Lord Ram’s legacy?


by Rumbold
17th September, 2007 at 9:43 am    

In the Hindu epic the Ramayana, the hero Lord Ram sets out to destroy the terrible demon Ravana, who resides in what is now Sri Lanka. To cross from India to Sri Lanka, Ram constructs a bridge by quelling the sea, and uses monkeys to help him build it. I enjoyed reading the (shortened version of the) Ramayana greatly, but could not say whether this story was true or not. Some people however, are more certain of the accuracy of this book:

“Protest rallies have been held across India by hard-line Hindus to campaign against a proposed shipping canal project between India and Sri Lanka …Protesters say the project will destroy a bridge they believe was built by Hindu God Ram and his army of monkeys.”

Indian archaeologists have argued that there is no basis for the belief that the ‘bridge’ was constructed by Lord Ram. Despite the lack of evidence produced by the protestors though, the minister in charge has still offered to resign. Does it matter whether the bridge was built by Lord Ram or not, since it has become a holy site? Should it be protected on this basis alone, even if the protestors can produce absolutely no evidence to substantiate their claims? Can epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which feature gods and demons, be used as evidence?


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Filed in: Current affairs,Hindu,India,Organisations,Religion,South Asia,Sri Lanka






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  1. World Religion Resources

    World Religion Resources…

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article, but it sounds interesting…




  1. AM I A HINDU? Best Seller — on 17th September, 2007 at 11:05 am  

    India has to do something very pragmatic.

    Indian government should unearth this bridge and place it in Kanyakumari or at the Vivekandanda Rock Memorial and make it a tourist attraction. I am sure UNESCO and the World Bank will be interested. By this way, every one will be more interested in HINDU CULTURE and government can build the shipping lane.

    India has to repeat what UNESCO did during the construction of Aswan High Dam, a huge rockfill dam which captures the world’s longest river, the Nile River. Builders moved all the artifacts related to Egyptian civilization to higher ground before the dam was built.

    Indian government should repeat what Egypt did.

  2. sonia — on 17th September, 2007 at 11:24 am  

    well can’t they compromise? if its a nice old bridge it would be nice to hang onto.

    the question about myths – well precisely. did arthur exist? did merlin exist? we don’t know, but its so much fun anyway, that’s what myths are – they feed our desire to have illustrious ancestors.

  3. sonia — on 17th September, 2007 at 11:25 am  

    didn’t some scholars try and pinpoint where Troy was using the Odyssey as a guide?

  4. rose — on 17th September, 2007 at 12:26 pm  

    “Indian government should unearth this bridge”

    It looks as though it’s more like the Giant’s causeway than a “real” bridge, so I don’t think there’s any way they could move it somewhere else. It’s surprising no-one seems to be arguing that it ought to be protected as a World Heritage site whether or not you think the Ramayana is literally true.

  5. Rumbold — on 17th September, 2007 at 12:59 pm  

    If this bridge was built by Ram then of course it should be a world heritage site. The problem is that the archaeologists are arguing that it was formed naturally. I would protect it on the basis that a lot of people think that it was Ram’s creation and so is important to them; a protection based on religious rather than historical significance.

  6. Jake — on 17th September, 2007 at 1:42 pm  

    Whether or not there is any evidence to support the case Lord Ram built the bridge is not important for the hard-line protestors. As far as they are concerned the Indian government has insulted the Hindu religion and they should be punished for it. They’ll use this opportunity to attack the ‘secular’ government about their allegedly anti-Hindu stance, Sonia Gandhi’s foreign roots and generally inflame Hindu public opinion. This controversy is an opportunity for the Hindu hard-liners to act as protectors of their faith and to convince people to rise up and defend themselves and their religion.

  7. Sunny — on 17th September, 2007 at 2:37 pm  

    Have a bridge fine, but I really despair at what Hinduism has become. These idiots who start a riot every 5 minutes if they don’t get what they want see it as a dogmatic cult about worshipping monkeys and icons.

    The Ramayana and Mahabharata ARE mythology, but people are just too afraid to say it in public in case the fundos jump down their back.

