Setukarai is on the sea shore of Bay of Bengal and at Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu. This place is popular among the pilgrims who are visiting Rameswaram. Pilgrims visit this place to take bath in the sea which is considered holy and will wash away their sins. There is a heavy rush of pilgrims especially in the new moon day.
Presently the place is in isolation and the only structure one can find is the temple for Lord Hanuman. According to old timers the place had a choultry [pilgrims’ inn for stay] and a temple for Sri Ganeshji and a small tank in front of it, which are now in shambles. Neverthless, pilgrims even now come to this holy sea shore to take bath.
What is so special about this place? Why this place is called Setukarai? It is very interesting to know the the facts and details. This indeed would refresh our memory on knowledge of Srimath Ramayanam.
Sri Ramayana written by Sri Valmiki is known as ‘Adi Kavyam’ meaning it is the first poetic work. Ramayana is viewed as the life sketch of Sri Rama an ideal man - ‘Purushotama’. It is celebrated in the sanadhana dharma as guide for leading an ideal way of living. Sri Rama had lived a life of exemplary human, which should be adpoted by all. Ramayana presents the teachings of vedas in narrative allegory, interspersing philosophical and ethical elements. The characters Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Hanuman and Ravana are all fundamental to the cultural consciousness of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and south-east Asian countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Life of Sri Rama is known to all and it is also known that Sri Rama under his command built a bridge known as Nala Setu to cross over from the end of this land to Lanka. Our land Bharat is described to be positioned between Nala Setu and Himalayas as - Aasetu Himachal.
What Sri Rama called as Nala Setu is now known as Ram Setu. The Ram Setu Bridge is on the southern tip of our motherland, an identity of our Nation.
Valmiki Ramayana Yuddha kanda chapter 22 verse 78 describes the Nala Setu - bridge after its completion thus: It is massive, wide, well constructed, splendid, well postured, firmly held together, being splendid, (looked) which looked like a separating straight line in the ocean. The Setu is adored in all the three worlds and is very much a sacred spot, capable of washing away major sins.
Sri Kambar retold Ramayanam in poetic form in Tamil language in the 12th centuary. Kamban in his narration about the Setu mentions that the very sight of it will take away all the sins and the viewer will become divine. Even the sacred Ganga feels as to why she had not become a part of Setu - implying the divinity attached to Setu.
In Adhyatma Ramayana in Yuddha kanda chapter 14 describes the route as retold to Sita by Sri Rama. Verses 5 and 6 tell about the Setu and mentions that it will be worshipped by the entire three worlds, dharshan of this Setu will destroy all sins.
The path taken by Sri Rama from Kishkindha to Lanka is described by Valmiki as Sri Rama narrating the path to Sita Devi while he is returning from Lanka to Ayodhya in the Pushpak vimana. Yuddha kanda chapter 123 from verse 15 to 21 tells us the path taken by Sri Rama from Adi Setu to Lanka in the reverse since the naration starts from Lanka. Verse 15 tells the point where Sri Rama’s army had arrived in Lanka and taken rest in the night. Verse 16 tells about the setu that was got built over the salt-sea by Nala for her sake, which is difficult to execute for others. Verse 17 tells about the beauty of the ocean. Verse 18 describes Mainaka mountain and about its offer to Sri Hanuman. Verse 19 tells that the vanara troops had stayed in the middle of the ocean [implaying it is an island] where Sri Mahadeva had bestowed His grace on him. Verse 20 tells about the place sacred water front in the ocean, called a Setubandha, adored in all the three worlds. Verse 21 describes that the spot is very much a sacred spot, capable of washing away major sins. At this very place, Vibhishana the king of demons first came.
Both Adhyatma Ramayana and Kamba Ramayana describe the route as retold to Sita by Sri Rama. Almost same discriptions as found in the Valmiki Ramayana is found in these works also without much variation.
Verse 19 as mentioned above in all probability tells about the Rameswarm Island since Sri Rama mentions about Sri Mahadeva bestowing His grace on him. Moving northward he tells about the spot and names it as “Sethubandha” a place where Vibhishana had taken refuge to him.
In Tamil Nadu there is a place called ‘Setu karai’ also known as Adi Setu in Ramanathapuram district and located north of Rameswarm. It is believed to be the holy spot from where the bridge to Srilanka was built by Sri Rama.
From the above descriptions it can be observed that ‘Setu karai’ is the ‘Adi Setu’ from where Sri Rama had started building the Nala Setu for crossing over the ocean to Lanka. It is the very same place where Vibishana took ‘Saranagathi’. The very spot is described by Sri Rama as ‘paramam pavitram’ meaning it is very much a sacred spot.
