Rama’s Bridge: A Bridge Built By Monkeys


In the great Indian
epic of Ramayana, penned several thousand years ago, author Valmiki
speaks of a bridge over the ocean connecting India and Sri Lanka. The
epic poem, that stretches for nearly 24,000 verses, narrates the life of
the divine prince Rama and his struggle to rescue his abducted wife
Sita from the demon king Ravana, the ruler of Sri Lanka.

Rama, the
crown prince, was forced to relinquish his right to the throne and go
into exile for fourteen years. During his stay in the forest, his wife
Sita was abducted by the evil demon king Ravana and taken to Sri Lanka.
Rama organized an army consisting of monkeys and led them to Sri Lanka,
where a lengthy war broke out. In the end, Ravana was defeated, and Rama
returned home with his wife to be crowned king.
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In
the story, when Rama’s army reaches the ocean across which lies the
island of Sri Lanka, the apes construct a floating bridge across the sea
by writing the name of Rama on the stones and tossing them into the
water. According to the legend, the stones didn’t sink because they had
Rama’s name written on them. Rama’s army then used the bridge to cross
the sea towards Sri Lanka.
If you look at satellite photos of this
region today, you will notice a faint hint of a connecting strip
between the two countries. This so called Rama’s Bridge or Rama Setu,
also known as Adam’s Bridge, is a long, twisting stretch of shoal and
sandbank connecting the Indian island of Rameswaram, off the
southeastern coast of Tamil Nadu, to Mannar Island, off the northwestern
coast of Sri Lanka. The bridge is about 50 km long. Much of it is under
water today, but centuries ago, it formed an intermittent, but
otherwise solid, connecting link between India and Sri Lanka. The
causeway existed as late as the 15th century and was passable on foot,
as per records kept at the Rameswaram temple, until it was flooded in a
storm.
The existence of the bridge has been known in India as well
as Sri Lanka since ages, as evident from the legend perpetuated by the
ancient epic of Ramayana. For as long as anybody could remember, the sea
separating the two countries has been called Sethusamudram meaning “Sea
of the Bridge”. The 9th century Persian geographer, Ibn Khordadbeh,
mentioned the bridge in his Book of Roads and Kingdoms,
referring to it is Set Bandhai or “Bridge of the Sea”. The name “Adam’s
Bridge” is an early-19th-century British invention —a reference to an
Abrahamic myth that Adam used the bridge to cross from Sri Lanka to
India.
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Rama’s army of monkeys building the stone bridge to Sri Lanka.
Many
orthodox Hindus consider the existence of the bridge to be an
unshakable proof of Ramayana itself, and the stories described in it.
Pseudo-scientists, conspiracy theorist, and theologians believe that the
bridge was actually built by Rama and his army of monkeys. When a NASA
photograph of the region showing a meandering causeway disappearing into
the distance was released in 2002, online conspiracy theorists went off
on a wild goose chase trying to prove it was a man-made structure.
Although
geologists have repeatedly tried to debunk the myth, there is still a
diverse range of opinion and confusion about the nature and origin of
this structure. There are some half a dozen different theories that
attempt to explain the structure. One attributes it to continuous sand
deposition and the natural process of sedimentation leading to the
formation of a chain of barrier islands, while another suggest that the
bridge may be an old shoreline, implying that the two landmasses of
India and Sri Lanka were once connected. Studies have variously
described the structure as a chain of shoals, coral reefs, a ridge
formed in the region owing to thinning of the earth’s crust, a double
tombolo, a sand spit, or barrier islands.
Things got a little
heated when the Government of India proposed dredging through Rama’s
Bridge in order to create a shipping route in the shallow straits
between India and Sri Lanka. Right now, ships trying to move between
India’s west and east coasts have to go around Sri Lanka. A long
deepwater channel connecting the Palk Strait with the Gulf of Mannar
would cut over 400 km off the voyage saving both time and money. But
ultra-right wing Hindu organizations strongly opposed the project saying
that the bridge is a “religious monument” and should not be destroyed.
The
project is currently on hold, but for more coherent reasons.
Environmentalists say that dredging a channel would destroy corals,
while also harming the fishing reserve in the area, throwing the ecology
in the region off balance. Besides, the sandbank provides natural
protection against tsunami waves traveling from the east to the west
coast and vice versa. The government is now considering an alternate
route that doesn’t involve destroying Rama’s Bridge.
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A
carved stone relief at Prambanan Temple, on the island of Java in
Indonesia, shows monkeys helping Rama by bringing stones for building
the bridge. Photo credit: Margery H. Freeman
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Aerial view of Adam’s Bridge, taken while flying over Sri Lanka looking west. Photo credit: PlaneMad/Wikimedia
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Landsat 7 Imagery of Adam’s Bridge. Photo credit: NASA
Sources: Wikipedia / Srilanka.travel / Ian Chadwick
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