The Ram Setu is in the news again, this time due to an American channel.
“Are the ancient Hindu myths of a land bridge connecting India and Sri Lanka true? Scientific analysis suggests they are,” said a promo by Science Channel, which is owned by Discovery Communications.
The show's promo, for its show What on Earth, had cited NASA images to claim that a 30-mile line of rocks in the Indian Ocean seem to be man-made. A geologist in the promo says that while the sand under the rocks is 4,000 years old, the rocks seem to be 7,000 years old, placed there through human intervention.
The BJP has risen as one to hail the promo, saying it would conclusively settle the questions raised on Hindu religious beliefs by Left-leaning historians under the patronage of the Congress.
MK of DMK had told Tamil Muslims that since "Aryans" broke Babri Masjid he as a "Dravidian" would avenge by breaking Ram Setu. He got help of TDK & Sakuni but I got the better of them. Ram Setu will be celebrated as Heritage soon— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) December 12, 2017
They mocked at us, for demanding not to destroy Ram Setu. They won't do that to a tiny,fake,Dargah turned mosque in front of Air Force Headquarters, where they sell cholla Bhature, and hv a photocopier shop, park cars -in middle of the busiest square leading to parliament— Tarun Vijay (@Tarunvijay) December 12, 2017
The BJP has had a very consistent stand that the Ram Setu has to be respected; we believe in the existence of Lord Ram and for us, he is Maryada Purushottam: @PiyushGoyal— Piyush Goyal Office (@PiyushGoyalOffc) December 13, 2017
What is Ram setu?
Adam’s Bridge, or the Ram Setu, is a chain of limestone shoals between Pamban Island — or the Rameswaram Island off the coast of Tamil Nadu — and Mannar Island, off the coast of Sri Lanka.
A similar bridge has been mentioned in Valmiki’s Ramayana, and some Hindus claim the existence of Adam’s Bridge to be proof that the events narrated in the epic are historically true.
According to the Ramayana, the bridge was built by Ayodhya prince Ram’s vaanar sena, or army of monkeys, so that they could cross the ocean and reach Lanka, whose king Raavana had abducted Ram’s wife, Sita.
According to legend, Ram initially asked the ocean god, Saagar, for passage to cross over to Lanka. When the ocean refused to oblige, Ram threatened to dry its waters with his arrows. Saagar then rose out of the ocean and assured Ram of passage, saying an engineer in his army, Nala, was capable of building a bridge across to Sri Lanka.
Nala, who was the son of the Gods’ architect Vishwakarma, then got Ram’s army to build the bridge across the ocean using rocks, mountain pieces and tree trunks.
The controversy around it
The Ram Setu came under controversy after the UPA-I government launched the Sethusamudram project in 2005. The project involved dredging in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka, and its alignment cut through the Adam’s Bridge, or Ram Setu.
The Sethusamudram project aimed to dredge a ship channel across the Palk Strait. Two channels were to be created – one across Adam’s Bridge and another through the shallows of Palk Bay, deepening the Palk Strait.
The project would reduce the steaming distances between the east and west coasts of India. According to a report in The Economic Times, the channel would cut short “sailing of an additional distance of 254-424 nautical miles and 21-36 hours of sailing time”.
While environmentalists and local fishermen opposed the project, its launch saw the BJP go up in arms, saying the party would not tolerate any “tampering” with the Ram Setu.
“We would like to warn the government on the Ram Setu issue. This is an issue related to Hindu sentiments and beliefs. BJP and the nation will not tolerate any tampering with the Ram Setu. Why is cutting through it the only solution?” current law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had then said.
The matter went to court, where the ASI in 2007 filed an affidavit saying there was no historical or scientific evidence to establish the existence of Lord Ram, and the Ram Setu was a natural structure. After massive outrage, the affidavit was withdrawn.
The case is still in the court, and the government is expected to file an affidavit in two weeks’ time. On November 13, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to clarify if it wanted to remove the Ram Setu or protect it, giving it six weeks to reply.
For Sethusamudram, dredging has been going on in other, non-controversial areas.
Are the Science Channel’s claims new?
Not all of them. Historians and other experts have long claimed that the fact that the rocks making up Adam’s Bridge are in a straight line alone prove they were placed artificially, as nature is usually more haphazard.
An India Today report last year on the town of Dhanushkodi had said: “Also known as the Adam's Bridge globally, no one really knows if this is the Ram Setu, but satellite pictures taken over time and a recent image released by NASA have confirmed that the stretch of land formation visible between Dhanushkodi and the Sri Lankan mainland is certainly man-made.”
However, the Science Channel promo has said that the rocks are 7,000 years old, which ties up neatly with the time Hinduism expert Devdutt Pattanaik says the events in the Ramayana might have taken place.
“Based on astronomical information, such as the position of constellations and the time of eclipses available in scriptures, they (experts) have concluded that events in the Ramayana took place 7,000 years ago,” Pattanaik had written for DailyO.
Research in India
In March this year, the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) decided to take up an underwater exploration study to find out whether the Ram Setu is man-made. Y Sudershan Rao, the chairman of the ICHR, which falls under the HRD ministry, had then said no underwater exploration had so far been conducted in this regard.
While conclusive research around Ram Setu is still going on, the US channel’s claims have come as a massive shot in the arm for Hindutva groups in the country, strengthening their narrative of the Congress attempting to undermine Hindu religion and beliefs.