As people across the globe are locked inside their homes owing to the spread of the COVID19 pandemic, some of the privileged ones are finding new ways to keep themselves busy. Here, in India, the national network Doordarshan has given a helping hand by telecasting reruns of its popular television series. One of their immensely successful ones, Ramayana, has therefore made a comeback to our living rooms.
Many, who are familiar with the epic tale, would agree that one of the most discoursed parts of this mythology is the kidnapping of Sita by the demon king Ravana and the subsequent rescue mission led by Lord Rama. This search took him and his army, led by Lord Hanumana, to Lanka (now Sri Lanka).
But before they embarked on their final leg of the journey, there was a hurdle. There came the point in the trip where they met a dead-end, literally. Ram and his followers reached a place where the land ended, and the sea began. From here, they had to navigate the open waters to crossover to Lanka.
Today, this point is a short drive away from the town of Rameswaram, which lies on Pamban Island, off mainland India. Rameshwaram is in the state of Tamil Nadu and is a popular pilgrimage center for being one of the Char Dhams in India.
At this last piece of land, it is said; Lord Rama pointed out a spot, now known as Arichal Munai, to Lord Hanuman, from where he could build a bridge to reach Lanka. This bridge, called Ram Setu in the epic, is more commonly known as Adam’s Bridge. It is invisible to the naked eye, but apparently can be seen via satellite images even today.
Geological evidence does suggest a land connection between the two countries at this spot. The bridge, now underwater, is a chain of limestone shoals and separates the Gulf of Mannar from Palk Strait. It is located approximately 20Kms from Rameswaram, at the tip of the Pamban Island.
Sandwiched between the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, the road leading towards this endpoint from Rameswaram is an unforgettable drive. Getting here by road is the only way. From this point, Sri Lanka is so close that you might be able to connect to one of their mobile networks!
Venturing into the water isn’t allowed or recommended, but a walk along the beach is worth every minute you spend here. Arichal Munai is the point where the two water bodies merge.
As you watch the blue waters with high tides from the Indian Ocean mix with the calming waters of the Bay of Bengal, you realize that in the end, everything in nature meets its match. Life reflects nature.
While driving to Arichal Munai from Rameswaram, one has to cross the lost land of Dhanushkodi, which translates to ‘tip of the bow.’ It has an intriguing history of its own that does not hide behind the veil of mysticism. In fact, the story lies scattered among its ruins along the shores of the two water bodies that border it on either side.
This lost land belonged to a once-thriving coastal town with its own railway station, secondary school, a port, and a post office. However, it now remains largely abandoned, albeit a few fisher folks who live in makeshift thatched roof houses.
Over half a century ago, a powerful cyclone hit the island and wiped away the majority of its inhabitants, destroyed practically all the buildings, and washed away a passenger train with 115 onboard as it desperately made way to its last stop on Pamban Island.
With such a diverse existence, a journey to Dhanushkodi is filled with melancholy and fascination, all at once. It beckons you with its intriguing mythological references, a somber history, and captivating natural beauty.
Given the remoteness of Dhanushkodi, there are restrictions on entering and driving ahead towards Arichal Munai. You should plan your visit between sunrise and sunset. I was there just before dawn and was delighted by my experience.
Without a soul in sight, except the local fishermen and women with their fresh morning catch, I had the hauntingly beautiful place all to myself. The ruin of the church, made of beautiful corals, was one of the most eye-catching sights. With a backdrop of the blue ocean, it stood as a stark reminder of how we remain mere spectators in the larger epic penned by nature.
Across the road are the ruins of the railway line that once connected this corner of the island to mainland India. At a distance, you can spot the pillars of the damaged railway station, which was a silent witness of that fateful night.
Given the remoteness of Dhanushkodi, fresh drinking water and food supplies are limited. The settlement is now powered by solar panels, which was an initiative led by the late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, who hailed from Rameswaram.
There is a memorial dedicated to this great mind in Rameshwaram at his burial site. The memorial showcases his personal belongings, including the last speech he delivered in Shillong back in 2015.
The more familiar sight for many would, however, be the view of the Pamban Railway Bridge. It is one that has been imprinted on our minds from our school days. It is India’s oldest sea bridge that opened in 1914 and was the longest until the opening of the Bandra Worli Sea Link in 2010.
The thrill of a train journey across the bridge that connects the town of Mandapam on the mainland to Pamban Island does not have a match. However, for a better view of the bridge, you would need to use a separate bridge meant for vehicular traffic.
For most visitors, the highlight of Rameswaram remains the beautiful Ramnathswamy Temple, ironically dedicated to Lord Shiva, who was worshipped by Lord Rama. Apart from the religious importance of being one of the Char Dhams, its other attraction is the magnificent corridor surrounded by beautifully carved pillars.
A visit to Rameswaram and its surroundings is a poignant yet fulfilling journey that not only transports you physically over breathtaking natural beauty but one that takes you deep within yourself. It is a place where you question existing beliefs and look for answers that might lead to a more meaningful reality.
Photos – Author and Unsplash