“Who is this Ram?” – Will Thiru Karunanidhi look at this evidence?
I doubt if this piece will ever find its way to Hon. Thiru Karunanidhi but if it does, he will have good reasons to re-consider his earlier remarks (emphasis mine):
Who is this Ram?
From which engineering college he graduated? Is there any proof for this?
What follows is by far one of the best (and most extensive) piece of research I have yet come across on the historicity of Ramar Sethu and Lord Shri Rama.
It is a fairly long post (even though I have only taken�excerpts) – but please do read when you have the time.� The points made are compelling and have been put together cogently. Considered within the overall context, they�make a�strong case for the preservation of Ram-Setu or Sethubandha Rameshwaram (Thanks to Dr S Kalyanaraman-ji for alerting me to this; Pl note that there are several instances of the word “Aryan” in this essay – I would like readers’ views on this theory vis-a-vis AIT)
*** CAUTION: Long Post ***
Excerpts from�Ramsetu � myth or fact by Dr. Nishit Sawal, M.D. (Medicine), April 2008 (emphasis mine).� Dr. Sawal begins his essay with the following preface re. the historical basis of Ramayana:
“The recent Sethusamudram project controversy has again brought in limelight the Ramayana and the question of it being an historical fact or a plethora of myths and fables.
The UPA government filed an affidavit stating that �mythological texts such as the Ramayana cannot be said to be historical record to incontrovertibly prove the existence of characters or the occurrence of events depicted therein�. Since this affidavit has cast doubts about whether Lord Rama actually existed or was just a hero of various myths whose fame increased to such an degree with the passage of time so that he came to be worshipped as God by succeeding generations , let�s evaluate the evidence we have of existence of lord Rama.
The foremost question is whether Lord Rama actually ruled in India and if yes, at what period. This is not an easy task for around Lord Rama�s life has grown a tangle of pious legend , through which it is very difficult to penetrate to the flowers of historic truth.”
Dr Sawal then examines the lives of Lord Buddha and Lord Jesus Christ (and the evidence surrounding them) and states:
*** Excerpts Begin ***
…if we simply go by the legends centered around Buddha, we can only come to one conclusion – Mythological texts such as the Buddhist literature cannot be said to be historical record to incontrovertibly prove the existence of characters or the occurrence of events depicted therein. But chip away the increment of these later legends and the kernel of historical truth becomes clearly obvious. Viewed this way, even the harshest rationalist can�t cast any doubt on the existence of Buddha.
A similar study can be made of one of the most prevalent religion on earth – Christianity. ..
…on applying scientific reason – we�re unable to accept the teachings of Bible in totality.
…No archaeological or literary evidence that directly supports the existence of Jesus has ever been found.
…again if we simply go by the legends surrounding the life of Jesus Christ and the Bible , we can only come to one conclusion- �Mythological texts such as the Bible and other related literature cannot be said to be historical record to incontrovertibly prove the existence of characters or the occurrence of events depicted therein�.
A�similar case can also be made for Mahavira Varadhmana � the founder of Jainism.
Thus we see that the holy scriptures of any religion cannot be taken on their face value…
It is only when we chip away at this accretions of centuries which in the form of legends and myths tends to obscure the real historical facts that we can extract the real historical kernel from these scriptures.
…the Ramayana is as good a source of historical tradition as is the Bible or the Buddhist or the Jaina canon. However a flaw common to all these scriptures is that they have been heavy cloaked in myths and fables so as to envelop their heroes with divine powers. To reach the historical heartwood in these scriptures , we have to strip away the bark of poetic exaggerations added by the later generations.
Authenticity of the epics and supportive historical evidence
The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are collectively referred as the epics and the period in which the incidents described in these two epics occurred is referred to as the epic period by historians. However many historians doubted the authenticity of these epics and The Ramayana and The Mahabharata were simply considered to be poetic fantasies without any historical basis at all.
Archaeological work has now proven Mahabharata to be a indisputable historical fact but it is also recognized that the events of the original war have been clothed in poetic exaggerations over the centuries so as to assume a form quite different from the original events.� Mythology fixed the date of the Mahabharata war as having occurred around 3000-4000 B.C.
�However such an early date for Mahabharata is clearly not tenable for the social and economic structure of societies in the third millennia before Christ could not have supported kingdoms as described in the Mahabharata .� Pargiter after an extensive analysis arrived at an date of around 950 B.C for the Mahabharata.
�archaeological evidence now clearly shows Mahabharata to be a historical event.� However one has to keep in mind that the Mahabharata as we know today is a grossly inflated version of the events which actually took place.
