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Hindu hardliners go ape over Ram Setu report

India and Sri Lanka

South-east India and northern Sri Lanka © NASA

September 2007 was a bad month for archaeology in India. After submitting an affidavit to the Supreme Court investigating the development of the controversial Sethusamundram Canal, archaeologists found themselves in the dock. The Archaeological Survey of India (an arm of the culture ministry) has come face-to-face with the powerful religious lobby over the existence the mythical god Lord Ram. If the canal goes ahead as planned it will affect the supposed site of Ram Setu (also known as Adam’s Bridge). India’s fragile political secularism is being tested by the Hindu extremists as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seek to use archaeology to exploit religious sentiment for political gain.

Ayodhya and the VHP

Hindu fundamentalists are no strangers to archaeology in India. In 1992, a group of hardline Hindu nationalists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) (translated as World Hindu Council) were responsible for the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in Northern India. Their cause was bolstered by evidence fabricated by state archaeologists claiming to show that an earlier Hindu temple had once stood on the site of the mosque. The results made a mockery of the archaeological method. A crowd of Hindu nationalists then set about destroying the temple and anyone who stood in their way. Hundreds of people were killed in resultant violence and revenge attacks. In an act of blatant political expediency the Hindu-centered BJP (then the party of government) promised to build a Ram Temple on the site. This promise remained unfulfilled. Now the main opposition party, they are under continual pressure from the more extreme VHP for the Hindu vote.

Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project

The archaeological survey undertaken in the waters between India and Sri Lanka is in anticipation of a massive canal project which aims to reduce the travel times of ship navigating between the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka (the Palk Strait). As is often the case with large infrastructure projects, there has been a great deal of opposition to the development. The opposition falls into four main categories:

  1. there will be unnecessary and substantial ecological damage;
  2. the economic case for the canal is unconvincing;
  3. the project is really about enhancing India’s military logistical capabilities;
  4. the canal will destroy the site of Lord Ram’s bridge (a site of extreme religious significance to Hindus).

Lord Ram overseeing the construction of Ram Setu

Lord Ram overseeing the construction of Ram Setu by his army of monkeys

Ram Setu in Hindu Mythology

Lord Ram is the subject of the epic mythological Hindu text, the Ramayana. Supposedly set c 1.7 million years ago and written by Valmiki, according to the Ramayana, Ram Setu (Ram’s Bridge) was build by Lord Ram with the assistance of his army of monkeys. He did this in order to rescue Sita, his kidnapped wife, from Sri Lanka. The site of the bridge is believed to be between Sri Lanka and India in the Palk Strait.

The archaeological survey and the report to the Supreme Court

An archaeological survey at this massive site was undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) prior to the necessary dredging of the Palk Strait. Dredging would significantly damage any archaeological remains in and around the proposed development.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the archaeologists found no evidence for the existence of Lord Ram and his army of monkeys. According to The Financial Times, the affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court stated that the Ramayana could not “incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters or the occurrence of the events depicted therein”.

The 400 page affidavit, written by monuments director at the ASI (C Dorjee), was
quoted in The Times, stating that “The issue has to be approached in a scientific manner”. However, in this case the rational scientific approach was bound to clash with religious mythology.

As for the existence of the bridge, the survey found that it consisted of nothing more than sedimentation which has built up in the Palk Strait. According the the Ramayana, the Ram Setu is over a million years old but geological evidence suggests its age is closer to 5000 years.

Reaction from Hindu hardliners

The archaeologists report was deemed blasphemous and resulted in protests across India (in Bhopal and Delhi) bringing major disruption to transport infrastructure and city centres. The Hindustan Times reported that the government withdrew both its affidavits as a result of religious sentiment (though presumably the archaeological evidence remains the same) saying that they would review the contents of the original affidavits and submit supplementary documentation to the Supreme Court. One can only suspect appeasement is on the cards.

