Ashwin Kumar Iyer
First Hand Layman Witness
I have visited Rama's bridge near Rameshwaram. I went there last year. Though the place assumes a lot of importance historically and religiously, there is no sign board or organised tourism to this place. We had to go asking local residents on the way.
Once we reach the nearby area (there is a newly built small hanuman temple) we have to take a motor boat to venture close to a kilo meter into the sea to reach Rama Sethu. Reaching there was not exactly a great experience, since there was no organised facility. I was told that a good view of the Sethu can be had during low tide times and especially during the nights or early mornings, I had chosen such a time to visit the place. Once I reached the actual Sethu Site, I was astonished and was in loss of words. The bridge should be easily 40-50 feet wide (the visible part) and made of huge stones. For a normal logical mind it certainly does not seem to be a geographical phenomenon. It certainly looks like a huge manmade structure. At least that is was the structure of the bridge suggests.
Let us get into a little bit of history and find out what the said structure means factually.
This structure of close to 48 kilometers which is 3 to 30 feet deep through its course and was well above the sea level till the 15th century. The oldest recorded map that mentions of Rama’s Bridge is the Malabar Bowen Map of Netherlands which is supposed to have been made in 1747, where the map mentions no name to the bridge but has mention about a place Ramencoil. Further, the same place is mentioned again in a 1788 Map of Hindoostan available in the Sarasvathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur.
This bridge has also been mentioned by James Rennel in his earliest maps of India 1788 as Rama’s Bridge. However, Rennel carefully and tactfully renamed the bridge as Adam’s Bridge in his 1804 version of the map.
Lying dormant under the waters, the bridge again came into light after the NASA’s satellite pictures released in the early 1990s created curiosity among historians and excitement among Dharmics. Tales started going around on the date of Rama’s Bridge starting from 1.75 million years to 3500 years. NASA though accepted the authenticity of the pictures, however refused to comment on the dating.
Few dating attempts have been made after that. While the Sri Lankan Archeological Department dates the bridge to close to 2 million years old, Centre For Remote Sensing, Bharathidasan University dated it close to 3500 years old.
While existence of this geographical phenomenon is not disputed, no research has been done to find out neither the man-made nature of the bridge nor the religious connection.
For devout Dharmics who assume and believe the said structure or the geographical formation is a bridge built by Shri Rama, there are certainly a couple of religious questions that arise often. I have attempted to answer them supported by Valmiki’s Ramayana.
Why did Rama build a bridge instead of crossing over in a ship?
The number of soldeirs in Rama's army was huge. You might have to build too many
ships to cross over. Ramayana says "thousand crore monkeys crossed over". We can
take this number to be a poetic exaggeration, but the fact remains that the
number was on a higher side. Moreover, the sea god himself says that the waters
are rough and he will not be able to go against nature (even if god wishes, he
shall not breach the law of nature, is the beauty of Sanatana Dharma).
In slokas 2-22-25 to 2-22-28, the King of Ocean says, “O, beloved
Rama! Earth, wind ether, water and light remain fixed in their own nature,
resorting to their eternal path. Therefore, I am fathomless and my nature is
that it is impossible of being swum across. It becomes unnatural if I am
shallow. I am telling you the following device to cross me. O, prince! Neither
from desire nor ambition nor fear nor from affection, I am able to solidify my
waters inhabited by alligators. O, Rama! I shall make it possible to see that
you are able to cross over. I will arrange a place for the monkeys to cross me
and bear with it. As far as the army crosses me, the crocodiles will not be
aggressive to them.”
How was it possible to build such a bridge across the Ocean?
It was a planned effort and did not happen easily. Nala, the son of Viswakarma, the
celestial architect was a good architect as his father. I am giving below the
slokas and their translations on the building of the bridge. The posting of
slokas are too long, but then just read them, they are wonderful and worthwhile.
Valmiki describes construction of this bridge between Slokas 2-22-50 and 2-22-72
“I am a son born of Visvakarma’s own loins. I am equal to Viswakarma.
