Rama Setu: A man-made Entity

published on March 2, 2014
Ambili. P. R*

   Rama Setu was first mentioned in the ancient Indian epic Ramayana of Valmiki. In Sanskrit Setu means ‘bridge’. Hindu mythology has it that the bridge was built by the soldiers of Lord Rama who used the bridge to cross the Palk straight, reached Lanka and rescued his wife, kidnapped by the Demon King of Sri Lanka. This story, a mythological one related to mere faith of a tradition, can not be taken in face value unless supported by relevant geological, archaeological and auxiliary evidences. Hence the necessity to study the technical aspects of the Indo-Sri Lanka under-water bridge.

     The sea that separates India and Sri Lanka is called Setusamudra “Sea of the bridge”. Setu is a chain of limestone shoals between Pampan Island, also known as Rameswaram Island, (referring to the temple of Lord Siva whose consecration is ascribed to Sri Rama.) off the southern coast of Tamil Nadu and Mannar island off the North Western coast of Sri Lanka. This bridge that separates the Gulf of Mannar (South West) and Palk strait (North East) is 30 km long and in some areas sandbank is dry and the sea in these areas is very shallow, its depth being only 3 feet to 30 feet (1 m to 10 m). Archeological studies revealed that the bridge dates back to the primitive age, which is about 1750000 years.1

      Ram Setu is 2 to 3 meters wide on the eastern Gulf of Mannar side where it stands high. The Structure of the bridge contains a lot of coral reefs, boulders and similar size of rock pieces. Coral reefs are formed only on hard surface and a study into the formation at Adam’s bridge found that it is nothing but boulders of coral reefs. When drilling was carried out for investigation loose sand was found two to three meters below the reefs. Hard rocks were found several meters below the sand.

     Such a formation which is not natural is impossible unless somebody transported and dumped them there. Had it not been so, these reefs could not have been there. Some boulders, though high, are so light that they could float on waters. Apparently the human intelligence that worked out the blueprint of this structure must have been able to identify suitably high and strong boulders which were easy for transportation. Strong, they would withstand a lot of weight too.

     In Sanskrit setu means artificial bund. Ramayana gives us a graphic and a block by block description about the construction of the setu in its 85 slokas or verses. Interestingly one also comes across sculptures of Prambanan, Indonesia where coral stones had been profusely employed for constructions. It is to be noticed that the South-East Asia comprising Java (yavadweepa), Sumatra (Suvarnabhoomi) Cambodia (Kambhojadesa) etc were within the ambit of India’s cultural influence or part of India’s cultural zone. Naturally the brisk commercial and cultural contacts between India’s southern coast on the Bay of Bengal and these South-East Asian zone must have resulted in the import of the light weight coral stones to the Pamban area. There are coral reefs only west, south-west of Rama setu and not in the Bay of Bengal Palk strait side. This indicates that these materials were manually accumulated.

     According to S Badrinarayan, Director (Rtd.), Geological survey of India and formerly Coordinator, Survey Division, National Institute of Ocean technology:
It s a well known fact that coral reefs can only form in clean and unpolluted water and these being marine organisms require firm and compact formations as foundation. Corals grow only in hard rocks. The presence of loose marine sands below these clearly indicates that these are not natural and are transported .Unless somebody has transported and dumped them these could not have come there. This is an ancient causeway and an engineering marvel.2

Badrinarayan’s geological observations revealed that out of 4 boreholes alongside the sands that go shifting and other 6 in the waters of the Setu track, every six meters, he found marine sands on the top and assemblage of coral waste. Still down the layer, calcareous (calcium) sand stones were fixed and the boulder like material got mixed up. Surprisingly below to 4-5 meters loose sand was found.  He observed that layer after layer (which amounts to five) of prearranged substance made it possible to spread the structure of 50 kilometers to float on the sea between India and Sri Lanka. The layers were formed like loose sand-coral waste-lime stone-loose sand-hard boulders. Interestingly he also noticed the presence of stone quarries in ancient times near Rameswaram and Pamban. It is to be noticed that what are found here are the remains of a floating bridge, the kind referred to in Ramayana which speaks of the floating pieces paved over the water sheet by the monkey Nala which the sea God Varuna who, according to the poetic imaginations, promised Lord Rama to support from below.  

