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Rama Sethu, Ram Setu, Ramar Bridge, History, Facts: Part I
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By: V Sundaram, IAS, Retd.
May 22, 2007
expressed here are author?s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer
is at the bottom.
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Rama Sethu, Ram Setu, Adam's Bridge - Part I - History, Facts, Information
Rama Sethu, Ram Setu, Adam's Bridge - Part II - History, Facts,
Rama Sethu, Ram Setu, Adam's Bridge - Part III - History, Facts,
Rama Sethu, Ram Setu, Adam's Bridge - Part IV - History, Facts,
Rama Sethu, Ram Setu, Adam's Bridge - Part V - History, Facts, Information
Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project
: Good Thing Done Badly!
Simon Cameron said, "An honest politician is one who, when he is bought,
will stay bought". Karunanidhi is a rabidly racist and dishonest
politician who even after he has been bought lock, stock, barrel, will
politically bolt in the opposite direction and assert his rational
Dravidian right with fervor based upon his grandiloquent and self-deluding
notions of "self-respect" founded upon anti-Aryan Dravidian racism, not to
stay bought. No wonder he stabbed Atal Behari Vajpayee with delectable
Dravidian delight just 2 or 3 months before Parliamentary Elections in
2004 and switched over to Sonia Gandhi - a non-Aryan Kannagi from Italy!
As a politician Karunanidhi has always approached every controversial
public question during the last 40 years with an open mouth, twisted
tongue and a closed mind. As the senior most Dravidian politician, on the
fundamental issue of the historical or literary or epigraphic evidence
relating to the existence or otherwise of the Rama Sethu Bridge, he always
strives to rise above established truth and principle. On this issue
whenever he shakes your hand, he does so in the hope of shaking you down.
On the controversial issue of his deliberate attempt in close political
(commercial not excluded!!) collaboration and collusion with T R Baalu to
somehow destroy by hook or by crook the Rama Sethu Bridge, a timeless
symbol of Hindu faith and culture which has withstood the onslaught of
centuries, Karunanidhi loves to talk in circles while standing foursquare.
In his style of politics, no abominable absurdity is ever an impediment to
his cosmic self-delusion. With him, a blatant untruth is not always a
Himalayan lie. Romancing rationally, as he often revels in it, it only
means the telling of "secular" untruths that are not "communal"
falsehoods. Thomas Jefferson (1743 -1826), one of the founding fathers of
the American state had very honorable and scrupulously truthful men like
Karunanidhi in view when he declared: "it is untruth alone which needs the
support of government. Truth can stand by itself".
I am not therefore surprised that in the Tamilnadu Legislative Assembly
Karunanidhi recently came down heavily on "religious fundamentalists"
opposing the Sethusamudram Project under the pretext of saving Rama"s
bridge, appealing to them not to obstruct a scheme that would lead to
prosperity. Karunanidhi also spoke like the Imam of Jamma Masjid when he
said that the opponents of the scheme were "religious fundamentalists" who
wanted to create a situation similar to the one that obtained after the
demolition of the Babri mosque. Further he has even put a great comedian
like Kalaivanar N S Krishnan to shame by declaring in the Tamilnadu
Legislative Assembly: "Majority of those fundamentalists belong to north
India and they do not want South India to prosper. By making this charge I
am not raising the demand for a Dravidian country once again".
In my view, Union Shipping Minister T R Baalu, Union Minister for Culture
Ambika Soni, Tamilnadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi are all guilty of
uttering unabashed falsehood when they say in unison: "There is no
credible or valid or tenable or acceptable archaeological or scientific
evidence about the existence of Rama Sethu Bridge". Their falsehood either
individually or collectively or severally not only disagrees with
historically established truths but also raucously (if not rationally!!)
quarrel among themselves! Das Munshi, Union Minister for Parliamentary
Affairs, has squarely beaten the virulently anti-Hindu trio of T R Baalu,
Ambika Soni and Karunanidhi by declaring that Sethusamundaram (Rama Sethu
Bridge) would not be allowed to be destroyed during the UPA rule like the
Babri Masjid that was demolished when BJP was in power in Uttar Pradesh in
December 1992! More and more original fireworks can be expected from other
Union Ministers like Arjun Singh, Antuley, Mani Shankar Iyer on this very
exciting and excitable "secular" theme of planned destruction of Rama
Sethu Bridge as an integral part of the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal
When other politicians somersault on any public issue, Karunanidhi will
always attack them as betrayers. When Karunanidhi himself indulges in the
same game, he would expect the world around him to view it as a new
article of his revised rational faith! I have browsed through the pages of
Ramanathapuram District Gazetteer in Tamil published by Tamilnadu
Government in 1972. In his forward dated 14 June 1972, Karunanidhi wrote
as follows: "To those policy-makers, scholars and public interested in
ascertaining authentic and reliable information related to social,
political, economic, and traditional lives, this district-wise gazetteer
has been compiled as an encyclopedic reference". By publishing this
Ramanathapuram District Gazetteer, a means will be provided for researches
on this district's social history.
