Ramanathapuram, shortly called as Ramnad, is a coastal district in Tamil Nadu. The junction of Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean takes place in Ramanathapuram coastline. The district gains historical importance due to the presence of a mysterious bridge under sea, linking the land mass of India with Sri Lanka.
According to the Hindu mythology, it is believed to be built by Rama to save his wife Sita from Ravana in Sri Lanka. Following this belief, Ramanathapuram is full of temples, pilgrims and heritage historical sites.
As Ramanathapuram is easily accessible through sea, it has also witnessed the entry of Islamic belief from Arab countries, even before 10th century AD. There are ancient mosques and shrines, visited by Muslims from all over the country.
Sethupathi kings and Ramalinga Vilasam Palace
The history of Sethupathi kingdom begins around 1601 AD. The name “Sethupathi” means “protector of the bridge”. The bridge referred here is the limestone chain linking Rameswaram island of Ramnad district with Mannar Island in Sri Lanka.
It was believed that these two land masses (India and Sri Lanka) were connected by this bridge and was passable by foot. Centuries later, the bridge got immersed into sea, possibly due to floods.
Sethupathi kings declared themselves as protectors of the bridge and temples around. They were also the care takers of pilgrims who visit Rameswaram. Sadaikka Thevar, also called as Ragunatha Sethupathi, was the first ruler and the Sethupathi kingdom functioned in support with Nayak rulers. They ruled the present Ramanathapuram and Sivagangai districts until the beginning of 20th century.
Then revolts broke out against British rule, and this land is well known for producing fierce freedom fighters. The British later put an end to the Sethupathi kingdom but their bravery, loyalty and care for subjects are still remembered and praised.
There is a grand palace in Ramanathapuram called Ramalinga Vilasam, which includes a museum with rich informational artefacts about the Sethupathi kingdom. The famous verbal encounter of Veerapandiya Kattabomman with British, on refusal to pay taxes, is believed to have happened here.
The Old Jumma Mosque and Vallal Seethakkadhi – Kilakarai
Kilakarai is one among the many historical towns in Ramanathapuram. It is a coastal town that flourished with pearl trade, dating back to 7th century AD. This town has witnessed traders from Yemen and other parts of the Arab world, who exchanged Horses for Pearl, as mentioned in ancient Tamil literature.
With the support of Pandyan rulers, a mosque was built in Kilakarai during 628-630 AD. This mosque is now known as “Pazhaya Jumma palli” which means Old Jumma mosque. It is the first mosque of Tamil Nadu and second in South India, after the Cheraman Jumma Masjid in Kerala. It was built in Tamil Dravidian architecture and the mosque has played an important role in the formation of muslim population in the region.
Vallal Seethakkadhi is a great social reformer from Kilakarai who is known for his generosity. The title ‘Vallal’ means Philanthropist. His original name was Shaik Abdul Qadir. He lived in the 17th century and has played an important role in the ministry of Raja Ragunatha Sethupathy. He is known all over the state by the famous clause – “Sethum koduthaan Seethakkadhi”, which can be roughly translated as “The welfare activities initiated by Seethakkathi continues to benefit the society even after his death”.
The Wings of Fire – former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
Proudly known as “The People’s President”, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is from Rameswaram, a pilgrimage town in Ramanathapuram district. Though Ramanathapuram has produced many notable achievers, Dr. Abdul Kalam tops the list. He studied in Schwartz Higher Secondary school in Ramanathapuram.
He completed his graduation in Aerospace Engineering and went on further to work in DRDO and ISRO. Following his immense contribution to the country in the field of space technology, he was elected as the eleventh President of India in 2002.
When he passed away in 2015, the entire country unanimously paid homage to him as he was one of the best leaders of India in the 20th century. Dr. Abdul Kalam Memorial in Rameswaram is built over his resting place. It stands as a testimony to his great contributions and serves as a motivation for young Indians. This memorial is one of the “must visit” places of Ramanathapuram.