entrusted with the task of bringing an image of Viswanathar from Banaras. Anticipating delay in Hanuman's return from Benares, Rama offered worship to a Shivalingam at a pre-chosen auspicious moment. This lingam is referred to as Ramalingam and the town is known as Rameswaram.

Morning at Raneswaram
There is yet another Shivalingam here - Viswanathar said to have been brought by Hanuman from Banares. This Shivalingam is referred to as Kasilingam and Hanumalingam. Prayers are offered to Viswanathar before they are offered to Ramanathaswamy.

Then we were back to hotel to take dinner and rest.

I came to know that there is Shiva Linga of "Paarad" (Mercury) in the temple and darshan and pooja for that happens only at around 04:00 AM in morning. We thought of going there but as were badly tired hence could not get up in time.
Gandhmadan Parvat (Ram Paduka)
Another legend is that Lord Rama made a linga of sand and worshipped it and asked to be blessed so that he could vanquish Ravana. Lord Shiva blessed him accordingly. He also requested Lord Shiva to reside eternally here so that entire mankind should benefit from it. Shiva then manifested himself as the Linga and got installed there for eternity.

According to yet another legend, while returning to Ayodhya, Ram worshipped Lord Shiva in the form of a Shiva Lingam made of earth by Sita.

This temple is famous for its long corridor, supposed to be one of the longest in world!!

Ram Jharokha and Krishna Temple
After returning from temple, we did breakfast and then hired a auto to visit other shrines at Rameshwaram.

Gandamadana Parvatham is about 3 KMs and it is said to have the imprint of Lord Rama's feet placed on a Chakra (wheel) is found in this shrine.

It is also said that from here Hanuman jumped to reach Lanka.

On the way to Gandhmadan Parvat (Ramar Paada), there is s small shrine of Lord Hanuman called Sakshi Hanuman.

There is also one pond called "Sugriva Teertha on way.

Then we visited Ram Jharokha. There is also a beautiful Krishna Temple nearby and a pong full of small fishes.
Ram Jharokha
As we were feeding the fishes, one eagle jumped and took away one poor fish.

Life is so filmsy!

Pond at Ram Jharokha
Next we visited Lakhman Teertha

There is s a small Nagnath temple nearby.

It is said that by worship here, all obstacles to bear a child gets over.

Pond at Lakshmana Teertha 
 The waters at Lakshmana Teertha was quite clean, which is a pleasant site now a days.

Lakshmana Teertha
 Just aceross the raod near Lakshmana Teertha, there sia nother ebautiful templ has been constructed. I just clicked a few snaps from road. Nearby is the Seeta Kund, but no maintenance and full of garbage.

This is how we respect our holy places!
A beautiful temple near Lakshmana Teertha
 There is a new temple coming up and its of Panchmukhi Hanuman. This shrine also has some floating stines and one Idol of Lord said to came to surface after the cyclone in 1964.

Ramnath swamy temple as seen from Vibhishana Temple
 We took the road to Vibishana Temple, also known as Kothandaramaswamy temple. This is place where, Vibhishana came to meet Lord Ram and Lord did abhishek of him and declared him the King of Lanka.

Vibhishana Temple is towards Dhanushkodi.

Dhanushkodi is named after Rama's bow, is at the eastern end of the island at a distance of 8 kms from Rameshwaram. The boulders around the sea between Srilanka and this place known as Adam's bridge, are believed to be used by his army to reach across Srilanka.

Dhhanushkodi was completely destroyed by the cyclones of 1964. Earlier trains used to come till here but now that has stoopped.

Kothandaramaswamy temple survived the cyclone. Idols of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman and Vibhishana are here. It is believed that Rama did Rajya abhishekam of Vibhishana here.

Jata Teertham
Before the Vibhishana Temple ther is a off road towards Jata Teertham.

It is said that Lord washed his "Jata" here after killing Ravana.

Pond at Jata Teertham
Though I wanted to go till Dhanushkodi, but it was quite noon and also not many people visit the place and oits quite secluded and lonely, so we retruned back and took the road towards Madurai.

On the way we stopped at the Samadhi of late president Dr APJ Abul Kalam and paid respect to the great son of Rameswaram and India.

Samadhi of Dr APJ Abul Kalam
In oe of my trips, we decide to visit Devipattanam also. Devipattanam is famous for navagraha temple, said to be established by Lord Rama.

There is about 20 KMs of detour from Madurai road to reach Devipattanam.

Navgraha Temple, Devipattanam
There are 9 stone pillars, each symbolizing one of the planet is said to be installed here by Lord Ram. A few of them are not visible now as submerged in water. There is a waist deep water here, people do pooja by circumambulating it.

Now it was time to take road to madurai.

One of South India's great temple towns, Madurai is synonymous with the celebrated Meenakshi Temple. The entire city of Madurai, is built around the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple – the temple par excellence. Concentric rectangular streets surround the temple, symbolizing the structure of the cosmos.

Situated on the banks of river Vaigai, Madurai has a rich cultural heritage passed on from the great Tamil era more than 2500 years old. Madurai was an important cultural and commercial centre even as early as 550 AD. It was the capital city for the great Pandya kings. The Pandyan King Kulasekarar built a great temple and created a lotus shaped city around the temple. On the day the city was to be named, as Lord shiva blessed the land, divine nectar (Madhu) was showered on the city from his matted locks. This city was henceforth known as Madhurapuri.

Madurai has history dating all the way back to the Sangam period of the pre-Christian era. It was the seat of power of the ancient Pandyan empire. As early as the 3rd century BC, Megasthanes visited Madurai. Later many people from Rome and Greece visited Madurai and established trade with the Pandya kings.

East Gopuram, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
The Cholas ruled Madurai from 920 AD till the beginning of the 13th century. In 1223 AD Pandyas regained their kingdom and once again become prosperous. During their period, many master-pieces were created. "Silapathikaram", the great epic in Tamil was written based on the story of Kannagi whose curse burnt Madurai as a result of the injustice caused to her husband Kovalan.

In April 1311, Malik Kafur, the general of Alauddin Khilji, reached Madurai and raided destroyed the temple. In 1323, the Pandya kingdom including Madurai became a province of the Delhi empire, under the Tughlaks.

The 1371, the Vijayanagar kings of Hampi captured Madurai and it became part of the Vijayanagar empire. Kings of this dynasty were in habit of leaving the captured land to governors called Nayaks. Among Nayaks, Thirumalai Nayak (1623-1659) was very popular. The Raja Gopuram of the Meenakshi Amman Temple, The Pudu Mandapam and The Thirumalai Nayakar's Palace are living monuments to his artistic fervor.

We hired an auto from Madurai bus stand to reach the Meenakshi Amman Temple. The temple is magnificent and one of the most beautiful temples that I have seen. The gopurams are huge and carvings are superb!!

We took special darshna ticket and were blessed with darshan of Divine Mother.

Then again we took an auto to reach Madurai Railway Station. Though tired, we were delighted with visiting such magnificent places.

Madurai Railway station was very neat and clean. I want to congratulate the railway authorities there!

We took the train to Bangalore from there and this completed our journey of Bangalore - Chennai - Rameshwaram - Madurai - Bangalore.


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