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  Rama Sethu: Historic facts vs political fiction - I  

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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
iews expressed here are author?s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.


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Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project : Good Thing Done Badly! Sundara Krishnaswami

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 Project (SSCP).
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 run!

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 Muslims.

 In 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.

During the 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 BCEE.

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

 Gulf of Mannar  
 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 called Talaimannar).

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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