A narrow bridge, the Pamban bridge, which opened in 1914, goes from mainland India to Rameshwaram, the long narrow island, off the Indian coast, across from Sri Lanka. Standing at the bridge railing one can see the waters of the Bay of Bengal on either side, and watch the fishing boats.
One of the most sacred pilgrimage destinations in India, Rameshwaram is visited every day by thousands of pilgrims who come to retrace the footsteps of Rama, the ancient divine king, who came to Rameshwaram thousands of years ago, on his way to Lanka (Sri Lanka) to take back his wife Sita, who had been kidnapped by the demon-king, Ravana.
Rameshwaram is filled with sacred sites, where Rama passed by so long ago.
A walkway leads out into the sea, where pilgrims go to visit the site of the Nine Planets, or Navagraha.
The Nine Planets are a representation of the planets that is found in most Shaiva temples in south India. Inside temples, they are always set in three rows of three icons each, in precisely geometrical alignment – the visible celestial bodies; the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn, and also Rahu and Ketu, which are the lunar nodes, the two points where the path of the moon crosses the path of the sun.
Encircled by pillars and by a walkway that surrounds them, the Navagrahi consists of nine weathered stones standing in the water, in the same arrangement of three statues in three rows, as in the temples. From the encircling walkway, one can go down a few steps to touch the water to receive the blessing of the Nine Planets, or to wade into the water, as some people do.
It is said that the nine stone statutes are the petrified wood remains of nine trees that originally grew in that formation. Perhaps the sea rose over the centuries and partly covered them with water. How the trees grew in that formation or how long it took them to become petrified wood remain unanswered questions.
Rama visited this site, Devipattinam, after Devi, the Goddess, came to him in a dream and told him that he needed to pay homage to the nine planets to remove the affliction of adverse conditions of his horoscope.
So the site must be much older than the time of Rama, which may be around 3,000 BC, according to some sources.
It is said that circumambulating this Navagrahi will take away any adverse conditions in the stars of a pilgrim who visits them.
Also in the sea, at another location, is a well. About 25 feet deep, it is encircled in concrete. Peering down into the well, one can see water at the bottom, where seawater would normally be. However the water is not salt water, but fresh water.
The story goes that after Rama had rescued Sita, on their way back from Lanka, Sita became very thirsty. There was no water to drink, and they were surrounded by the sea. Rama shot an arrow into the sand, and at that point, a spring came up, bubbling fresh water, so that Sita could have a drink. As the sea level rose over time, a well was built around the spring to protect it. Now it is a concrete well, with fresh water in the bottom, in the middle of the sea.
© 2014, text and photos, Sharon St Joan