  8. Arif — on 17th September, 2007 at 3:53 pm  

    Some people are interested in a canal. Other people are interested in heritage.

    I guess there is a current of thinking which says the one which pays the most wins. Another current of thinking which believes the sacred cannot be traded. And a middle ground of saying that maybe the sacred can be made into a tourist moneyspinner. It’s a political decision in the end.

    If Hindu religion (ideologically used in whatever naughty ways by agitators) is not to be an arbiter, then neither should attachment to economic development (ideologically used in whatever naughty ways by profit or rent-seekers) be an arbiter.

    A political system of arbitration which left everyone happy – well that’s what I consider a myth. Earnest people seek it like the holy grail.

  9. Jagdeep — on 17th September, 2007 at 3:54 pm  

    It should be protected as an outstanding natural feature anyway.

    By the way, mythology is an important and beautiful thing in its own right. If you don’t understand the reasons and resonances of mythology you don’t understand human society.

  10. Jake — on 17th September, 2007 at 4:53 pm  

    There’s nothing wrong with mythology. It is not always possible to explain all the mysteries of this world literally. Did God really create the universe in 7 days? I don’t think so. What I don’t like is the way hard-liners use a controversy to incense the masses to gain support. The Indian government has now backed down in the face of fierce criticism from Hindu political groups about the claim Lord Ram did not build the bridge. The hard-liners accused the government of not caring about Hindu sentiments, ‘minority appeasement’, the influence of foreign born Sonia Gandhi who is a Christian, etc. These are all arguments to make the majority of the Indian population insecure, paranoid and angry. The Hindus certainly are not under siege as the hard-liners would like people to believe.

  11. Don — on 17th September, 2007 at 5:34 pm  

    It’s a natural formation with attached myths, just like The Giant’s Causeway or Glastonbury Tor. As such it should have special protection – but not for the reason that literalist hard-liners are whipping up unrest. It’s not something that can be moved, any more than you could move the Giant’s Causeway. I’m sure the canal will have economic benefits (I’m less sure for whom) but to permanently destroy a culturally significant natural feature for an economic advantage requires – it seems to me – an overwhelming case to be made.

    On another blog, Mirax commented that if environmentalists had protested the canal on rational, secular grounds they would probably not have been treated with such kid gloves.

  12. justforfun — on 17th September, 2007 at 6:03 pm  

    Adams bridge

  13. justforfun — on 17th September, 2007 at 6:06 pm  

    Before I hit the Submit button by mistake – I was about to say when I took the Ramashwaram-Jaffna ferry 25 years ago, it was known as Adam’s Bridge in the guide book.

    Justforfun

  14. Don — on 17th September, 2007 at 6:13 pm  

    Yes. Apparently Adam did something bad and had to stand one legged on the naughty step for a thousand years. Left a footprint, so that proves it. Moslem folk tale.

  15. justforfun — on 17th September, 2007 at 6:43 pm  

    Shhhh Don – this is not a matter on which these Hindus will want any Muslim help.

    Anyway – isn’t a shipping channel a bit premature – untill the LTTE stops – or will they charge a transit fee.

    Justforfun

  16. Vikrant — on 18th September, 2007 at 8:52 am  

    I think secular governments shouldnt comment on religion.

  17. Jake — on 18th September, 2007 at 9:51 am  

    In the past the Hindu nationalist BJP party supported the building of a canal which involved dredging of Adams Bridge. Now they have done a U-turn on that and oppose it simply to make political gain. The problem with mythology is that it requires no proof. It can be constructed and used for political gains.

  18. rimpal — on 19th September, 2007 at 3:59 am  

    Rumbold,

    A few corrections Re Ramayana.

