Who made Ram Sethu?

One of the disadvantages of running a large government is that ministers often have to spend time playing Whac-A-Mole. Life is especially hard for people like the Hon. Minister T.R.Baalu when he has too many moles to Whack. He had just finished whacking the Archaeological Survey of India on the head and now another mole has popped up. This time it is the Hyderabad-based National Remote  Sensing Agency (NRSA) that comes under the Department of Space which has said that Ram Setu may be a man made structure.

The revelations in the book, with a foreword by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman G. Madhavan Nair, are in contrast to what the government has been maintaining so far that the setu is formed by giant tombolos – bars of sand connecting an island with another island of the mainland. It also contradicts the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which says there is no “historic or scientific” evidence of the existence of Lord Ram or Ram Setu.[Ram Setu ‘man-made’, says government publication]

The book says the bridge is about 1,750,000 years and may be made-made. Considering the fact that modern humans originated in the African savanna around 200,000 years back only, it would be interesting to hear the NRSA theory of human evolution.

3 thoughts on “Who made Ram Sethu?

  1. the ram saethu bridge should be saved bcause it tells about the history of great india i should be join the compaign to save the ram saethu.

  2. Ram setu – fact or fiction –
    The Ram setu or Adam’s bridge is a chain of sandbars and coralline islets dotting a 30 km. stretch in the east-west direction between the Southern tip of Rameswaram island in India and Talaimannar in North-west Sri-Lanka. Composed of 103 small patch reefs and innumerable smaller reefs lying in a linear pattern with flattened reef crests [ which are emergent during low tide ] , sand cays [accumulation of looses coral sands and beach rock ] and intermittent channels , the Adam’s bridge is clearly made out in the sea by the change in color of sea water overlying it. The overlying sea is shallow, being around 4-10 feet and even lower at low tide. Traditional accounts claim that the Adam’s bridge or the Ram setu was constructed by Lord Rama and his vanar sena over a span of 5 days which when subject to a scientific analysis appears highly improbable. But again we have to keep in mind that achieving mastery over water in a super-natural manner is a theme common to many religions, we have instance of Jesus walking over water . In a similar manner we have claims in traditional literature that rocks with name of Lord Rama written over them started floating in the sea and the ram-setu was constructed of these rocks.
    Construction of a 30 km. bridge across open sea is a Herculean task even today . Even modern nation-states which have at their disposal immense resources and advanced engineering technology would find it an extremely difficult and daunting task . In the period in which we place the events of Ramayana with the primitive technology of those times and the meager resources of the emerging, nascent kingdoms – such a task is clearly impossible. Hence this is clear that Lord Rama did not construct the Adam’s bridge as we know it today.
    But then we have to solve an puzzle – why Adam’s bridge came to be associated only with Lord Rama in numerous legends. Various ancient and medieval historical sources- too abundant to be individually detailed but notable among them being accounts of the remarkably astute Al’Biruni and Marco Polo attribute the construction of Adam’s bridge to Lord Rama. The construction of Adam’s bridge is not attributed to any other ancient hero in even a single known legend. One can logically put forward this query that why building this bridge is not attributed to any other ancient hero . For example , just to cite an instance, why the construction of the Adam’s bridge is not attributed to the great Chola monarch Karikala who reigned around 190 A.D. This Chola king is said to have invaded Sri Lanka and after defeating the Sri Lankan king, carried away 12,000 inhabitants of the island and put them to work in fortification of his sea port Puhar. Ancient Tamil legends could have easily attributed the building of Adam’s bridge to Karikala in order to enhance his glory. It could have been claimed that Karikala built this bridge to invade Sri Lanka and to provide easy access to Lanka to retain his hold over the island. That , however , is not the case. Even in later Indian accounts where the exaggerations of the court poets and bards are an integral feature, the construction of Adam’s bridge is attributed to no one other than Lord Rama. Thus we can clearly see that Lord Rama’s name has been associated with Adam’s bridge since antiquity rendering it impossible for any other ancient hero or later bards to claim it for themselves or the ancestors of their patrons. Clearly some event occurred during Lord Rama’s exile which inseparably linked his name with that of Adam’s bridge .
    To solve this puzzle , we have to turn to an aspect which has often been ignored – the skill of ancient Indians in wood making and carpentry.
    India has a long tradition of making buildings/ cities in wood. The Greek historian Megasthenes who visited India during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya [ around 321 B.C.] , around 3-6 centuries after the presumed date of Lord Rama’s reign , writes that –“ All Indian towns which are beside the sea or the rivers are made of wood.” Writing further , Megasthenes states – “ the city of Pataliputra built at the confluence of the rivers Ganges and Son is 80 stadia [ 9 miles] in length and 15 stadia [ around 2 miles] in width . It is surrounded by a wooden wall having 560 towers and 60 gates”. Even the palace of king Chandragupta Maurya about which Megasthenes said that neither the palaces of Susa nor Ecbatana could vie with was made of wood. Megasthenes account has been bolstered by archaeological evidence .Excavations of Waddell unearthed fragments of the wooden city wall of Pataliputra. In 1926-27 was unearthed a double line of upright timbers around 15 feet high near Patna which the excavator remarked appeared to him to extend almost indefinitely. Dr Spooner unearthed massive remains of huge wooden buildings at Bulandibagh and Kumrahar near Patna – probably remains of the ancient palace of the Mauryas.