      Dr.S.R. Rao, former Advisor of Marine Archeology Center, National Institute of Oceanography and Founder of Marine Archeological Society of India makes the following observation:

Rocks connecting manner and Rameswaram must have been used by piling up rubble manually on it. For the ancient marine engineers who could build a tidal lock at Lothal [Lothal the Indus site where archaeologists discovered the remains of an ancient Dock with tidal locking system.] in 2300 BC, and build the colossal stone structures of Dwaraka (now submerged and found underwater), the piling up of stones on the so called Adam’s bridge for the army to reach Lanka was an easy task. Hence both from marine archeological and traditional points of view Ram Setu deserves to be declared as an underwater world heritage site.    

  Several evidences from science of Oceanography reinforce that Rama Setu was manmade. Geological survey of the Setu Samudram shipping canal project reveals that to the north of Adams Bridge on the Palk bay side, the formations have undergone down-faulting and that the Adams Bridge came up as an up-thrown block, a fact confirmed both by the bathymetry survey and the NASA land image. The Systematic arrangement of the materials like coral reefs, boulders and rock pieces found in Ramasetu illustrates that land link between India and Sri Lanka could have been a construction linking Rameswaram with Sri Lanka. 3

   It is a well established scientific phenomenon that there has been a major glaciations period (ice age) with glacial maxima at about 18,000 years before the present. This feature has been observed and studied in several parts of the world with the help of submerged corals.4 The study reveals that about 18000 years ago, the sea level was 130 meters lower than what it is today. The study of coral formation at Pamban, Rameswaram and Thoothukudi by P. K. Banerjee proved that 7300 years ago, the sea level on the southern part of the country was about 3.5 meters above the present level. Subsequently between 5000 to 4000 years ago, the sea level went down and rose to more than 2 meters above what it is today. Even now, on the east and west coasts, submerged corals occur around 1 m to 2 m below the sea level. This must definitely have been the coastal zone during the last glacial age, the area from Sri Lanka and further south was a contiguous zone due to the lowered sea level, which later rose due to the melting of glaciers in Antarctic area. The Ramasetu ridge is thus a major marine divide that separates the furious Bay of Bengal Sea and sediments in the Palk Bay and the very calm placid waters of the Gulf of Mannar.5

     The geological logging of the boreholes drilled by the National Institute of Ocean Technology in the inter-tidal areas of Adam’s bridge shows that in all the boreholes the top portion is occupied by recent marine sands. Almost all boreholes reveal the hard formations of calcareous sandstone and corals with which the bridge is made. Corals normally grow atop hard formation for the purpose of stability. As the sea level rise, the coral colony grows up vertically to maintain the water depth into 2 meters for survival. But in case of Adams Bridge, the coral rock pieces in the form of rounded pebbles of corals hardly occur 1m to 2.5meters in length and rest on loose marine sands.

     People in ancient times must have used the less dense calcareous sandstone and corals to construct link between India and Sri Lanka. This cannot be ruled out in the light of the recent geological and archeological findings. There are raised Teri formations that supported a rich assemblage of Mesolithic-microlithic tools indicating the presence of strong human habitation and activity in these areas as early as 8000 to 9000 years before the present and as recent as 4000 years before the present. On Sri Lanka side there are indications of human habitation extending to late Pleistocene period (about 13,000 before the present). This finding is based on bones and fossils of human beings and animals found there.

   The bridge’s unique curvature and composition reveal that it is man made. The legends as well as archaeological studies reveal that the first signs of human habitation in Sri Lanka date back to about 1750000 years ago, almost equivalent to the bridge’s age. Many historical inscriptions, coins, ancient travel guides, old lexicographical references and ancient religious maps indicate that Hindus had down the centuries deemed this structure sacred. The travelogues of the 18th and 19th centuries including that of Marco Polo refer to this Bridge as Setubandha Rameswaram or Ramar Bridge. Adam’s Bridge was the name given to Ramasetu by a British cartographer in 1804. Temple records of Rameswaram suggest that Ramasetu was above the sea level and passable on foot until a cyclone in 1480 AD broke some of the connecting rocks. Gradual shift in sea level encroached upon the remaining structure and ultimately covered the bridge. Though most of structure is underwater today, the Hindus revere the remnants of the bridge, as the sacred Ramasetu and continue the millennia old worship at this site. Another report by the Geological Survey of India too states that the shoal stones placement reveals that they were “deliberately placed there” proving that Ramasetu was manmade.6

