mystical, ancient land-link between and is under threat, writes Kerry van der Jagt in The Sun-Herald http://www.smh. com.au/articles/ 2008/05/08/ 1210131155841. html
The much-loved story of Ramayana, a famous epic of ancient India, is as timeless as history itself. It is a story of courage that embodies a moral code of ethics and culminates in the triumph of good over evil. In dance performances depicting Rama’s life, the story tells of how the demon king, Ravana, uses trickery to kidnap‘s wife, Sita, and how Rama, with the help of his army of monkeys, builds a bridge of stones from to to rescue her.
Ram Setu, meaning Rama’s Bridge (also known as Adam’s Bridge) is the name given to the narrow ridge of sand and rocks betweenand which may or may not be the mythical bridge. For the majority of Indians on the subcontinent and countless more worldwide, particularly across South-East Asia, the 48-kilometre- long underwater feature is physical evidence of the Ramayana and hence has huge cultural significance. The name Adam’s Bridge indicates that Christians and Muslims may have reason to revere the bridge.
But now it needs rescuing.
The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project has started dredging the sunken causeway with the aim of reducing travel time for ships going from the west to the east coast of . Dredging began two years ago and already 20percent of the bridge has been destroyed. However, after fierce criticism, the project stalled in 2007 and is yet to restart. Perhaps Rama’s monkeys are lending a hand again.
The bridge has been mentioned in many historical documents and 12th century maps including those of. He called this area Setabund-Rameswara, which means a bridge constructed at , reinforcing the belief that this structure is the ancient bridge.
In 2002, a NASA satellite produced images of what looks like a string of pearls connecting Rameswaram off the south-eastern coast ofwith the north-west of . The question being asked is, “Is it a natural phenomenon or the remnant of something man-made?”
Calls for the preservation of the bridge have come from various groups including naval cartographers and shipping specialists who question the usefulness of dredging when the resulting canal will be just 12metres deep, and only small and medium-sized vessels will be able to use the new passage.
The worldwide trend in shipping is to larger ships because it is more economical. The Panama Canal allows vessels of 90,000 tonnes and the120,000 tonnes – but the maximum for the Sethusamudram would be 30,000 tonnes.
It has been suggested that during the December 2004 tsunami, the bridge acted as a natural barrier, deflecting the tsunami and preventing the devastation of a large section of coastline aroundin southern India.
Tsunami expert Professor Tad Murty, who advised the Indian Government in 2004 , agrees that there is a real threat to southern Kerala from future tsunamis in South-East Asia. However, he has not gone so far as to say that the dredging project will increase the chances of devastation.
What is needed is the intervention of the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Professor Snjezana Karinja, curator of archaeology for the Sergej Masera Maritime Museum in , says that whether or not the bridge is man-made is irrelevant. “Under guidelines for heritage listing, Ram Setu should be allocated heritage status for its cultural significance,” she says.
In 2005, named the legend of the Ramayana and its related oral and cultural tradition on a list of 90 outstanding examples of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Various groups worldwide, concerned with the cultural and environmental devastation that further dredging will cause, are pressuring the Indian Government to preserve the bridge.
Dr Kama Maclean, lecturer at the University of NSW’s school of history and philosophy, is an expert in Indian history and politics.
“The issue is whether an economic benefit, such as the cost-cutting from reduced shipping time, should justify the removal of a site of religious significance,” she says.
“It is clear that there is much religious importance attached to the bridge and, even if we don’t share that, I think we need to respect those that do.”
Intangible culture includes song, music, drama, skills, oral history and the other parts of culture that can be recorded but cannot be touched and interacted with.
Since culture is the highest expression of what it means to be human, the Ram Setu Bridge should be preserved and viewed as belonging to all humanity.
Even a monkey would know that.