    Rama did not build the bridge, although he brought Varuna , the keeper of the seas, to heel, so that his vanara colleagues could get started building a breakwater and then building the bridge. The vanaras are humanoid, and many of them were primates. Sugriva was the chief vanara, and the king of those parts, whose help Rama took to attack Ravana. The vanara who built the bridge was Angada, Sugriva’s nephew, and another senior vanara Jambavan. The humans and Rama (and Lakshmana) all got along together famously. Hanuman the really powerful Vanara was a sort of advisor to Sugriva. The vanaras were not monkeys, they were a little different. And some like Hanuman were expert shape-shifters too. All of them had a prehensile tail, which was put to very good use. Ravana wasn’t a fierce demon. He was an incarnation of Jaya, one of Sri Narayana’s/Visnu’s two doorkeepers. Jaya and his brother Vijaya, Vishnu’s doorkeepers were cursed to spend their lives as mortals on earth when they denied admittance to one of those famously hot tempered rishis. When they pleaded with Vishnu, he gave them a choice. Be born as good men and spend nine lives on earth, before return to the bhgavan’s service or take birth as not so straight sorts and spend three lives on earth, before return. Jaya and Vijaya naturally took the latter option. Now Ravana was but for some minor character flaws, a kind and generous ruler whose people were prosperous and happy, an artiste supreme who melted Shiva’s heart, a patron of the arts, a warrior extra-ordinaire, and a supreme bhakta of Shiva. So such a virtuous man with a character flaw could only be vanquished by Mahavishnu himself. Anyone less and it would be an insult!

  19. Rumbold — on 19th September, 2007 at 12:46 pm  

    Rimpal:

    Thank you for the corrections over the bridge building. However, I would still disagree with you though over your views about Ravana. Ravana was indeed pious, and a good ruler, but he was not virtuous. One of the main messages of the Ramayana was that piety was nothing without virtue. Ravana was praised for performing austerities for thousands of years and given great power because of that, but he used his power to advance himself, rather than help others. The reason that Vishnu reincarnated himself as Ram was because only a man could slay Ravana, since Ravana was protected from all other beings.

  20. rimpal — on 19th September, 2007 at 1:06 pm  

    Rumbold,
    However, I would still disagree with you though over your views about Ravana. There we are. That’s the way we interrogate the epic. That’s why it is a living and evolving epic. Chennai hosts an annual forum of Kamaba Ramayanam (the Tamizh account of the epic) poets. M.M. Ismail a lawyer, jurist, and a man of letters, among the foremost experts on Kamban of all time, chaired a debate over where in Ramayanam, Kamban loses himself and gives in to pathos, questioning Rama’s actions. The forum concluded that it is in the chapter where Ravana’s final battle and death happen that Kamban gives in to his emotions unable to find a way to redeem Rama. So there you are. We disagree, go back, read some more, and may yet have another discussion. That’s what makes the epic so interesting.

  21. Rumbold — on 19th September, 2007 at 1:10 pm  

    Rimpal:

    I agree that the fact that it is not just good vs. bad is what makes it so fascinating. You obviously know more about the contemporary context then I, so would it be fair to say that Lord Ram is often the hero in the north of India, while Ravana enjoys more of a following down south?

    Sorry, what is the “Tamizh account”?

  22. rimpal — on 20th September, 2007 at 3:22 am  

    Rumbold,

    Thank you for your interest. Tamizh is how you pronounce the name of the language – T is a soft t, and zh is pronounced like an ‘r’ with the tngue rolled back without touching the palate. I say Tamizh account rather than Tamizh version. Because when I use the trm version, it seems as if there is a canonical text of the Ramayana that has been translated into Tamizh. Not so. The Kamba Ramayanam stands by itself and that is why I say Tamizh account of Rama. Years ago I sat thru a 9-day bhashan (or kalakshepam) of the Ramayana, and the bhagavatar who narrated the epic (in Tamizh) constantly compared Valmiki and Kamban. And there are so many differences! You cannot gain a measure of the Ramayana even if you read 10 different accounts. In the end we all create our own epics. Ramanand Sagar’s much maligned “Ramayan” teleserial is a great work for the amount of research that went into it. Every episode featured references from the many different classical accounts of the epic. And with all that Sagar was simply scratching the surface. I have seen two Ramayana movies, and the one in Tamizh “Sampoorna Ramayanam” explored Ravana’s character at length.