�Current archaeological evidence conclusively proves that the Mahabharata thus represents a true sequence of events , albeit in a greatly magnified form.� Firm Archaeological evidence for the cities mentioned , the events depicted in the Mahabharata has been found. However one has to remember that just a few decades back, historians used to casually dismiss Mahabharata as being based on fictitious events alone , as a collation of stories and myths. It was only after indisputable archaeological proof filtered in that they had to accept it�s authenticity, albeit grudgingly.
A similar case can be made for the Ramayana although archaeological evidence to support the Ramayana is not as yet conclusive as is in case of the Mahabharata.� Some progress has been made in gathering archaeological evidence related to cities mentioned in the Ramayana. The city of Maithila where Sridhavaja or Janaka – father of Sita ruled has been identified with small town of Janakpur within the Nepal border , north of where the Darbhanga and the Muzzafarpur districts meet.
�Mention of Panchala is made in the Ramayana. And surely it is no coincidence that Ahichchhatra and Kampil � important cities of Panchala have yielded archaeological remnants which are commensurate with the predicted social and economic conditions prevalent during the time of the Ramayana. PGW [ painted grey ware ] in large quantities has been found at both these sites and iron has also been found at Ahichchhatra.
The Ramayana mentions that Lord Rama ruled over the kingdom of Kosala. Puranic sources � probably recording older traditions � also mention that the Ikshvaku kings ruled at Kosala . Buddhist accounts relying on older traditions state that the Kosalan kings had their capitals at Saketa and Sravasti in addition to Ayodhya. Ayodhya [ literally meaning impregnable] was probably the earliest capital followed by Saketa and Sravasti was the last. Archaeological explorations have validated some of these traditions. Sravasti has been identified as being identical with the site of Sahet-Mahet on the south bank of the Rapti lying on the boundary of Gonda and Baharaich districts of Uttar Pradesh. This site has yielded PGW [ painted grey ware] in beautiful forms, albeit in a limited number thus providing evidence that habitation here dates to the Vedic times. Saketa has been identified with modern Fyzabad.
�One limiting factor here is that only small scale archaeological explorations have been carried out at these sites . An archaeological exploration conducted on a large scale by a fully equipped team of trained archaeologists will put to rest all theories which consider the Ramayana as a mythical event.
The fact that no idol or any other evidence relating to deification and worship of Lord Rama has yet been discovered which can be dated to the Later Vedic period makes it clear that Lord Rama was venerated as a good and wise king in the centuries immediately succeeding him but later he was deified and came to be worshipped as an incarnation of Vishnu .
�archaeology is not a science where one can have results in days or months. Archaeological results are based on years of perseverance , patient analysis of the material unearthed and last but not the least – luck. A Lucky find � as was in the case of Rosetta stone in Egypt- can solve archaeological riddles which have been puzzling us for centuries. Sadly such a lucky strike has yet eluded us in the case of the Ramayana.
Historical basis of Ramayana
Literary sources make it clear that Lord Rama…ruled in a period when kingdoms had become the dominant territorial unit replacing the previously existing tribal states.� Also various sources make it clear that Lord Rama reigned in a period where agriculture had become the pre-dominant occupation of people. Thus we can roughly fix the period of Lord Rama ruling in the later Vedic period represented by the PGW – painted grey ware – people who used iron technology and this comes around 1000-500 B.C.
Lord Rama�s reign is unlikely to have coincided with the early Vedic period or the Rig Vedic period [ 1600-1000 B.C] owing to the following reasons-
The early Vedic society was pastoral, semi-nomadic and predominantly tribal. Agro-pastoralism was the main occupation of the early Vedic period …Since the early Vedic people lived in a semi-nomadic stage and were constantly engaged in warfare for sake of cows, they had to be mobile. This naturally prevented them from forming stable kingdoms and owing to economic and social factors prevalent at the time, small tribal principalities were the rule of the day.
…(In the Later Vedic period)…Tribal groups had paved way for territorial kingdoms. The later Vedic people had better knowledge of seasons , used manure and practiced irrigation all of which led to a significant increase in agricultural production.
The later Vedic period witnessed the introduction of iron technology on a large scale – chiefly in weaponry, agricultural tools such as the iron ploughshare which led to increase in agricultural production and the surplus production led to exchange in form of trade and commerce which fostered development of arts and culture. Initially used for weapons, iron was also now used to make ploughshares and this technological advance led to a drastic increase in agricultural production.
…The later Vedic society had territorial kingdoms in the sense that people led a settled agricultural life under their princes and Brahmanas � several archaeological sites show a continuous habitation for two or three centuries.