NASA too in its space missions has documented the existence of the India-Sri Lanka bridge on two occasions. One such was through Shuttle Radar Topography Mission aboard space shuttle Endeavour launched in February 2000. This was further corroborated in 2002 when satellite images released by NASA showed a chain of limestone shoals resembling a bridge in the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is shaped like a giant teardrop falling from the southern tip of the vast Indian subcontinent. It is separated from India by the 50 km-wide Palk Strait, although there is a series of stepping-stone coral islets known as Adam’s Bridge that almost forms a land bridge between the two countries, say the NASA records.

  The historicity of the Ramasetu cannot thus completely be ruled out because of the accuracy regarding the historicity of Ramayana. Bringing archaeological, geological geographical, historical, hydrological, topographical, meteorological and literary findings together it could be concluded that Rama might have got the Setu built to carry his army to Lanka

The study was made making use of the following scientific devises and methods:
1.    Imagery – Land sat Satellite Photography  
2.    Marine photography of the two sides of Setu from the bottom.
3.    Geological studies of upper and lower layers of sand surface and rock water boring holes samples of 10 places chosen
4.    Tsunami studies
5.    Hydrology
6.    Eco system and marine life tells us that 3600 rare species of flora and fauna exist in Palk Bay which are uncommon now but were in existence since time immemorial (10000 years ago)
7.    Marine biosphere Reserve study was initiated by UNESCO in 1974 in view of the above.
8.    The Government of India reserved 10500 sq.km. area of and 21 islands with continuous stretch of the coral reef (underwater tropical rain forest)
9.    Hyderabad based National Remote sensing agency (NRSA) of department of space – The ancient bridge between India and Sri Lanka structurally suggests that it may be man-made. It is made of chain of shoal which is an example of Ancient History linked to Indian mythology – Ramayana, which says that Lord Rama constructed the bridge to reach Lanka.

Many institutions and agencies have time and again reported that Rama Setu is a man-made structure and not a natural formation. They are, to name a few, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization), NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), NIOT (National Institute of Ocean Technology), BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre), Geological Survey of India, Marine Analytical References of Standards Trivandrum, Marine Archaeology Department (Goa) and National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA)
Not only the Ramayana of Valmiki but many later literary sources also, including the many versions of the Ramayana, allude to the existence of the Setu down the centuries. In addition to the information from Ramayana which has emphatic references to the construction of the Setu in its 85 slokas or verses in Yuddhakanda, Mahabharata, also refers to the continued protection of Nalasetu (the construction of the floating having been ascribed to the magical power of the monkey Nala) of   Lord Sri Rama. Mahabharata discusses Nalasetu not only as an engineering marvel but as had been used as well by people to reach Lanka the time the great epic was written. Sahadeva, one of the Pandava brothers, during his exile travelled up to Nalasetu and offered respect to this engineering marvel. But Ghatotkacha, Sahadeva’s paternal nephew, wanted to cross the sea to Lankato meet his maternal relatives there. Ghatotkacha was a rakshasa from his maternal side, and hence his rakshasa lineage. Therefore he walked over the Nalasetu to Lanka to meet the descendents of Vibhishana to whose clan he belonged. The Skandapurana, kalidasa’s Reghuvamsa, Tulsi Ramayana, Vishnu Purana, Agni Purana and Brahma Purana also refer to the construction of Ram Setu. Even the 11th century Gaznavid traveler Al-Biruni took notice of this bridge which was the best specimen of ancient India’s engineering skill. He writes:
   Next to the great bay in which Singaldip lies, i.e., the island Sarandib (Cylon)
   On the coast is Ummalnara, then Ramsher (Rameswar) opposite sarandib; the distance of sea between them is 12 farsakh.
   Between Ramsher and Setubandha 2 farsakh. Setubandha means bridge of the ocean. It is the dyke of Rama, the son of Dasaratha which he built from the continent to the castle Lanka. At present it consists of isolated mountains between which the ocean flows.
   Sixteen farsakhs from Setubandha towards the east is Kihkind, the mountains of the Vanara.7  