    Even the reliefs at Sanchi and Amravati stupas clearly indicate that most of the buildings and cities in Pre-Asokan era were made of wood. The appearance of these buildings shown in the relief carvings leave no doubt that they were made of wood , the essentials of wooden technique being scrupulously imitated in these relief representations.
    In the facades of early rock cut caves , such as those at Barabar hills near Gaya , survive the frontages of these early wooden buildings and here too the stamp and impress of wooden construction are clear and explicit. Thus it is clear that wood was the chief building material in ancient India and it was only after Emperor Asoka that stone came to be used for building purposes on a large scale. [ Some historians, notably Sir Mortimer Wheeler claim that this was due to large scale migration of the artistry of Persia who found themselves bereft of royal patronage following the burning of Persepolis in 331 B.C. After destruction of the Achaemenian empire of Persia , the artistry of Persia shifted base to India and the material in which they excelled was stone. Hence the increasing use of stone in the post-Asokan period ] .
    Thus we see that ancient Indians had a long tradition of excellence in wood crafting . Their houses, cities , palaces , chariots were all made of wood which unfortunately have not survived to us owing to wood being a perishable material.
    Coming back to the puzzle of Ram-setu , we can hazard the following theory. Around 500-1000 B.C , this being the time period in which we are assuming the events mentioned in the Ramayana happened , Lord Rama with his army had to cross the Palk strait to rescue his abducted wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana. Lacking a navy and not well-versed with sea-faring, Lord Rama and his army had to seek some other way to cross the strait. The Adam’s bridge was probably the same as it is today . Lord Rama and his army must have realized that this pre-existing shallow , natural reef chain could be used a way to cross the Palk strait .Having numerous skilled carpenters and artisans at their disposal , they could easily improvise upon this shallow, submerged chain of reefs and sand deposits .
    Probably construction work was carried out only at low tide when the sea over the reef chain would become more shallow and some of the shallow sandbanks would be emergent. Construction of the bridge must have occurred over a period of weeks, if not months. The 5 day period claimed in legends is probably a later bardic invention. Small rocks and beach sand would have been used to fill up the shallow water filled channels . Forests provided the abundant wood out of which must have been fashioned a rough, makeshift wooden bridge which was probably supported on timbers which in turn were supported on the underlying, pre-existing reefs and sand deposits. Vines and ropes made of plants and nails would have been used to construct the bridge. [ The use of coir ropes was as yet unknown for the coconut tree was a later import from Malaya ]. The wooden bridge was then advanced forwards gradually. The carpenters and artisans of Lord Rama’s army were well versed with this type of work in wood and would have found constructing such a wooden structure quite easy .
    Also one has to remember that in ancient period, battles generally consisted of man to man contest and the weapons generally used were clubs, spears, maces and the bow and arrow. Armies usually traveled light. Therefore , as most of the combatants while crossing the bridge would have been carrying little weight except light weapons like a bow and a quiver , a club or a spear , even a makeshift wooden edifice sufficiently strong to bear the weight of a man would have served the purpose.
    Once the bridge was completed, Lord Rama and his army made the crossing , reached the Lankan shores and after vanquishing Ravana and rescuing Sita re-crossed the bridge and returned home to the Gangetic plain. The bridge , having served it’s purpose, was then forgotten. Made of wood and other perishable materials and being continuously exposed to the salt-water sea, the bridge would not have lasted more than a few years . Probably the sea claimed the wooden bridge erected by Lord Rama and his army in a span of few years but the memory of Lord Rama having used it to reach Lanka lived on and became part of folklore and legends. Later legends out of necessity had to attribute the whole of the Adam’s bridge to Lord Rama since the structure which his army had actually constructed had long vanished. The later legends had to give some material basis to their claims and since the chain of sub-merged coral reefs, sandbars was all that was now visible , they began to claim that even this chain was constructed by Lord Rama and his army. Agreeably no archaeological remains of the wooden bridge built by Lord Rama and his army over the Adam’s bridge has yet been found and probably will never be found owing to the perishable nature of wooden structures. But one cannot deny the fact that Lord Rama used the Adam’s bridge to cross over to Lanka. The wooden structure crumbled but the memory of his crossing the sea lived on. One cannot furnish archaeological evidence for all past events – whole of the human history will have to be considered a collection of myths and fables if such cast-iron criteria are to be applied.