The Financial Times quoted Pravin Togadia of the VHP attempting to stir up sectarian tension by stating that the ruling Congress Party was “appeasing Muslims by hurting Hindu sentiments”. Togadia went further, putting the mental back into Hindu fundamentalism, by warning that “even the strongest drills” would break when applied to Ram Setu’s foundation.

Consequences for archaeology in India and elsewhere

The Supreme Court has ordered a three month suspension of the work. The archaeologists from the ASI and the culture minister (Ambika Soni) found themselves under immense pressure from a Congress Party-led government seeking to shore-up its religious credentials in the face of election pressure from more religious parties. The government announced an investigation into how such an inflammatory affidavit could have reached the courtroom. This seams to show no solidarity with the archaeologists or their findings and is a shameful example of political cowardice in the race of religious pressure.

Archaeology is the investigation of the past by means of material evidence. It is not a campaign to prove or disprove the existence of assorted deities. However, should archaeological evidence suggest that a god never existed, that a holy text described mythological fiction and folklore rather than actual historical events, then nobody should be afraid to say so. For such an argument to put both archaeologists and economic development at risk is an act of insanity.


Written by James Doeser

15 Responses to Ram Setu (Ram Sethu)

  • What else can ASI do when a christian ministry called ambica soni controls the cultural ministry? Of course it is not possible for us to complete this whole drama withour mentionind a lady called sonia who controls the india with the help of most corrupted indian politicians.

    The article exposes the poor knowledge of westerners on indic history. There are 1000 of temples build between ayothra and Ram sethu. It was constructed nearly 2000 years before…

    I think the belwo link will help to people to learn something about Ram…

    http://agniveer.com/2164/rama-myth-or-hero/

  • Pingback: Lampooning Hindu Beliefs Has Become Order Of The Day « Indowaves's Blog

  • KVR says:

    DMK devils should be thrown out of this country. Human ethics & family affections/responsibilities were built on the goound generated by Sri Rama life.
    This is an attack on entire history & culture of India.
    India is the focal point for spirituality development in human beings from ancient times.
    Shamefull on the part of Devils like Karunanidhi & his family people.

    • Helena says:

      KVR have you read the pingback above? I suggest that you do as it shows how to conduct a reasoned discussion about a very difficult subject. I am an atheist but as someone who once had a strong faith in a deity I would not wish to denigrate those who do – as long as they do not wish me and others any harm. Unfortunately so many people use religion as a stick with which to beat others. The point here is that science is telling us one thing and religion another. This situation is not unique to Hinduism. Could you not open your mind to the possibility that while ancient writers, who knew no better and were trying to make sense of the world around them, sometimes came up with explanations which are not borne out by modern science. This does not detract from them as they were sincere. Also there is often a metaphysical truth which can be found rather than a literal one.

      • rupesh says:

        Helena awesome answer,100% agreed.

      • Vijay says:

        I would agree with scientific facts.. but the research was conducted by archaeological department of India. which is under the government. In India nothing is independent, CBI is not, The CAG used to be corrupt, The sports authorities are also corrupt. So I strongly believe that the report was not an independent research either. There were distortions due to the influence of congress party and its agenda… I hold science above all. But that report is not scientific. There are other researches which shows that it was indeed a man made structure. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgSINZO_VuI

  • It would seem to me that the ecologic and military grounds are enough to disrupt the building of the canal.

    But if we’re going to go rational and historical (which saying “that offends my superstitions” isn’t) consider this argument.

    Article says Ramayana claims Ram’s bridge is 1.7 million years old, but the sedimentation is 5000 years old.

    We also know that humans can be deified post humously and usually this happens when the person in question (mythical perhaps but perhaps also based loosely on a real person) was a king.

    What if Lord Ram was a king 5000 years ago? He didn’t build the bridge but rather used it after observing monkeys crossing it to Sri Lanka. Claimed he built it with his army of monkeys because, that sounds a lot cooler than just following them.

    Now the year discrepency is an easy one. What kind of god was a human only recently? Phht. The old records in numerous cultures say things like So and So lived a thousand years, so and so reigned for unbelievable time spans.

