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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Adam’s Bridge: The Magical Shoal Built By Monkey Army

Is it a natural formation or man-made? That has been the question running for over centuries about the mysterious sandbar that lies between India and Sri Lanka.

From afar, it is like a string of pearls laid in the vast ocean, located between Pamban Island, also known as Rameswaram Island, off the south-eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and Mannar Island, off the north-western coast of Sri Lanka. This chain of limestone shoal has geological indications that it used to connect the countries India and Sri Lanka.

Adam’s Bridge, Rama’s Bridge, Rama Setu
Image: Ancient Origins
Rameshwaram Temple record shows that the bridge was above sea level before a cyclone broke it in 1480. This 48km (30 mi) linking structure divides the Gulf Mannar (southwest) from the Palk Strait (northeast). Navigation on the said area is not possible for its depth is rarely exceeds 1 meter (3ft), and some of its parts are dry. And in the 15th century, it was reported impassable on foot since the storms hollow out the channel. 

Also known as “Rama Setu” or Rama’s Bridge (Hinduism), the Adam’s Bridge (Islamic), the legendary shoal, according to local myths and religious folklore, is a man-made bridge. But scientists have pushed back and said that the bridge is nothing more than a natural formation composed of sand, silt, and small pebbles that have been collected over time, for it was impossible to build such a bridge with that length a thousand years ago.

Adam’s Bridge, Rama’s Bridge, Rama Setu
Image: Wikimedia Commons

There are different accounts on how the bridge was built.

Valmiki, a celebrated poet in Sanskrit literature, wrote an Indian Sanskrit epic Ramayana dated 7th century BCE to 3rd century CE which talked about a bridge, Sethubandhanam. The said bridge was built by Lord Rama of Rameshwaram (India) with the aid of his ape-men army Vanara headed by Hanuma, to save his wife Seta abducted by the ten-headed King Ravana of Lanka (Sri Lanka).

Since it was impossible for Lord Rama’s massive army to cross the treacherous ocean, he consulted the sea God Varuna. He was advised to build a great bridge, with the supervision of Nala, the credited architect of the bridge. With the use of rocks and boulders, the construction of the legendary bridge lasted for five long days. It was then used to cross the ocean and infiltrate Lanka to save Rama’s wife, Seta. The bridge was then called “Rama Setu” (setu in India means bridge) or “Rama’s Bridge.”

In other accounts, Adam’s Bridge was built by a grieving giant, the first man on earth. Derived from the Abrahami myth of Adam and Eve, the story of Adam started from Adam’s Peak, which was also named after him. In some early Islamic sources, it is where he sat foot first after being expelled from heaven and send to earth. Adam was believed to land in the earth with such force and casting a footprint in the peak, stated by Prophet Mohammad, Adam was 90 feet tall an enormous being.

Adam was separated from Eve and descended in another land. He wept for years wondering in the ground looking for Eve crying, which then gave the notion why Sri Lanka’s shape resembles a teardrop. Adam found Eve in the Arabian desert, in a city known now as Jeddah, which was derived from the Arabic word “Jaddah” which means grandmother. But how that got connected with the Adam’s Bridge? Though Adam was described as a gigantic being, it was almost impossible for him to swim across the Arabian Sea from Sri Lanka and boats were not invented by that time. And so it was believed that Adam walked through by land. Based on the map, the distance of Arabia from Sri Lanka is way far from each other. Although Adam was said to live 1000 years, it would be so hard to build a bridge directly to Arabia. A path to connect from Sri Lanka to India and reach the mainland Asia was easier to take and enough for Adam to walk going to Arabia. In 1804, a British cartographer prepared the earliest map and called the shoal Adam’s Bridge.

Adam’s Bridge, Rama’s Bridge, Rama Setu
Image: Amusing Planet
Adam’s Bridge, Rama’s Bridge, Rama Setu
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Theories on how the bridge was constructed have been raised. Was it man-made or the result of natural phenomena?

Researchers from 18-1900 thought that the bridge-like structure was formed when Sri Lanka got separated from the Indian mainland resulted in an ancient coral shoreline. Another notion was accretion, the gradual accumulation of small particles into larger objects by the force of gravity. It can also be a result of the thinning of the earth’s crust in Palk Strait resulting in a “tombolo” or just sand formation made by the oceans’ current.

In 2007, the former director of the Geological Survey of India (GSI) S. Badrinarayanan, surveyed the structure of the bridge and concluded that it was man-made. The presences of loose sand layers under the corals were evident, wherein corals are normally formed above the rocks. A publication from the National Remote Sensing Agency said that the bridge might be man-made.

A decade after, some researchers revisited the location of the Adams’ Bridge. With the aid of advanced technology, they were able to date the rocks from the shoal scientifically. They found out that the rocks were dated approximately 7000 years old, seated on top of sand that was a mere 4000 years old. It was then believed that the stones were brought in, which supports the notion that Adam’s Bridge was man-made.

In 2005, a multi-million dollar Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project was approved by the Government of India. It aims to make a ship channel across the Palk Straits by dredging some ocean floor near Dhanushkodi. The said project will cut at least 400km of travel. But with the possible outcome, such as it may cause tsunamis, impact on ecology and marine wealth, and loss of thorium deposits in the area were some of the primary concerns of those who oppose the project. Alternatives were raised to avoid the dredging of some parts of Adam’s Bridge.

Man-made or not, Adam’s Bridge is a proof that these countries have reach culture and strong traditions. It is also a reflection of faith and beliefs, evidence of diversity, and uniqueness.

By Kris De Vera Estrella, IFY Books

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