    Rama is certainly more popular than Ravana, not only in the North but also in the South. Because for one thing Ravana is also seen as another follower of Bhagavan Rama, though not quite as exalted as Hanuman aka Bajrang Bali. Rama is appreciated for obeying his father and helping him keep his word, remaining true to his wife, and pining for her, and raising hell to get her back. Women appreciate this quality of Rama, but are critical for what he did to Sita. In many parts of modren day Jharkhand, or Mithila of yore, Rama is criticised for what he did to the daughter of Mithila i.e., Maithili/Sita/Janaki.

    Thanks for the airtime.

  23. KSingh — on 20th September, 2007 at 7:36 am  

    It is disgraceful how lynch mobs operate with immpunity in India. The Congress party organised massacres in 1984 against Sikhs, and the BJP against Muslims in Gujrat. Now Tamils have been lynched.

    Tamil Nadu leader joins God row

    Mr Karunanidhi refuses to budge from his stand
    The chief minister of India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu is sticking to his controversial statement questioning the existence of Hindu God Ram.
    M Karunanidhi also said there was no proof that Lord Ram had constructed a bridge where a new shipping canal is planned between India and Sri Lanka.

    Hard-line Hindu groups say the chief minister’s statement is blasphemous.

    On Tuesday Hindu activists angered by the comments set fire to a Tamil Nadu bus, killing two people, police said.

    Enraged Hindu hardliners in the city of Bangalore, in neighbouring Karnataka state, also attacked the home of Mr Karunanidhi’s daughter, Selvi.

    Apology sought

    Hindu scripture says the area between India and Sri Lanka – now known as Adam’s Bridge – was built millions of years ago by Lord Ram, supported by an army of monkeys.

    But scientists and archaeologists say Adam’s Bridge, or Ram Setu, is a natural formation of sand and limestone. Hard-line Hindu groups say a proposed canal project between India and Sri Lanka will destroy the bridge.

    They say Mr Karunanidhi’s statement is blasphemous and have demanded an apology from him.

    Hindu devotees believe the “bridge” was built by Lord Ram

    “You tell me whether Ram lived. I had only stated that there was no person in the name of Lord Ram. What is wrong in that?” Mr Karunanidhi is reported to have told a TV channel.

    On Saturday, addressing a public rally, Mr Karunanidhi had asked: “Who is this Ram? From which engineering college did he graduate?”

    Angered by his statement, Hindu hard-line groups have demanded his dismissal and arrest.

    Last Wednesday, the Archaeological Survey of India told the Supreme Court that religious texts were not evidence that Lord Ram ever existed.

    Hard-line Hindu opponents of the government accused the administration of blasphemy and protesters held demonstrations in the area and in Delhi, Bhopal and on a number of key highways.

    The next day the report was withdrawn.

    In a damage control exercise, two directors of the Archaeological Survey of India were suspended and Culture Minister Ambika Soni offered to resign.

    The government wants to build a canal to link the Palk Strait with the Gulf of Mannar by dredging a canal through the shallow sea.

    The $560m Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project is expected to provide a continuous navigable sea route around the Indian peninsula and is expected to boost the economic and industrial development of the region.

  24. Rumbold — on 20th September, 2007 at 9:37 am  

    Rimpal:

    Thanks for the information. I have never seen any Ramayana adaption on the screen, but would like to. It is, like you say, difficult to do when there are so many different intepretations of every scene.

    “You cannot gain a measure of the Ramayana even if you read 10 different accounts. In the end we all create our own epics.”

    Nice phrase.

  25. rimpal — on 20th September, 2007 at 12:50 pm  

    Hindu scripture says the area between India and Sri Lanka – now known as Adam’s Bridge – was built millions of years ago by Lord Ram, supported by an army of monkeys. K. Singh it would be a good thing to paste a link from this thread to your online news-source. Even conceding there is something like “Hindu Scripture”, since there isn’t anything like that, nowhere is it written that present Rama Setu is the bridge built by Sugriva’s army. The natural formation has for a long time been known as Rama Setu, and the names Sethuraman and Sethu are common in Southern TN.