In this Gazetteer, the following details have been furnished about SETHU
BRIDGE (Sethu Palam) or Adam's Bridge. Adam's Bridge is a name which
evokes Islamic traditions. Adam banished from heaven, traveled walking on
this bridge to reach Sri Lanka. This is also referred to as Nala Sethu and
as Tiruvanai (Sacred dam) in Tamil. This is also referred to as RAMA SETHU.
There is also another name called ADI SETHU. This bridge is 110 miles
east-south-east of Madurai, 43 miles along the same direction from
Ramanathapuram. The bridge is 15.5 miles east of Rameshwaram. This is
called Ramar Palam because this bridge was built under the leadership of
Hanuman and with the participation of Vaanara Sena (Kuranguppadai) and
facilitated the crossing by Rama to reach Sri Lanka and to attain victory.
Upto 1480 AD, this bridge had served as a land bridge to Sri Lanka.
Thereafter, a severe cyclone created fissures changing the dimensions to
30 miles long and 1.25 miles wide....During the south-west monsoon season,
severe ocean currents and surges impact on the Adam's Bridge.
In the same Gazetteer, it has also been stated "Sethu is the bridge that
has linked India with Sri Lanka for centuries from times immemorial.
According to Karna Parambarai (Karna Tradition), in order to render
continued help and assistance to the countless pilgrims visiting
Rameshwaram and Sri Lanka, Lord Rama appointed Raja Rama Sethupathy of
Ramanathapuram as Trustee and Guardian to guard the Rama Sethu Bridge".
Karunanidhi is misleading Tamilnadu State and the nation by saying that
great intellectuals like Sir A Ramaswamy Mudaliar had recommended the
implementation of the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) and that
his proposals were not implemented. It is very clear that he has not cared
to read the official Report of Sir A Ramaswamy Mudaliar. His main
recommendation was that a canal should be aligned through Mandapam to
create a land-based canal like the Panama or Suez Canal. Sir AR Mudaliar
specifically warned that any idea of cutting a channel passage through the
Adam"s Bridge (that is, Rama Sethu or Sethubandha) SHOULD BE ABANDONED
(see paragraph 16 of the official Report).
Karunanidhi is now denying the above facts both in the Tamilnadu
Legislative Assembly and outside. Perhaps, Rajaji had "great" and
"consistent" men like Karunanidhi in view when he spoke in the Tamilnadu
Legislative Assembly in the early 1950s: "Brutal and solid public facts do
not cease to exist by our cussed refusal or voluntary ignorance to see or
understand or recognize them".
Lord Pentland was Governor of Madras from 1912 to 1919. He visited
Rameshwaram in 1914 when Sir Alexander Tottenham (1873-1946) was the
District Collector of Ramanathapuram. Lord Pentland was so overwhelmed by
what he saw in Rameshwaram that he wrote as follows to Lord Hardinge, the
then Viceroy of India: "For me Rameshwaram, very much like India as a
whole is the real world. We English men live in a mad house of
abstractions. Vital life in Rameshwaram has not yet withdrawn into the
capsule of the head. It is the whole body that lives. No wonder the
English man feels dreamlike: the complete life of Rameshwaram is something
of which he merely dreams.... I did not see an English man in India who
really lived there. They are all living in England, that is, in a sort of
bottle filled with English air.... History can be events or memory of
events.... along the Bay of Bengal the Madras Presidency runs, with the
well-governed city of Madras at its centre and the sublime and glorious
temples of Tanjore, Tiruchi, Madurai and Rameshwaram adorning its Southern
boundaries. And then Adam's Bridge- a reef of sunken islands" beckons us
across the Palk Straits to Ceylon, where civilization flourished more than
2000 years ago....Linga stones may be seen in many places on the highways
in my Presidency. Hindus break upon them the coconuts which they are about
to offer in sacrifice. Usually the phallic ritual is simple and becoming;
it consists in anointing the stone with consecrated water or oil, and
decorating it with leaves. At the Rameshwaram temple, the Linga stone is
daily washed with Ganga water, which is afterwards sold to the pious, as
holy water or mesmerized water has been sold in Europe. All these are a
little part of my beloved Presidency - indeed my favorite India. Right
from the dawn of history, India is extraordinarily continuous in time. In
space, on the other hand, it is extraordinarily discontinuous....from
early times in India, it is ethnology, philology, and archaeology that
give and will give us some notions of the truth. From archaeology much can
be expected. I would earnestly request you to direct the Archaeological
Survey of India (ASI) to undertake an extensive and intensive survey of
Rameshwaram and its beautiful environs, particularly with reference to the
historic and primordial Adam's Bridge". This very request of Lord Pentland
has been made again by Dr Subramanian Swamy in his letter to Mrs Ambika
Soni last month.