    But in some cases these time spans match astrological time scales that are not solar. So their year wasn’t how we see a year now.

    This would mean that if 1.7 million years is actually 5000 years then it represents a different measurement.

    365 days x 5000 solar years = 1,825,000 ‘years’ on this time scale.

    So what astrological thing from the vedic era (most likely) associated with Lord Ram is that fast?

    If you can answer that then maybe this isn’t so crazy after all.

    Maybe Lord Ram existed but he was just a big self-indulgent king that talked out of his rear end about monkeys and was part of a tradition that made a god out of him when he died. Someone picked a star in the sky and said that’s his one and changed the numbers and exaggerated a bit in the Ramayana.

    It’s been so long since that people took it as literal truth.

    Ahh, religion. It’s full of stuff like this.

  • deepak says:

    this entire disputes are the outcome of anti hindu philosophy sponsored by our own hindu brothers and christians who always laugh at other faiths. its a matter of faith.

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      No, the dispute is not “anti hindu philosophy”; rather, it is asking those who believe that Ram Setu is an artificial construction as opposed to a natural formation to providence some evidence to back up their claims. Simply quoting a holy text is not good enough: the text is not evidence, it is the starting point from which believers proceed.

  • Nishant says:

    @lily love paint. ur logic is even worse than twilight.. people went to ram setu and bought the floating stone.. go google it.. and they were no sediments.. and the stones are believed to be made in the ages of lord rama. this page is dedicated to christians as the picture suggests so you all would argue against hinduism.. even scientists are researcing how can a stone float on water. recently god particle is develoved which can make things lighter.and this god particle was earlier predicted by a hindu scientist whose theory was rejected, and he develoved the theory after studying the structure of ram setu, even albert einstein was a great patron of hinduism he read srimad bhagawad gita. you people talk about scince?? so tell me one thing.. valmiki never went to rameshwaram he was born in central india. and there were no means of transportation except walking. and in ramayana you will find places from most part of india and also sri lanka. .. so you mean he travelled all over india and sri lanka to see all these places??? and ramayana is just not a story, lord rama met valmiki during his exile. you can say its a bioghraphy of lord rama,.. just as you believe in jesus.. so we also believe in our lord rama… have some respect for each other’s religion..as hinduism is the first religion of the world. and if you ever have time please read our holy book . bhagavad gita .. and also ramayana and mahabharata…. jai shree ram!!!

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      This page is certainly not “dedicated to christians”! It is dedicated to trying to sift facts from nonsense, of whatever religious, political or other origin.

  • Ashok Sarath says:

    While I agree with the point the article is trying to make, I found its tone somewhat patronising (e.g. mythical god, monkeys, a god that never existed etc.). It’s not the same tone as the piece on Jesus’ Family Tomb, for instance. Either all gods exist or none do, and hence they are worthy of equal respect or disrespect. This writer unfortunately comes across as having an axe to grind with Hindus and their beliefs.

    The project itself was a boondoggle by the Government of the state. It served no significant commercial or strategic purpose (though the sale by the Sri lankan government of large parts of its country to China may change that) and it came with a truly staggering ecological (and financial) cost. The Central government had to find a way of saying no to its ally without using the real scientific reasons – these are never good enough to prevent demented large projects in India. So the religious right came in extremely handy for everyone. And it was also no surprise that the ASI was made to carry the can. In India, our political masters can never take any blame.

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      The difference in tone is a difference in authorship. As I’ve said in other responses, I can’t answer for James!

  • Jagdish says:

    Happy Divali humans.

    Humans lived with ancient systems with proper tune with nature and earth covered with forest and other naturally required things. But in the name of modernaisation we are killed more by accidents domestically as well as on the roads and new diseases like cancer generated or sex genarated or extra hyginic and god fearing and jannath wishing mad and unreligious or talibanish attitudes. I wish never tell what old gods did to make their techniques still call a debate. Jai human jai human jai human.

  • Dave says:

    I wish I had a monkey army, I could get so much done around the house.

Agree or disagree? Please comment!