  26. KSingh — on 21st September, 2007 at 7:28 am  

    The link requested is from the BBC,

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7002695.stm

  27. Rumbold — on 21st September, 2007 at 9:45 am  

    Rimpal:

    If the version of the Ramayana that I read the bridge was constructed under the auspices of Lord Ram, when he wanted to cross to Lanka.

  28. sunray — on 22nd September, 2007 at 2:18 pm  

    Mythological or real?

    The Mahabharata and the Ramayana are not mythological stories but mythological aspects have been interwoven into the original life history of the Pandavs and Rama which are now inseparable. The existence of Rama and Krishna is a FACT and not a mythology. They have found the city of Dwarka (of Krishna) also which further strengthens the fact. Its not easy to imagine how mythology has got into stories passed from one generation to the next over centuries till finally it was committed into writing.
    Even in the 21st Century of modern technology and cameras we have ‘mythological’ aspects interwoven with factual stories. Eg 9/11 which has people making different theories and stories of what really happened.

    How then can we deny stories interwoven with mythology of the past as false, unreal. What will be the final version of the 9/11 story that will be printed??? Who knows?
    May be evil aliens beamed in and out of those planes.

    Only 2,000 years ago we have had Jesus whose stories are mythological in reading but we know he was a real being. There are stories of angels and golden tablets in Islam which are believed to be real and similarly there are many miraculous stories of saints like Guru Nanak only 500 years old! Yet he is very real.

    The point Im making is that writers have had a love affair with making the stories of their heroes more grand then it may have been. I don’t know why it is so. I don’t know why they even do it today!
    Elivs still lives by the way.

  29. KSingh — on 22nd September, 2007 at 6:50 pm  

    This is turning nasty, the BJP think they can bring down the Government by whipping up the Hindus as they did with Ayoadya. The Govt is saying sorry and Ministers are willing to resign instead of defending themselves.

    It is interesting that these kind of events show that secularism is dead in India.

    Times of India

    Uma Bharti files police complaint against PM, Sonia, Karunanidhi

    22nd Sept

    NEW DELHI: Firebrand saffron leader Uma Bharti on Saturday filed a police complaint here against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, DMK chief Karunanidhi and some others for allegedly hurting the sentiments of the Hindu community on the Ram Setu issue.

    In the complaint filed at the Parliament Street Police Station, she demanded action against Law Minister H R Bharadwaj, Culture Minister Ambika Soni and Shipping Minister T R Baalu.

    The Bharatiya Janshakti Party leader sought action against Gandhi, Singh and his cabinet colleagues Bharadwaj, Soni and Baalu in connection with the controversial Ram Setu affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, saying the “sentences and words” in the document hurt the sentiments of Hindus.

    Bharti, in the complaint, said Karunanidhi, “by terming the existence of Lord Ram a lie and using insulting language for him” had hurt the sensitivity of the community.

    “I am a Hindu and my sentiments have been hurt. That is why I have filed the complaint,” Bharti said.

    “We have given a notice of 15 days. We want action within 15 days or we will gherao the Home Minister,” she said.

  30. Jakey — on 22nd September, 2007 at 10:07 pm  

    This is ridiculous. It’s becoming more and more common nowadays for people to file police complaints about ‘hurting the sentiments of Hindus’. The Shilpa Shetty/Richard Gere kiss caused a similar outcry from Hindu hard-liners. When Sachin Tendulkar cut a cake with the Indian flag on it that too caused an outcry.

    Is the Hindu far right desperate or are they gaining in strength? One thing is that they are better funded these days. Gujarat today is run by a very hard-line BJP government. That seems to be the centre of Hindu extremism and with a lot of money coming in from overseas the hard-liners are spreading their nasty politics in other areas of the country.

  31. sunray — on 23rd September, 2007 at 5:03 pm  

    Why should the PM be above the Law?
    He should have sacked the minister for not a simple case of hurting the Hindu sentiment but for trying to dismiss an entire religion in country that thrives, lives and breathes on religion.

