Ram crossed here to lanka / Photo from joshivatsal
Sri Lanka may not be an Island nation after all – a chain of limestone shoals called Ram Setu or Pamban Bridge remains faint evidence to the former land connection between the Mannar islands of northwestern Sri Lanka and Rameswaram in the Indian southwestern coast. The 3 ft to 30 ft depth of the sea surrounding this 30 miles (48 km) long bridge is not good enough to allow proper navigation. Earlier there used to be a regular ferry service between Talaimannar of Sri Lanka and Rameswaram of India, which is currently withheld due to the continuing civil disorder within Lanka.
Adams Bridge Map
The first mention of this reportedly man-made bridge was found in the accounts of Ibn Khordadbeh in his Book of Roads and Kingdoms. Since then, it has been attributed with several names like Set Bandhai, meaning ‘Bridge of the Sea‘, Rama’s Bridge and Adam’s Bridge. The Islamic legends state that it was used by Adam to traverse the route to Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka to repent for 1000 years, during which he kept standing on one foot. This perhaps explains the large footprint hollow you can find on the Peak.
On the other hand, the Indian or rather the Hindu legend behind this superbly curved sandstone bridge relates it to the epic Ramayana. Accordingly, it is deemed to be built by the ‘vanara sena’ (monkey army) of the glorious incarnation of Shri Rama, the hero of the epic, to rescue his holy wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana, who ruled over Lanka. The radiocarbon dating of the bridge verges on around 1,750,000 years, which roughly coincides with the Indian estimate of the mythical ‘Treta Yuga’.
Virgin Comics’ Ramayan reinvents the ancient stories of the Ramayana in graphic-novel style. Below, the Hindu goddess Devi, as reinterpreted by filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and series artist Mukesh Singh. / Photo from albill
The space footages of the Ram Setu provided by NASA has neither confirmed nor rejected these controversial claims. Contrary to the Vaishnava News Network’s insistence on the Rama legend, after taking its 2002 remote sensing images, NASA simply stated that the much-hyped bridge was only a naturally formed chain of shoals and refused to comment on the possible human involvement in its construction.
Landsat 5 image of Adam’s Bridge / Photo from Global Land Cover Facility, www.landcover.org
Picture taken by NASA in the year 2005 of Shri Ram Setu (Adma Bridge) / Photo fromdheerajway
However, opposing ideas have continued to surface about the origin of the bridge. S. Badrinarayanan, the director of the Geological Survey of India along with the head of Post-Graduate Department of Geology and Research Centre, Prof. N. Ramanujam has given a scientifically inclined explanation of the possible natural occurrence of the sand banks with the corals on top. The Madras Court has stuck to the man-made theory.
Rama, Laksman and their friends building a bridge to Demon country Lanka where the abducted Sita-devi is being held captive. On every stone the Name of Rama is written./ Photo from Yadupati
In spite of such controversies, the Ram Setu has never ceased to attract the attention of geological experts. There are several theories to suggest the age and formation of this mysterious bridge. One of these theories attributes the formation of the bridge to random sand deposition and sedimentation. Another suggests the opposite movement of the longshore drifting currents along the landmasses gave rise to the tombolo. Still another team of geologists proposes the atoll and coral reef composition of the 103-patch ridge to be due to the thinning out of the earth crust, barrier islands, a sand spit or a local uplift.
Such varied explanations have not diminished the religious value of the Ram Setu for Indians. The Indian government had planned the prestigious and expensive Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project in 2001 to improve the navigation across the Palk Strait. It was shelved primarily because of the sacred associations of the divine figure of Shri Ram, though environmental and economic reasons were the other grounds as well. To push its plan to success, an affidavit was lodged by the Indian Government in the Supreme Court of India rubbishing the epical notion of the bridge’s formation.
“Adam’s Bridge”, the narrow ribbon of land joining India to Sri Lanka, viewed from space / Photo from tmosprmo
Yet the near-destructed Ram Setu stands with all its glory, drawing thousands of pilgrims every year and continues to baffle the scientists and theorists world over. Some say that this much-studied bridge was perhaps what protected the Kerala coastline from the fury of the 2004 Tsunami.