Can’t decide whether to holiday as a tourist or a pilgrim this year? Then this temple town might be the ideal place for you! Considered one of the holiest places in South India, Rameshwaram is one of the Char Dham pilgrimages, also known for its enchanting beach.

Lying at the very tip of the Indian peninsula, the Rameshwaram Island in the Gulf of Mannar, is connected to the mainland of India by the Annai Indira Gandhi Bridge and separated from the mainland of India by the Pamban Channel, it is at a distance of about 40 km of Sri Lanka.

An important pilgrim centre of Hindus, Rameshwaram is believed to be the place from where Lord Rama and his army of monkeys built a bridge across the sea to rescue his consort Sita, from her abductor, Ravana. This is also the place where Lord Rama rested both before and after his battles with Ravana, the demon king, in Sri Lanka, just 24 kilometers away. Known as the Varanasi of the south, this place is visited by both Vaishnavites and Shaivites. Home to one of the 12 Jyothirlingas of Lord Shiva, as per Hindu Mythology, to attain salvation, a pilgrimage to Benares has to be followed with a trip to Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple.

Spread over 15 acres, the Ramanatha Swamy Temple here is the main attraction here. While legends claim that the original Ramanathaswamy Temple was built by Rama, historically this temple dates back to the 12th century. A masterpiece of Dravidian architecture, this magnificent temple boasts of the largest temple corridor in India. Built over time by different rulers, starting from the 12th century, construction of the colossal temple was initiated by Parakrama Bahu of Sri Lanka and while many rulers down the centuries added many constructions to the temple, it was completed by the Setupathy rulers of Ramanathapuram.

An architectural marvel, the temple is known for its typical South Indian temple architecture, complete with a towering spire, long corridors in the interiors and tall gateways. The walls are interrupted by two huge towers, (gopurams) in the east and west, and by finished gates in the north and south, the work on all being exquisite. The outer corridors are said to be the world’s longest, and measure a staggering 3850 feet in length. The granite pillars are equally impressive and number about 1200. The granite is said to have been imported from across the sea, an achievement for that age. The gigantic Nandi, bull of Lord Shiva is also found here as in many Shiva temples in India. The temple also comprises of twenty-two wells where the taste of the water of each well is different from the other.

The presiding deity of Rameshwaram is the Lingam (phallus) of Sri Ramanathaswami, the form of Shiva worshipped here. Legend has it that Lord Rama worshipped an earthen Shiva lingam made by Sita on his way back to his capital after defeating Ravana.

Other important attractions include the Satchi Hanuman Temple, considered to be the place where Hanuman delivered the good news of finding Sita to Rama with satchi or evidence, the Choodamani or the jewel that belonged to Sita.

On the Dhanushkodi road about 3.5 km from Rameswaram is JadaTheertham. Legend has it that Lord Rama, on his way back after killing Ravana, before worshipping the SriRamalinga washed his hair (Jada) in this theertham to purify himself.

100 meters away from the temple is Agnitheertham, where Rama worshipped Lord Shiva, to absolve himself from  killing Ravana. The waters here considered sacred, have pilgrims performing poojas in honour of their ancestors.

Kothandaramaswamy Temple, is the location, according to legends, where Vibishana, brother of Ravana is said to have surrendered to Rama.

Other attractions here include Gandamadana Parvatham, a hillock situated 3 km away also the highest point in the island. From here one can see the imprint of Lord Rama’s feet on a chakra and the entire island of Rameswaram.

At the eastern end of the island at a distance of 8 km from Rameshwaram, Dhanushkodi is named after Rama’s bow. The boulders around the sea between Srilanka and this place known as Adam’s bridge, are believed to have been used by Hanuman to reach across Srilanka. Completely destroyed by the cyclones of 1964, the Kothandaramaswamy temple is the monument to have remained intact.

This Island has something for its Muslim pilgrims too; Erwadi is an important site for Muslim pilgrims as it houses the tomb of Ibrahim Sahid Aulia, a place visited by Muslims from across the globe especially during the month of December to participate in the annual festival celebrated as a tribute to the saint.

But besides its religious significance, this place is also known for its breathtaking beauty. A delight for nature lovers, ornithologists and marine biologists, not only is it known for its beautiful waters but also the rich marine life found here!

The Kurusadai islands are a must, for in its waters surrounding the island are beautiful coral reefs. Try the glass boat ride at Pamban Bridge, a wonderful ride where one can enjoy viewing the coral reefs in the sea.

Rameshwaram is also home to rare sea species, and sighted here are a remarkable variety of marine life – algae, sea cucumber, starfish, crabs, and sponges. Even sea cow and dolphins have been spotted frolicking in its waters.

A paradise of bird watches too, it is said one can find a variety of different birds here including the Australian Flamingo which flies during the winters.

Do look out for the beautiful Kanchipuram silk sarees and exquisite showpieces made of seashells, beads, and palm leaves, whilst there. The place is also known for its Khadi crafts available in the shops that are a hit with both local and global tourists.

An enchanting destination, a hit with global tourists for not only providing some fun on the sand, but also a wonderful insight into Indian mythology!