    If the PM cant handle his stupid ministers then he should not be running the country in my opinion.

    The Hindu emotion has been rising against the nudity and certain influence of western culture (not all) that they are bombarded with on TV. So when a chance to speak up about it comes as did with the Shilpa saga, the Hindus are portrayed as fundamentalist or stupid. I guess Hindus don’t help themselves by their stupid actions either.

    There is a further hurt to the Hindus whose very temple grounds are being sold to be replaced by Churches. The donations by Hindus are also said to have been used to fund other religions like Muslims who want to go on Hajj. So when objections are made against these they are again called extremist and fundamentalist which they clearly are not.

    All these and more happenings is a combination of actions against the Hindus, by the Government is stirring up emotions of Hindus to take actions.
    Hindus have been forced into a corner and take action which the people in the west call extremism or groups who complain about them are called Hardliners etc.

    The west havent woken up to what is happening to the Buddhist Monks in their own country, so I doubt very much they understand what is happening to Hindus in their own country until it is too late!

    Perhaps it is what is planned by Christian evangelist from USA. A different way to divide and rule a growing nation.

  32. Jakey — on 23rd September, 2007 at 9:23 pm  

    sunray, at least half of what you have written are conspiracy theories coming out of the Sangh Parivar.

    “Hindus have been forced into a corner and take action which the people in the west call extremism or groups who complain about them are called Hardliners etc.”

    What about organisations like VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena? Are they not hard-liners? You think mindlessly attacking Muslims, Christains, and anyone else they basically don’t like is justified? They are just as bad as any other extremist group.

  33. sunray — on 24th September, 2007 at 8:10 am  

    OK jakey lets say what you say is true.
    What I dislike about comments on here is that everytime a Hindu has a problem it is either brushed under the carpet or we are compared to some extremist groups around the world or “written as some conspiracy theories coming out of some groups”!! That’s it, full stop.

    No one tries to take on the ordinary Hindu point of perspective and see how they might be feeling.
    It’s the same old rant using secularism and democracy to try and reason why Hindus should not do anything.
    They even lament what Hindus have become and even agree with the Governments and even themselves call Rama false thinking they have made some brave comment which will earn them respect.

    The article cant even see the very evidential name LANKA comes from the very times that Rama built or had the bridge built!

    Hindus like me then who do shout about issues like calling Rama false, are tagged with those so called hardliner groups. If those hardliner groups make a song and dance about it also then in this instance they are not wrong.

    Why is there never any comments about the idiotic Government that failed to look after the interest of its own people? The religion of the country.

    You know some people here have a habit of moaning so much NEGATIVITY ABOUT EVERY THING that they cant differentiate between right and wrong anymore.

    And as you say this is becoming more and more common.
    If Hindus continue to be ignored then I am not surprised that it will. Hindus are just ordinary human beings and not special people who can forever take the taunts and abuse, insults of the world and ignore it.
    If that is your perception of Hindus then its time to get rid of it.

  34. Jakey — on 26th September, 2007 at 6:11 am  

    Its a pity politicians in India are constantly bringing religion into politics. What about the bread and butter issues that affect the millions upon millions? By constantly alluding to mythology and an imaginary past they want to play about with the present.

  35. sunray — on 26th September, 2007 at 7:45 am  

    Jakey that was a spiteful post. ‘mythology and an imaginary’!!
    Hindu history is NOT imaginary.
    Its people like you who are playing with the present, with the minds of Hindus, inciting hatred with your taunts. Then you innocently wonder what Hindus are angry about.
    Mocking others belief makes you brave and respectable does it?

  36. Jakey — on 26th September, 2007 at 11:14 am  

    I have nothing against Hindus or Hinduism. What I don’t like is politicians trying to use Hinduism to gain political power. It would be nice if India continues to be a secular democracy although there are many politicians, well funded by jet set wealthy businessmen living abroad, who are committed to transforming India into a Hindu theocracy.

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