As the doughty, packed to the gills Mahindra 4WD vehicle bounces along the tracks left by others of its ilk, along the undulating sand dunes leading up to the seaside, you strain your eyes to see the desolate yet mes- merizing sights outside.
It is just sand dunes, as far as the eye can see, in various
shapes and grey shades. But on the horizon is a sliver of silver that expands as you weave across towards it, into the
glorious sea that is at times green as emerald and suddenly azure as a clear summer sky.
Just as the waters of Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal
merge here in many hues, Dhanushkodi is where legend,
faith and macabre recent history mingle to form a skein of
emotions as you gaze across the severe, sere, landscape.
Legend has it that Ram crossed over to Lanka to rescue
his wife Sita from Ravan’s clutches from here. This is where
he built the Ram Setu, with floating rocks (one of them is
under lock and key in a temple in the ghost town), to cross
over to Thalaimannar, a few miles across the Palk Straits.
Legend further tells that on his successful return he
destroyed the bridge with the tip of his arrow on the
request of the new king of Lanka, Vibhishan, thus immor-
talizing the town’s name (dhanush + kodi meaning end of a
Political parties may squabble over the legend’s veracity
but for the local folk this is all part of history, just as there
are spots associated with Ram and his life in distant
Ayodhya. On the way from Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi
is the Kodhandaramar temple, where Vibhishan is said to
have surrendered to Ram and was anointed king of Lanka.
The association with Ram, and the proximity to
Rameswaram, where the ancient warrior-king is said to
have prayed to Lord Shiva before embarking on his journey
to Lanka, vest the town with divinity.
For most devotees who visit the eponymous Shiva temple
in the temple town, a visit to Dhanushkodi, around 15 miles
away, is a must, a bath in the ocean not advised owing to
the treacherous waters but still indulged in.
Lore has it too that a pilgrimage to Kashi/Varanasi/
Benaras is incomplete without praying at Rameswaram.
But growing up in Tamil Nadu in the 1970s and 1980s, it
is not distant happenings or the power of faith that you
remember the town for but a horrid December night from
50 years ago.
When a furious cyclone swept the then bustling town,
people, buildings, everything into the all-devouring oceanic maws, the meters-high tidal waves even swallowing up a
whole train with all 115 on board.
It was something that stays seared into your memory the
way only a nightmare can.
What about the people on the train? What were their last
thoughts as their carriages were yanked into the sea by
Fifty years after a cyclone
wiped it out, Dhanushkodi is
slowly finding its feet, says
Abroad, who came back
A ghost town
hopes to come alive
PHO TOGRAPHS: SAISURESH SIVASWAM Y