Ramanathaswamy Temple dedicated to Shiva is located on the Rameswaram island. It is also one of the twelve Jyotirlinga temples. It is one of the 274 Paadal Petra Sthalams, where the three of the most revered Nayanars (Saivite saints), Appar, Sundara and Tirugnana Sambandar glorified the temple with their songs. The temple was expanded during the 12th century by Pandyan Dynasty. The temple has the longest corridor among all Hindu temples in India. The temple is located in Rameswaram considered a holy pilgrimage site for Shaivites, Vaishnavites and Smarthas. The presiding deity, the Lingam of Ramanathaswamy (Shiva), is believed to have been established and worshiped by Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, to absolve the sins created during the Ramayana war .
Rameshwaram Temple is situated in the island of Rameshwaram, off the Sethu coast of Tamil Nadu and is reached via the Pamban Bridge across the sea. The huge temples are known for its long ornate corridors, towers and theerthams. Rameshwaram Jyothirlinga represents the southernmost of the 12 Jyotirlingams of India and has been a time honored pilgrimage center held on par with Benaras. Rameshwaram Temple Jyotirlinga is associated closely with the Ramayana and Rama's victorious return from Sri Lanka.
Structure of Rameshwaram Temple is spread over an area of 15 acres and has lofty gopurams, massive walls and a colossal Nandi. Rameswaram Jyotirlinga also boasts of a 4000 feet long pillared corridor with over 4000 pillars, supposedly the longest in the world,
The carved granite pillars are mounted on a raised platform. Yet another fact about this corridor is that the rock is not indigenous to the island and is said to have been brought in from Tamil Nadu across the sea.
The eastern Rajagopuram towers to a height of 126 feet and has nine levels. The Western Rajagopuram is also quite impressive though not as tall as the Eastern one. The temple also has several mandapams with mini shrines to other deities. There is a huge Nandi measuring 12 feet in length and 9 feet in height with the idols of Viswanatha Naicker and Krishnama Naicker. High walls enclose the temple, forming a rectangle with huge pyramidal gopura entrances of each side.
According to the Ramayana, Rama, the seventh avatar of the Vishnu, prayed to Shiva to absolve him of the sin of killing a brahmin, committed during his war against the demon king Ravana. Rama wanted to have a large lingam to worship Shiva. He directed Hanuman to bring a lingam from the Himalayas. When Hanuman was delayed in bringing the lingam, Sita built a small lingam out of the sand available in the sea shore, which is believed to be the lingam in the sanctum.
The primary deity of the temple is Ramanathaswamy (Shiva) in the form of lingam. There are two lingams inside the sanctum - one built by Sita, from sand, residing as the main deity, Ramalingam and the one brought by Hanuman from Kailash called Vishwalingam. Rama instructed that the Vishwalingam should be worshipped first since it was brought by Hanuman - the tradition continues even today.
The second corridor is formed by sandstone pillars, beams and ceiling. The junction of the third corridor on the west and the paved way leading from the western gopuram to the Setumadhava shrine forms a unique structure in the form of a chess board where the Utsava deities are adorned and kept.
The outer set of corridors is reputed to be the longest in the world, measuring about 6.9 m in height, 400 feet each in the east and west and about 640 feet in the north and the south. The inner corridors are about 224 feet each in the east and the west and about 352 feet each in the north and the south. Their width varies from 15.5 feet to 17 feet in the east and west about 172 feet on the north and south with width varying 14.5 feet to 17 feet. The total length of these corridors is thus 3850 feet. There are about 1212 pillars in the outer corridor. Their height is about 30 feet from the floor to the center of the roof. The main tower or Rajagopuram is 53 m tall. Most pillars are carved with individual compositions. At the beginning, Ramanathaswamy Temple was a thatched shed. The present structure was the work of many individuals spread over a number of centuries. The pride of place in the establishment for the Temple goes to the Setupatis of Ramanathapuram. In the seventeenth century, Dalavai Setupati built a portion of the main eastern Gopuram. In late eighteenth century, the world famous third corridor was constructed by Muthuramalinga Setupati who lived for forty nine years and ruled between 1763 and 1795. The corridor was called "Chokkatan Mandapam". The Mukhya Pradhani (Chief Minister) was Muthuirullappa Pillai and the Chinna Pradhani (Deputy Chief Minister) was Krishna Iyengar. The Setupati's statue and those of his two Pradhanis (ministers) can be seen at the western entrance to the third corridor.
There are shrines for Ramanathaswamy and his consort goddess Parvathavardhini separated by a corridor. There are separate shrines for the goddess Vishalakshi, the utsava images, sayanagriha, Vishnu and Ganesh
There are sixty-four Tīrthas (holy water bodies) in and around the island of Rameswaram. According to Skānda Purāṇa, twenty-four of them are important.Bathing in these Tīrthas is a major aspect of the pilgrimage to Rameswaram and is considered equivalent to penance. Twenty-two of the Tīrthas are within the Rāmanāthasvāmī Temple. The number 22 indicates the 22 arrows in Rama's quiver. The first and major one is called Agni Theertham, the sea Bay of Bengal.
A Pilgrimage to Rameshwaram is among the important injunctions laid on the Hindu from time immemorial. The great temple of Sri Ramanatha is connected by tradition with Kasi. A pilgrimage to Kasi is not considered complete without a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram. In olden days groups of pilgrims, many of them quite old, walked huge distances to the two temples, taking months and years, and some failing to survive the dangers of such incredibly long journeys. The Rameshwaram pilgrimage has long been a tradition in South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, and has passed into folklore.