Agriculture had received a major stimulus with the use of iron technology and agrarian settlements were rapidly expanding. The surplus grain made tax collection possible and the taxes thus collected could support kings and priests. This is the period in which the events mentioned in the Ramayana probably occurred. Sita , Lord Rama�s wife and the heroine of Ramayana , is mentioned as being daughter of king Janaka , king of Videha, who turned her up while ploughing the soil ; the word sita literally means �plough furrow�. The fact that the birth/creation of one of the most important characters of the Ramayana is directly attributed to an agricultural process indicates the central role plough agriculture had come to play in the society and economy of the Ramayana period .
A remarkable feature which distinguished the later Vedic period from the preceding rig-Vedic period was the development of two important organs of the government , taxation system and official machinery. The development of taxation system has already been mentioned. Regular taxes led to an increase in the number of administrative functionaries during this period. At last twelve of the ratnins seem to have been officials who were evidently supported out of the taxes collected by the state. The stage was now ripe for the rise of kingdoms and princes.
Thus from the above mentioned data we can hazard a reasonable guess that Lord Rama reigned in the Later Vedic period around 1000-500 B.C.
The greatness of Lord Rama
The agrarian economy during the period of Ramayana necessitated two things for the economy to grow and sustain itself
1. Further expansion of agriculture and a corresponding increase in land under the plough.
2. Securing the trade routes which ran through forests against the looting of forest tribes
Brute force and reconciliatory measures were both used by the Aryan agriculturists to achieve the above mentioned aims . This is well demonstrated by the episode of Khandava-daha-parva in the Mahabharata. However brute force could not succeed alone, it had to be buttressed by reconciliatory measures.
Aryan agriculturists probably had made earlier attempts also at appeasing the tribesmen and had tried incorporating them within their social system. In these tribes, generally the differentiation was only between the chief, who had the highest status , and the other clansmen . However in case of the assimilation of the tribe with the Aryans and with learning of agriculture and trade by tribesmen, new social norms would inevitably come to be accepted by the tribesmen which would dilute the authority of the tribal chief. Because of this factor, the chiefs of the tribes were vehemently opposed to assimilation with the Aryan agriculturists and would rather fight them to the end rather than accept assimilation within the Aryan society.
Lord Rama came to be known as a great king owing to the middle path he trod in achieving the above mentioned aims . It is probably on account of the signal service attributed to him in spreading the Aryan agricultural culture far and wide, especially in the Deccan , and rendering the trade routes running through these regions free from brigandage that he came to be venerated by the succeeding generations. One has to recognize these solid facts � the rapid expansion of agriculture from the Indo-Gangetic plain to the Deccan and beyond and that trade with south India increased drastically in volume following the period of Lord Rama�s exile . These lend support to the theory that events which happened during Lord Rama�s exile were one of the main catalysts of the above mentioned processes.
The numerous stories of Lord Rama vanishing Asuras/Danavas in which the Ramayana abounds probably refer to engagements of Lord Rama with the chiefs of these tribes . As we know from the Ramayana that during his exile period , Lord Rama was not having any peasant militia or an army at his disposal and logic dictates that despite being an brilliant archer, he could not have fought an entire tribe alone . So probably the stories of his fights with Asuras/Danavas/Rakshasas are accounts of Lord Rama entering into man to man combat with these tribal chiefs and subjugating them.
Thus we glean from traditional literature that Lord Rama fought many man to man contests with the tribal chiefs � contests in which he could have been wounded or worse , not for his own good but solely for the purpose of improving the lot of the tribals and for the indirect benefits that would accrue to the Aryan agriculturists. Probably Lord Rama realized that the social and economic organization of the tribals would evolve further only if they were introduced to agriculture and that the single most important obstacle in introducing agriculture to them was the stubborn refusal of the tribal chiefs to accept any Aryan social or economic advance that could lead to dilution of the chief�s absolute power up on his people.
Recognizing this, lord Rama realized that the tribal chiefs had to be vanquished by force or appeased by other measures before the lot of the tribe as a whole could improve. Hence his numerous encounters with the tribal chiefs in which his physical prowess , intelligence and the fact that he used the most advanced type of ancient weaponry – bow and arrows [ probably Lord Rama�s arrows were iron tipped � a significant advantage over the weaponry of his tribal opponents] made him come out victorious every time.
…Also being a far sighted statesman and possessed of an extremely benevolent nature , Lord Rama didn�t hesitate to break down many oppressive social taboos as can be made out from the Shabari legend . Lord Rama , unmindful of the social wrath , inter-dined with the Sabaras and won their love and affection and introduced them to a settled agricultural life .