There is irrefutable and unassailable historic, literary, epigraphic and
cartographic evidence about the existence of the Rama Sethu Bridge which
can stand the strictest judicial scrutiny in any Court of Law. I will be
presenting these facts in these columns in a serialized manner. This ought
to put all the cowardly and unscrupulous politicians of Tamilnadu on the
I would assert my proud and unshakable
constitutional right to be a Political Hindu, a Social Hindu, a Cultural
Hindu, an Economic Hindu, a Religious Hindu and above all a Spiritual
Hindu and declare from the house top that for more than 800 millions of
Hindus in India and millions of Hindus outside India throughout the world
the RAMA SETHU BRIDGE is as holy and as sacred as the Wailing Wall in
Jerusalem to the Jews, the Vatican in Rome to the Roman Catholics, the
Bodh Gaya in Bihar to the Buddhists and Mecca in Saudi Arabia to the
this timeless and transcendental cultural and religious continuum of
ages past, I cannot help quoting the beautiful words of the great
French philosopher and historian Etienne Gilson (1884-1978): "History
is the only permanent laboratory we have in which to test the
consequences of our thought in the past, present and the future."
George Santayana (1863-1952) went to the extent of declaring "A
country without a memory is a country of madmen".
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) not only
made history but also wrote great history. He said "History like a
flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to
reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes and to kindle with pale
gleams the passions of former days". These thoughts on history come in
a flood to my mind when I try to survey the glorious history of the
Rama Sethu Bridge. For an avid student of Indian history in general
and India's cultural history in particular, the ancient and
time-defying Rama Sethu of history and geography, of culture and
tradition, of song and music , of legend and literature and above all
the Rama Sethu of our minds and hearts can never change.
The great history of Rama
Sethu through the ages presents the pleasantest features of poetry, drama
and fiction the majesty of the epic, the moving accidents of the drama,
and the surprises and moral of the romance. What moves me and many others
recount Rama Sethu through the Ages? I can only say with humility and
reverence: "I do so because it bridges the past with the future; it
embodies the social memory of our civilization and is an inspiration to
the present and future generations. After all, it is our Dharma, our
responsibility to protect and safeguard the riches of this mother earth
which we hold on temporary lease from our future generations."
One of the greatest
historians of all time Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) wrote his famous book
"The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". Dr S.Kalyanaraman, the Edward
Gibbon of India, is a great Cultural Historian and Linguistic
Anthropologist who has authored several volumes on the history of Sindhu
Saraswathi Civilization. I have been greatly moved and inspired by these
words of Dr S Kalyanaraman: "Rama Sethu is an ancient monument of national
and international importance, a monument of pristine glory and sacredness
at the confluence of the Punyabhumi with the life-giving waters of the
Indian Ocean currents. It is a breath-taking geophysical reality, a
metaphor of a civilization enshrining good triumphing over evil. Indeed,
this millennial heritage of Bharatam is the very idiom of Sri Rama as
vigrahavaan dharmah, Sri Rama as the personification of dharma venerated
in many countries of the world and in particular, along the Indian Ocean
Rim which constitute an Indian Ocean community (HINDUMAHAASAAGAR
PARIVAAR). This Sethu is the bridge and a tirthasthana which bridges
people and signifies the quintessence of the inclusive nature of Indian
civilization. Archaeological, scientific, textual and cartographic
evidences reinforce the imperative to declare and protect Rama Sethu as a
World Heritage Site. Rama Sethu should become the inspiration to create an
Indian Ocean Community, as a vibrant, developed comity of nations,
inspired by the ideals of Sri Rama. The ideals venerated for generations
is a legacy of an ideal human being who attained divinity; a prince, a
son, a husband, a dharmaatmaa who was divine. Rama Sethu is an evocation
of that sacred, indelible social memory of a civilization. The national
poet, Kalidasa puts it eloquently in Raghuvamsa (sarga 13) Rama, while
returning from Sri Lanka in pushpaka vimaana, says: "Behold, Sita !, See
my Sethu of mountains dividing this frothy ocean is like the milky way
dividing the sky into two parts". This sacred monument of world heritage
shall be preserved, as politics encounters history."
Dr S Kalyanaraman has
compiled a detailed monograph titled "Rama Sethu through the Ages". I am
presenting some vital and irrefutable facts gleaned from his study to show
as to why Should Rama Sethu or Sethu Bandha be deemed to be an ancient
monument of national and international significance?
