Can the Monkey God Save Rama’s Underwater Bridge?

March 27, 2007

Author: Ruth Gledhill and Jeremy Page

Source: Times Online

Hindu groups are launching an international campaign today to halt India’s plans to create a shipping channel by dredging the sea between India and Sri Lanka.

They say that the project will destroy an ancient chain of shoals known as Adam’s Bridge, which Hindus believe was built by an army of monkeys to allow Lord Rama to cross to Lanka to rescue his abducted wife. They are also protesting on environmental grounds, arguing that the 30-mile string of limestone shoals, also known as Ram Sethu, protected large parts of India from the 2004 tsunami.

“The bridge is as holy to Hindus as the Wailing Wall is to the Jews, the Vatican to Catholics, Bodh Gaya to Buddhists and Mecca to Muslims,” said Kusum Vyas, president and founder of Esha Vasyam, a US Hindu environmental lobbying group. “It is an unacceptable breach of the religious rights of over one billion Hindus to destroy such a sacred landmark without even consulting us.”

The £280 million Sethusa-mudram project has been mired in controversy ever since it was inaugurated by Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, in July 2005. The Government says that the 167km (104mile) channel through the Palk Strait will cut an estimated 400km (and 30 hours) off the journey between the east and west coast of India. The fastest current route is around Sri Lanka.

It argues that Adam’s Bridge is a natural geological formation and that its plans to dredge to a depth of 12 metres will not cause serious environmental damage. It also says that the plan will benefit millions of people in the area by allowing the development of a commercial fishing industry. The project is due to be completed next year, by which time an estimated 48 million cubic metres of silt will have been removed from the Palk Strait.