The Ramanathaswamy Temple and its Infinite Corridors
The Ramanathaswamy Temple is regarded as one of the holiest Hindu temples in India. This sacred site is located on Rameswaram Island, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu between mainland India and Sri Lanka. The Ramanathaswamy Temple, which is dedicated to the god Shiva, is notable for a variety of reasons, including its outer set of corridors, which are reputed to be the longest of their kind in the world.
Legends of the Temple
There are a number of legends about the origin of the Ramanathaswamy Temple. One of these states that the temple was built on the site where a lingam (an abstract representation of Shiva) of sand was built by Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, and an avatar of Vishnu. The story goes that as Rama was on his way to attack Ravana on the island fortress of Lanka, he stopped by the seashore to have a drink. As he was doing so, a voice came from the heavens telling Rama that he was drinking water without having first worshipped the relevant deity. Recognising that the voice belonged to Shiva, Rama made a lingam of sand, and worshipped it. The hero also asked for Shiva’s blessing, so that he may vanquish Ravana, which was granted. Finally, Rama requested Shiva to reside eternally at that spot, so that mankind may benefit from it. Shiva agreed to this as well, transformed himself into the lingam which is now housed in the temple.
Ramanathaswamy Temple corridor. ( CC BY-NC 2.0 )
As for the temple itself, the first structure is recorded to have been a thatched hut. In the centuries that followed, different parts of the temple were commissioned and built by the rulers of the island. During the 12 th century, the sanctum around the Ramanathaswamy Temple was constructed by Parakramabahu I, a king of Polonnaruwa (located in modern day Sri Lanka). The most important dynasty in the building history of the Ramanathaswamy Temple, however, was the Sethupathi Dynasty, who ruled over Ramnad and Sivaganga during the 17 th century.
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Photograph of the temple taken by Nicholas and Company in c.1884. ( Public Domain )
Whilst there are several architectural features in the Ramanathaswamy Temple that are worth mentioning, none is as magnificent as its corridors. For a start, the temple has three sets of corridors. The outer set of the temple’s corridors has a height of almost 7 meters and stretches for roughly 120 meters in both the eastern and western directions. The corridors to the north and to the south, on the other hand, are about 195 meters in length. It is commonly claimed that this is the longest set of temple corridors in the world. In addition to its length, the outer corridor is also remarkable for the number of pillars that support it, which is over 1200 in number. Moreover, many of these pillars are decorated by ornate carvings. It is interesting to note that the temple is one of 12 Jyothirlinga temples that has Shive worshipped in the form of a Jyotirlingam, or “pillar of light”.
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Locations of the 12 Jyothirlinga temples across India. ( Public Domain )
Within the area of the outer corridor is a second set of corridors. According to the historical sources, the construction of this set of corridors was initiated about seven centuries ago, when the area was under the rule of the Vijayanagara Empire. Unfortunately, the work was never completed, and the unfinished corridors have been left as such until today. In 2017, this set of corridors underwent an examination by a team of experts, which may allow the corridors to be completed in the future. Nevertheless, these corridors are known for their 108 lingams, as well as its Mahaganapati (one of the 32 forms of Ganesha) statue.
The innermost set of corridors is also the oldest of the three. Although these corridors were constructed during the 12 th century, they were renovated many times over the centuries. It is here that the sanctum of the Ramanathaswamy Temple may be found. The sacred lingam, who is the main deity of the temple, is housed in the sanctum, along with its consort, Parvathavarthini Amman.