This is further confirmed by the following events. After Vibhishana saranagathi Sri Rama decides to build bridge over the sea to cross over to Srilanka. Sri Rama wanted Samudrarajan to give way for building the bridge over it, and waits for three days on the mat made ‘kusha’ grass also known as darbha. The spot where Sri Rama waited for Sumudrarajan to respond to his request for three days on the Dharbasanam, is located three kilo meters from Setukarai where there is a temple. This place is now known as Tirupullani [meaning ‘scared dharbasanam’ in Tamil].
After three days of waiting for Samudrarajan, Sri Rama threatens to dry-up the sea. Lord of Sea appears in front of Sri Rama and promises to accommodate building of bridge over him without disturbing the marine life which he has to protect. He also tells Sri Rama that Nala son of Viswakarma knows the way to build the bridge over the sea.
Thus the bridge over the sea was built under the supervison of Nala son of Viswakarma and after completion of the Setu Sri Rama names it ‘Nala Setu’.
Pondering on all the above points it is an assuring fact that the head of Nala Setu in our land is on the sea shores of Setu karai. It is no wonder that this name Setu karai is found in many in many stone inscriptions and also in ancient Tamil literatures.
As mentioned above presently there is a temple for Sri Hanuman at this place. The temple is facing the sea; there is a strong wall which protects the temple from sea erosion. On the sea shore there are many old vigrahas which are scattered on the shore, some of them are mutilated. It suggests that this place must have been busing with activity and many structures might have been there. This may be due to sea erosion or may be many of them got destroyed. The present temple is very simple, a huge hall constitutes the temple and in the middle of the hall Garbhagraham of Sri Hanuman is situated. While the vigraha of the Lord is ancient, the temple is quite new. Sri Hanuman of this holy kshetra is known by the “Setu Bhandhana Sri Jaya Veera Anjaneya”.
Sri Anjaneya of this kshetra is of Nayakars’ period. The sculpure looks more or less same as found in Vallam near Thanjavur, Ranga Vilas in Srirangam, Rajagopuram of Mannargudi etc. All these moortham’s were established by Nayaks of Thanjavur. The only difference is that the ‘tiruvachi’ for the Lord were also sculptured in stone in these places, wherein in Setukarai there is no stone tiruvachi.
The sight of Sri Jaya Veera Anjaneya of this kshetra is great and pleasant. Sri Jaya Veera Anjaneya is of nearly seven feet tall in standing posture. Lord is east facing and looking towards the Nala Setu in the sea. Lord’s lotus feet are seen straight ready to walk down on the setu. Lord is seen wearing ornaments in his ankle. His hip is adorned with chains and a small knife. Lord is bestowing blessing by raised right hand of His in ‘Abhya Mudra’. His left hand is seen folded towards bosom and holding the ‘Sowgandika’ flower.
Lord’s glorious face is bright, sharp and looking straight . The kundalam worn by Lord is seen resting on His shoulders. He is seen with a neatly tied hair in form of ‘kudumi’ [it couldn’t be seen]. The tail of the Lord is coiled and touches the ground (can not be seen). The bright big eyes of the Lord is alert, calm and pleasant. . A mixture of many mood is expressed by the Lord through His eyes.
Every year Theerthavari Utsavam is held here to commemorate the building of Setu and proceeding of Sri Rama with his army to Lanka to bring back Sita. The utsava deity of Adi Jagannatha Perumal and Pattabhisheka Rama of Tirupullani are brought in procession to Adi Setu at this sea shore.
At the Lord Setu Bhandhana Sri Jaya Veera Anjaneya temple, special abishekams are performed to both the deities Lord Jagannatha Perumal and Pattabhisheka Rama. Special abishekam is also performed to Sri Anjaneya of this kshetra. The deities take ‘samudra snanam’ known as ‘theerthavari’.
One should come here to have dharshan of Lord Setu Bhandhana Sri Jaya Veera Anjaneya who is guarding the Setu built by Nala for the sake of Sri Rama and Sri Sita. Looking at the glowing eyes of the Lord of Setu karai which bestows all blessings, is sure to nullify any sorrow of the devotee and mitigate all sins
Ed [December 2016]
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SRI HANUMAN THINKS DIFFERENTLY, THINKS FAST, THINKS AHEAD AND ACTS FOR SURE.
Our salutations to this Hanuman who always brings subham - everything that is good - for His devotees and eliminates the bad and the evil. He removes even the traces of bad thoughts and deeds from His devotees. i.e He makes them pure in words, thought and deed.