Kashmir to Kanyakumari – two symbolic problems in modernization

Posted on July 24, 2008. Filed under: India, Politics |

Kashmir is refusing to cool down. As discussed long ago in these posts, the Hindus in Jammu would have learnt their lessons in the manipulation of Indian “central” concerns to uphold perpetuation of the hold of a religious creed over territory and populations. Strangely, the Congress led government of Jammu and Kashmir ultimately supported the theory that a particular culture or religion has absolute claim over parts of Indian territory as well as populations. However it will be the same Congress which will paint the BJP or RSS as “communal” and “sectarian” who are trying to claim “India” for the Hindus. But the simmering trouble in Jammu, with the recent suicide of an activist, will continue, as this is a rallying symbol for the opposition to the Muslim dominance in the state, and perhaps also represents the reality that there is a significant non-Muslim population of Hindus and Buddhists in the state, who have had no reasons as per recent historical experience to continue their trust in Muslim “religious behaviour” towards non-Muslims.

At the other end of India, the extreme South, we have the controversy brewing again about “Sethusamudram”. The Congress government, flush with its “controversial” success in the trust vote, is now pushing forward with the project which is simply a project to cut a shipping channel across the geological feature called “Adam’s Bridge” in modern parlance, and “Sethubandhan/Rameswaram” (place of building the bridge/place of “Lord Rama”). Pro channel people claim the feature, is a sand bar. The problem here is that although this is quite possible, as well as reasonable, a sand bar which rises above the sea level in many places needs coral or bedrock formations close to the surface. Anti channel group’s main objection is the feature’s traditional identification with the bridge building story in Ramayana.

What do I think of the Ramayana story? I think there are three distinct possibilities –

(a) After the last ice age, when the major de-glaciations started around 10,500 BCE, sea level began to rise in well recorded phases continuing right upto about 1500 BCE. From reconstructed maps of the Indian subcontinent for this period, we can see that at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGE) at around 18000 BCE, Sri Lanka was connected to India by a wide land bridge. This bridge thinned but did not completely vanish until about 6000 BCE. Until 4000 BCE there could still have been chains of islands strecthing from mainland India to Sri Lanka. Tamil mythology also speaks of the Kumari Kandyam, (Land of the Kumari/over which Kumari rules) a rich land supporting multiple kingdoms and cultures which was swallowed up by the sea around this time. It is not completely impossible that the bridge was an actual attempt at building a small causeway (Alexander did so at Acre) to a port city on one of these islands close to the coast. These would have been rough constructions, with little trace of metal or stone tools, and primarily built of rough stones or boulders and compacted clay and gravel. On the other hand the causeway could simply be a filling up of high-tide channels between islands all the way to Sri Lanka, and the total such distance would also be small, as the overall sea-level would be lower. After thousands of years of battering by the sea, it would be extremely difficult to find human archaeological evidence. But we need archaeological evidence for a city or settlement like Lanka to have existed at that period on main island, or even submerged off coast. Existence of such cities or settlements should not be entirely dismissed as the possibility of similar submerged settlements off-coast (on-shore in the ancient period) on the Gujarat (Dwarka/Beyt Dwarka) side is being investigated by the Marine archaeology division of ASI.

(2) The memory of an earlier accidental fire or war that destroyed a rich trading centre in the neighbourhood of the then continuous stretch of land between India and Sri Lanka, could be reinforced by later generations of natives as well as visitors or immigrants by connecting existing visible traces of submerged ridges and islands as a possible mechanism to explain how armies could have reached a settlement now on an island.

(3) The Ramayana story is a complete “myth” (I doubt though if there is any pure “myth” without some connection to real events – as the human mind works by abstraction from concrete objects, by matching “patterns” and commonalities) and never happened. This is a claim as hard to prove as that the essential story-line in Ramayana did happen.

Reasons for the project :

1. advantages to the shipping business in cutting distance of travel

Reasons against the project :

1. How far the advantages from the growth in shipping will trickle down to the local coastal communities is not clear

2. Increased shipping through this channel will definitely affect sea-life in the otherwise shallow sea, and could impact the lives of fishing communities on the sea coast.

3. Given that the Tamil separatist problem in the southern side of the channel around Jaffna peninsula on Sri-Lankan side has not yet been settled, both foreign ships as well as the LTTE “navy” which almost surely depends on arms and ammunition supply through underground links from mainland India (Jaffna’s and LTTE stronghold’s geographical position makes any other supply route impossible) could get involved in jeopardizing security issues. Ships could be attacked or sabotaged in the narrow channel and the entire channel would be held up. On the other hand ships could be used to smuggle in arms.

The Congress government’s use of Kamban Ramayana (Ramayana version as adapted by the famous 1st millenium Tamil poet and Lyricist Kamban) is stupid. There are many different versions of the Ramayana story, ranging from Advbhuta Ramyana, a Tibetan Ramayana, and Indonesian Ramayana over and above the modern scholar accepted earliest version of Balmiki Ramayana. Picking one of them to say that Rama destroyed the “Sethu” also implies that the Congress officially believes in the existence at some point in history of the “Sethu” after all.

It would be most interesting to see someone with the deconstructing abilities of Prof. Romila Thapar take Kamban Ramayana apart – there could be such juicy pieces as to the inner motivations of Kamban to reconstruct the whole Ramayana story to justify a certain ideological position on the part of a Tamil with exceptional poetical abilities as well as equal grasp of Sanskrit and Tamil – and his version all wishful thinking and reconstructions or imaginations. But she or or her historian friends cannot intervene – it would go against a particular regime’s political requirements.

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