The most important source
book for demonstrating, establishing and proving the importance and
relevance of Rama Sethu is "A HISTORICAL ATLAS OF SOUTH ASIA" edited by
Joseph E Schwartzberg, published by the University of Chicago in 1978. In
Schwartzberg"s Atlas, on page-99, in a graphic map Holy Places of South
Asia have been clearly indicated which includes all the holy places of
Hinduism in India and South Asia. The legends shown on this map clearly
demonstrate the importance of Rameshwaram and the link to Tirukketisvaram
(in Sri Lanka) as a holy tirtha. Rameshwaram is recognized as one of the
twelve jyotirlingas of Shiva. Sri Lanka gets associated with Naga.
Historical sources attest to the fact that Rama Sethu was a land bridge
linking Bharatam and Lanka for many millennia.
The Epics refer to the link
between Kapaata and Lanka. From the time of the pre-Mauryan and Mauryan
Empire (from 6th century BCEE), the holy site called Koti gained
prominence. This is the short-form of Dhanushkoti, evoking the Ramayana
narration of Sri Rama confronting Samudra Raja (King of Ocean) by fixing
the end of his bow at this island which linked with Lanka at Tambapanni or
Tamraparni (at a place called Mahatittha, meaning Maha Tirtha, or Great
Tirthasthaana) through Sethu Bandha. Thus, the link between Dhanushkodi
and Mahatittha has constituted the tirthasthaana for over two millennia,
famed in history and tradition, song and legend.
Satavahana-Saka-Kusana age, c. A.D. 1-300, Rameshwaram close to
Dhanushkodi gained prominence as a holy place. Puranic India (Bharata)
recognized Sethuka as the bridge connecting Bharatam (Pandyan kingdom) and
Lanka (then called Simhala). Koti (Dhanushkodi) and Mahatittha continued
to be holy, religious places during post-Mauryan period, from circa 200
The region across the Rama Sethu
constituted the limits of regions under the control of Rastrakuta during
the age of the Gurjara-Pratiharas, Palas, and Rastrakutas, circa 700-975
|| Naval expedition to
southeast Aia leading to conquest of Srivijaya and its dependencies
proceeded from Gangaikondacholapuram and contacts were also
established with Maldive islands circa 1000 going through the Gulf of
Mannar. Thus we have an exquisite Ajanta fresco depicting the arrival
of King Vijaya in this region.
During the period of Islamic expansion and
changing Western views of South Asia, between 7th-12th centuries, the Rama
Sethu (bridge) between Rameshwaram and Marqaya was also called Sethu
Bandha, evoking the Prakrit kavya written in the 6th century by King
Pravarasena with the title Sethu Bandha or Ravana Vaho. It was during this
period, ca. 12th century that Sethu gets bracketed and referred to as
Adam's Bridge linked to Islamic mythology (noted in the District Gazetteer
of Ramanathapuram published by Tamilnadu Government in 1972 ).
During the days of Khaljis and Tughluqs, c.
1290-1390 the island on Lanka side was referred to as Mannara (later
At the height of the Bhakti
Movement from the 13th to the 15th century which coincided with the
expansion of Islamic rule in India, the Sethu Bridge area and its environs
got referred to as SETHUBANDHA RAMESHWARAM, as a holy tirtha. Two maps of
Netherlands drawn in 16th and 17th centuries and a French map of 18th
century, clearly refer to Adamsbrug (or Pont) as a functioning bridge
between Rameshwaram and Talaimannar.
Coming to the 20th century,
it is interesting to note that the great and pioneering film maker Phalke
in an early talkie-movie immortalized the historic and religious
significance of Sethu Bandha. He gave the same title to this movie ought
to culturally shock all the third grade and rabidly communal politicians
of Tamilnadu, with their own convoluted connections with the film world.
Even as NASA and Indian
Space Research Organization images dramatically establish the land bridge
between Bharatam and Sri Lanka today, these historical references to Rama
Sethu come alive, aflame with fire and aglow with light, as an
indestructible part of the imperishable tradition of the Bharatiya
civilization. Finally what should not be lost sight of is that the Gulf of
Mannar region got recognized by the United Nations Educational Social and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the first Marine Biosphere of South and
Southeast Asia, in 1956. The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve covers an
area of 1,050,000 hectares on the south-east coast of India across from
Sri Lanka. It is one of the world's richest regions from a marine
biodiversity perspective. Gulf of Mannar is the first marine area in India
to be declared as World Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO"s Man and Biosphere
Program. As a part of the conservation initiatives of the Government of
Tamilnadu, a Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve Trust (GOMBRT) has been
formed with the support of Global Environmental Facility (GEF).
(To be contd...)
V Sundaram, IAS, Retd.
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Rama Sethu, Ram Setu, Ramar Bridge, History, Facts Article Series
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