A major controversy is blowing up in India. It looks as if it is a godsend for opportunist politicians to capitalize on the religious sentiments of the faithful. It has been brewing in the sidelines ever since the $600 million Sethusamudram project was launched by the Government of India.
The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project is for dredging a shipping channel through shallow sea between the south of India and Sri Lanka. The channel will link the Gulf of Mannar with the Palk Strait and will allow ships sailing between the east and west coasts of India to have a straight passage, instead of having to circumvent Sri Lanka. This will lead to a saving of up to 30 hours of sailing time. While inaugurating the project, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India described it as "one of the most ambitious project ever to be conceived in the Indian port sector".
The proposed shipping channel will pass through the shallow sea called Setu Samudram, and through the island chain known as Rama's Bridge or Adam's Bridge. It is a chain of limestone shoals, 48 km long. Some of the sandbanks are dry and the sea in the area is very shallow seriously hindering navigation.
There is a religious dimension to the controversy. Some Hindus believe that Ram Sethu was built by Lord Rama with the help of an army of monkeys led by the monkey god Hanuman. The 'demon king' Ravana of Lanka kidnapped Rama’s wife Sita, and the rescue team of Rama needed the bridge. The epic Ramayana describes the story in great detail and literary style. Hindus attach a great deal of importance to the story, and believe (like any other religious group) all the characters in the story existed in flesh and blood and all events happened exactly as depicted in the epic. So a group of them petitioned the Supreme Court seeking a declaration that the formation known as Ram Sethu is a protected and ancient monument and it should not be demolished while constructing the Sethusamudram channel. The court is now hearing affidavits from all parties concerned.
The period of the Ramayana is considered as Tretha Yuga (more than 1.7 million years ago), but the Ramayana was written around 4000 years ago. So did Rama build the bridge with the help of his monkey army? Possibly not, says a research team from the Centre for Remote Sensing at Bharathidasan University, Tiruchi, India. (Rama’s bridge is only 3,500 years old: CRS).
The controversy has reached its zenith, when the government of India filed an affidavit yesterday through its director of Archeological Survey. It says that the petition “primarily relied upon religious and mythological texts, which formed an important part of ancient Indian literature, but which cannot be said to be historical records to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters or the occurrence of the event, depicted therein."
This has angered the Hindus and the main opposition party in India who promptly threatened a nationwide agitation against the government for hurting religious sentiments.
The Sanskrit word Vanara literally means ‘human with the tail of a monkey’, a race of ape-like humanoids’. According to the Ramayana, the Vanaras lived primarily in the region of Kishkindha in present-day southern India, in the midst of Dandaka Forest, where Lord Rama met them during his search for Sita.
Now, what is the scientific basis for the remote possibility of such complex engineering feats nearly 2 million years ago? According to the latest theories in evolutionary biology humans first evolved in Africa and migrated elsewhere. In fact, there were at least three major waves of human migration out of Africa (Humans Emerged "Out Of Africa" Again And Again:
Alan R. Templeton, Ph.D, Washington University in St Louis). The first wave of this migration reached South Asia around 1.7 million years ago, i.e. during the Thretha Yuga period of Ramayana.
A good time-line of human evolution can be found at http://www.archaeologyinfo.com/species.htm . The species that emerged in Africa around 1.9 million years ago is called Homo Ergaster. The website also portrays an artist’s impression of H. Ergaster. However, researchers currently accept that "modern" humans emerged approximately 200-250 thousand years ago only.
For Ramayana to be authentic, in all probability Lord Rama was one among those migrants from Africa. On his way to the south of India, he befriended the Vanaras who inhabited the region. He then recruited an army of them and constructed a bridge across the shallow seas, which now the Government of India wants to break!
Do you think the Lord Rama was a H. Ergaster? I do not think any Hindu will accept that. All available pictures and idols depict him as a handsome young man!