   Having come across the references about this bridge in Ramayana and literatures many scholars connected the setu with the story of bridge building by the soldiers of Lord Rama. According to them the literary reference is corroborated with findings of archaeology and other auxiliary sciences. They strongly believe that this is the same built during the days of Ramayana. M.D. Nalappat, Prof. of Geopolitics, Manipal Univesity, and former Editor of Times of India says. “The importance of Rama Setu is that which establishes the clear culture links with the rest of India, for that reason, it should be protected. It is very clear that it is an effort to deny our history. Lord Rama was not a myth. He was a reality. Unless this fact is openly admitted the young women and men of India will not have the link that gives them the ability to see themselves as equal of any other people and as the generation that would restore India to greatness Lord Rama is not Hindu Icon; He is an Indian hero and glimmer”. Some of them spoke out for the protection of this bridge. Justice Parvatha Rao, former Judge, Andhra Pradesh High Court remarked
we are duty bound to preserve what has been given to us by our ancients i.e., heritage”. He deemed it the duty of the state to preserve it.

  Thus the bridge or the setu, as supported by the many evidences appears to be man made. It is interesting that some years before, India’s former President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, while addressing the scholarly gathering at Amrutanandamayi Matham at Karunagappalli near Kollam (Kerala) in connection with the inauguration of the Amrutasetu (Amrita Bridge) equated it with Ramasetu which he said is man made. Scientific agencies have confirmed its historicity and man-made nature. Thus says the NASA:

The recently discovered bridge currently named as Adam’s Bridge made of chain of shoals, c.18 mi (30 km) long, in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka, reveals a mystery behind it. The bridge’s unique curvature and composition by age reveals that it is man made. The legends as well as Archeological studies reveal that the first signs of human inhabitants in Sri Lanka date back to the a primitive age, about 17,50,000 years ago and the bridge’s age is also almost equivalent. This information is a crucial aspect for an insight into the mysterious legend called Ramayana, which was supposed to have taken place in treta yuga (more than 17, 00, 000 years ago). In this epic, there is a mentioning about a bridge, which was built between Rameswaram (India) and Sri Lankan coast under the supervision of a dynamic and invincible figure called Rama who is supposed to be the incarnation of the supreme. This information may not be of much importance to the archeologists who are interested in exploring the origins of man, but it is sure to open the spiritual gates of the people of the world to have come to know an ancient history linked to the Indian mythology.

1.    In a programme called “Project Rameswaram”, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) concluded through the dating of corals that Rameswaram Island began to evolve 125,000 years ago. Radiocarbon dating of samples in this study suggests that the domain between Rameswaram and Talaimannar may have been exposed around 18,000 years ago. Thermo luminescence dating by GSI concludes that the sand dunes between Dhanushkodi and Adam’s Bridge started forming about 500–600 years ago. Investigation by the Centre for Remote Sensing (CRS) of Bharathidasan University, Tiruchi, led by Professor S.M. Ramasamy dates the structure to 3,500 years. In the same study, carbon dating of some ancient beaches between Thiruthuraipoondi and Kodiyakarai shows that the Thiruthuraipoondi beach dates back to 6,000 years and Kodiyakarai around 1,100 years ago.

2. Sobha Warrier’s interview with Dr Badrinarayanan, ‘All Tamils must unite to save Rama-Setu’, rediffmail.com (http://specials.rediff.com/news/2007/July);
Also see D. K. Hari and Hema Hari, Historical Rama, Bangalore, 2011, p. 108.     
3.  Dr. Subramanian Swami, Ramasetu: Symbol of     National Unity.     
4. Dr.Tad.S Moorthy’s interview with Sobha Warrier for rediff.com. Adam’s bridge man-made structure, ibid.

5. M. P. Ajithkumar, ‘Setu must have been man made’,
    The Pioneer, 9 October 2007

6. The interview with the Geologist Dr.Badrinarayanan published in the form of an article headlined ‘All Tamils must unite to save Rama-Sethu’ (jayasreetharanathanblogspot.com/ramasethu/February 28/2013).

7. Al-Biruni, India, abridged edition of Edward C Sachau’s English translation (Ed. Qeyamuddin Ahmad), New Delhi, 1983, pp. 102-103.

*The author, a Research Scholar in Geography, Centre for Digital Imaging Technology (C–DIT), Thiruvananthapuram, teaches Geography at Sri Manikya Vilasam N. S. S. Higher Secondary School, Kallara, Kottayam, Kerala

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