    Legends normally are accretions over a historical kernel and in reconstruction of the past, oral traditions are sometimes as important as the material remnants. This is illustrated by the following examples-
    Local folklore and legends prevalent in Peshawar mentioned the relic tower or Pagoda of the Kushana king Kanishka erected over the relics of Buddha. Legends claimed it to be the tallest structure in Asia of its time. However many historians considered that this huge tower described in legends was sheer poetic exaggeration . However recently archaeological evidence to prove that such a structure actually existed became available when a site called Shah-ji-ki-Dheri was excavated , revealing a base of a tower around 286 feet in diameter. The casket containing the relics of Buddha was also found and is now a priceless possession of the Peshawar museum. Thus the ancient legends were found to be absolutely correct in their description of the tower and it’s contents. This example shows that archaeological evidence, albeit an essential parameter, is not the sole criteria for debunking or accepting oral folk traditions.
    Another example will drive home the point that archaeological evidence, although a welcome addition to oral traditions is not always forthcoming. In Gurdaspur district in Punjab, residents of a village called Kathgarh on the bank of river Beas have long cherished a folktale which claims that Alexander the great had to turn back to Macedonia from the Beas at the place where the village is now situated. No archaeological evidence to prove or disapprove this legend has yet been unearthed. However ancient Greek historians record that Alexander had to retreat owing to his soldiers mutinying and refusing to proceed further on the banks of river Hyphasis. The river Hyphasis has been identified with modern historians to be identical with the Beas. Further Greek historians mention that while encamped on the river Hyphasis , Alexander consulted a chieftain called Bhagala about the extent and power of the Nanda empire. The name of the chieftain consulted is further corroborated by accounts of the great Grammarian Panini [ dated to have lived around 400 B.C.] . Further one may notice that no other place has laid a claim to being the point from where Alexander turned back. Concocting a folktale involves no great effort and one may ask as to why no other village other than Kathgarh [ there are numerous villages on bank of the river Beas and it would be historically impossible to prove or refute their claim if they asserted as to their village being the actual turning back point of Alexander ] claims to mark the turning back point of Alexander.
    Thus we see that although no firm archaeological evidence has yet been unearthed but in all probability, the long prevalent folktale among the residents of Kathgarh that their village is situated near the point from where Alexander turned back is probably correct.
    Oral traditions and legends reflect the memory of ancient populace’s mind and ideology and are an invaluable source for the historian. Some artisan groups in the Tanjavur area retain not only oral traditions about their migrations from Saurashtra but also use the same words for their tools as are common in Kathiawar thereby lending irrefutable proof to their traditions being absolutely correct.
    Similarly although archaeological evidence to prove that the Lord Rama used the Adam’s bridge to reach Lanka to rescue his abducted wife Sita may never be forthcoming but the long prevalent oral traditions about his using the Adam’s bridge to cross the sea are in all probability correct .
    Some historians [ although the number of such historians to begin with was small and has since rapidly dwindled] claim without any solid historical data that Lanka in the Ramayana, instead of being identified with the modern Sri Lanka , should be placed somewhere on the banks of river Godavari in central India. They claim that it is unlikely that the later Vedic Aryans were familiar with the sea. That this view is entirely erroneous has been proven by numerous scholars like Lassen, Zimmer , Kosambi etc.
    Although it is probable that the Rig Vedic people did not have any knowledge about the sea [ although many scholars including the doyen among Indian historians – D.D.Kosambi believe that the Rig-Vedic people too were familiar with the sea ] , it is certain that the later Vedic people were familiar with the sea. The Aitareya brahmana speaks of the “inexhaustible sea” and “the sea as encircling the earth “ . The eastern and the western oceans mentioned in the Sathapatha brahmana are probably references to the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea. Thus we can safely identify the sea mentioned in the Ramayana with the Palk strait and the Lanka with modern Sri Lanka . Recent evidence that there was some trade contact between India and Sri-Lanka as early as fifth century B.C comes in the form of potsherds excavated from fifth century B.C levels at Anuradhapura in Sri-Lanka with graffiti in Brahmi .
    Thus the amount of evidence suggesting that the Adam’s bridge was used by Lord Rama to cross over to Sri lanka is impressive. We have long standing oral traditions and historical accounts corroborating this , correct in all probability. We have numerous historical mentions associating the Adam’s bridge with Lord Rama including that of foreign travelers. No other ancient king / bardic hero is credited with building the Ram-setu – this too is an important pointer that since ancient times, local folklore has preserved the memory of Lord Rama crossing the sea over Adam’s bridge.
    Hence on strength of oral traditions and literary evidence , we can safely deduce that Lord Rama used the Adam’s bridge to cross over to Sri-Lanka , probably by erecting some wooden structure which is no longer extant.

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