This god of Ocean has reminded me. The great ocean spoke the truth. Being
unasked, I have not told you my details earlier. I am capable of constructing a
bridge across the ocean. Hence, let the foremost of monkeys build the bridge now
itself. Then, being sent by Rama, hundreds and thousands of monkey heroes jumped
in joy on all sides towards the great forest. Those army-chiefs of monkeys, who
resembled mountains, broke the rocks and trees there and dragged them away
towards the sea. Those monkeys filled the ocean with all types of trees like
Sala and Asvakarna, Dhava and bamboo, Kutaja, Arjuna, palmyra,Tilaka, Tinisa,
Bilva, Saptaparna, Karnika, in blossom as also mango and Asoka. The excellent
monkeys, the forest animals lifted and brought, like Indra’s flag posts, some
trees with roots intact and some others without roots. From here and there the
monkeys brought Palmyra trees, pomegranate shrubs, coconut and Vibhitaka,
Karira, Bakula and neem trees. The huge bodied monkeys with mighty strength
uprooted elephant-sized rocks and mountains and transported them by mechanical
contrivances. The water, raised up due to sudden throwing of mountains in the
sea, soured upward towards the sky and from there again, gushed back. The rocks
befalling on all sides perturbed the ocean. Some others drew up strings a
hundred Yojanas long (in order to keep the rocks in a straight line.) Nala on
his part initiated a monumental bridge in the middle of the ocean. The bridge
was built at that time with the cooperation of other monkeys, of terrible
doings. Some monkeys were holding poles for measuring the bridge and some others
collected the material. Reeds and logs resembling clouds and mountains, brought
by hundreds of monkeys, lead by the command of Rama, fastened some parts of the
bridge. Monkeys constructed the bridge with trees having blossom at the end of
their boughs. Some monkeys looking like demons seized rocks resembling mountains
and peaks of mountains and appeared running hither and thither. Then, a
tumultuous sound occurred when the rocks were thrown into the sea and when
mountains were caused to fall there. On the first day, fourteen Yojanas of
bridge were constructed by the monkeys speedily, thrilled with delight as they
were, resembling elephants. In the same manner, on the second day twenty Yojanas
of bridge were constructed speedily by the monkeys of terrific bodies and of
mighty strength. Thus, on the third day twenty-one Yojanas of the bridge were
constructed in the ocean speedily by the monkeys with their colossal bodies. On
the forth day, a further of twenty-two Yojanas were constructed by the dashing
monkeys with a great speed. In that manner, on the fifth day, the monkeys
working quickly constructed twenty-three yojanas of the bridge up to the other
seashore. That Nala, the strong and illustrious son of Visvakarma and an
excellent monkey built the bridge across the sea as truly as his father would
have built it. That beautiful and lovely bridge constructed by Nala across the
ocean the abode of alligators, shone brightly like a milky way of stars in the
Logical Questions to be Addressed
In the wake of Sethu Samudram Project, it is a known fact that the historically and religiously important Rama’s Bridge would be demolished to make way for a new shipping canal between India and Sri Lanka. A few political parties have raised security concerns over this idea and a few other experts have raised eyebrows on the economic benefits this project could offer. However, I have done no research on that subject and would not speak about security concerns and economic benefits. Besides security issues and economic viability the said project is attached to an extremely sensitive issue of history and religion.
It is highly surprising how the said project was approved and cleared by various departments (especially geology and archeological departments). It is understandable that the said project has not gone to their purview because no archeological activity or geological research is happening in the current site. However, in the wake of said allegations by various political parties, non-governmental organizations and religious institutions, these departments could have made a suo moto response to the Union Ministry of Shipping & Transport to halt the project till a research is commenced and concluded in the said site. The ministry in a self-confession in the parliament has come out with a statement saying that ‘no archeological work has been done in the said Rama’s Bridge site’. In that case, it is highly inappropriate to demolish a structure which has a historical and religious importance without a proper justified research backing the decision.
Relevant to this case, there are a few questions that are still unaddressed, say,
1) First and foremost question is that whether the said bridge is man-made or a geological phenomenon.
2) If it were a geological phenomenon it would assume a great importance for geologists and scientists, making it very important for us to preserve it. It would probably become the oldest natural rock formation in India and the biggest and oldest natural rock formation of the world and the only one under the sea.
3) If it were man-made but not built by Rama, still it is of extreme importance as an archeological site. Probably it would classify as one of the man-made wonders of the world and the oldest ever man-made bridge to exist.
4) If archeologists and theologists can prove it to be anywhere closer related to Shri Rama, the importance would be the greatest, since it has a religious connotation and probably the biggest find relating the religion (especially Dharmic) and also of archeological importance attached with religion.
Answers to these questions would certainly direct us to only one conclusion – the Rama’s Bridge should not be touched for demolition. It might/might not be a religious site, but it is certainly beyond even what we call as “precious”. It is a natural phenomenon which has surprised scientists and geologists by its sheer existence.
If Indian government tries demolishing Rama’s bridge for enabling a shipping canal project, I might probably even think that the government might take Qutab Minar off the place because it disrupts traffic. I do not think the UPA government would want themselves to be equated with the Taliban who destroyed Bamiyan Budhas while the whole world witnessed. In both cases of Taliban and UPA government the action is the same, destroying of world heritage, while only the motive is different.
The word of caution is loud and open – Don’t Touch Rama’s Bridge.