Probably there must have been numerous other instances also where Lord Rama would have won the love and affection of other tribes by treating them on par with Himself and not making any discrimination against them. Shabari legend is one of such instances which has come down to us. All venerated men such as Jesus Christ , Lord Buddha , Mahavira Vardhmana , Prophet Muhammad have stressed treating all men as equals . Lord Rama was foremost among these great men in setting this tradition which sadly is not adhered to even in these modern times.
Lord Rama probably lived during his exile period among the non-agricultural hunter gatherer tribes and taught them agriculture and made them discard some of their brutal customs like anointing their deity with blood of the sacrificed beast/human being [ we can hazard a guess here that probably many of these tribes practiced human sacrifice and Lord Rama must have played an important role in making the tribe discard this brutal rite ] . Lord Rama had already gained the respect of the tribals by his martial prowess and benevolence , by treating the tribals as equals and by inter-dining with them . This influence he used to improve the lot of the tribesmen.
(By a combination of statesmanship, martial prowess and benevolence),�Lord Rama (single-handedly) achieved which generations of Aryan agriculturists before him had tried in vain to do. Ancient Indian Civilization owes more to Lord Rama than to any king or saint .
…Thus it was no surprise that Lord Rama came to be venerated and worshipped as an incarnation of the God by later generations. His numerous qualities and benevolent nature , the fact that he saw farther in the future than any of his contemporaries , broke many oppressive social taboos such as inter-dining with the tribals, was responsible for introduction of agriculture in areas where it was hitherto unknown and increased the material prosperity of his subjects, made trade routes safe from brigandage , assimilated hostile tribes in the Aryan society and possessed every quality one wishes to be present in a model son/husband/king/brother were reasons enough for successive generations to deify him and incorporate him among the ranks of their Gods .
Ram setu � fact or fiction
The Ram setu or Adam�s bridge is a chain of sandbars and coralline islets dotting a 30 km. stretch in the east-west direction between the Southern tip of Rameswaram island in India and Talaimannar in North-west Sri-Lanka. Composed of 103 small patch reefs and innumerable smaller reefs lying in a linear pattern with flattened reef crests [ which are emergent during low tide ] , sand cays [accumulation of looses coral sands and beach rock ] and intermittent channels , the Adam�s bridge is clearly made out in the sea by the change in color of sea water overlying it. The overlying sea is shallow, being around 4-10 feet and even lower at low tide.
Traditional accounts claim that the Adam�s bridge or the Ram setu was constructed by Lord Rama and his vanar sena over a span of 5 days which when subject to a scientific analysis appears highly improbable. But again we have to keep in mind that achieving mastery over water in a super-natural manner is a theme common to many religions, we have instance of Jesus walking over water . In a similar manner we have claims in traditional literature that rocks with name of Lord Rama written over them started floating in the sea and the ram-setu was constructed of these rocks.
Construction of a 30 km. bridge across open sea is a Herculean task even today . Even modern nation-states which have at their disposal immense resources and advanced engineering technology would find it an extremely difficult and daunting task . In the period in which we place the events of Ramayana with the primitive technology of those times and the meager resources of the emerging, nascent kingdoms � such a task is clearly impossible. Hence this is clear that Lord Rama did not construct the Adam�s bridge as we know it today.
But then we have to solve an puzzle � why Adam�s bridge came to be associated only with Lord Rama in numerous legends. Various ancient and medieval historical sources- too abundant to be individually detailed but notable among them being accounts of the remarkably astute Al�Biruni and Marco Polo attribute the construction of Adam�s bridge to Lord Rama. The construction of Adam�s bridge is not attributed to any other ancient hero in even a single known legend. One can logically put forward this query that why building this bridge is not attributed to any other ancient hero .
…Even in later Indian accounts where the exaggerations of the court poets and bards are an integral feature, the construction of Adam�s bridge is attributed to no one other than Lord Rama. Thus we can clearly see that Lord Rama�s name has been associated with Adam�s bridge since antiquity rendering it impossible for any other ancient hero or later bards to claim it for themselves or the ancestors of their patrons. Clearly some event occurred during Lord Rama�s exile which inseparably linked his name with that of Adam�s bridge .
To solve this puzzle , we have to turn to an aspect which has often been ignored � the skill of ancient Indians in wood making and carpentry.
India has a long tradition of making buildings/ cities in wood. The Greek historian Megasthenes who visited India during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya [ around 321 B.C.] , around 3-6 centuries after the presumed date of Lord Rama�s reign , writes that �� All Indian towns which are beside the sea or the rivers are made of wood.� Writing further , Megasthenes states � � the city of Pataliputra built at the confluence of the rivers Ganges and Son is 80 stadia [ 9 miles] in length and 15 stadia [ around 2 miles] in width . It is surrounded by a wooden wall having 560 towers and 60 gates�. Even the palace of king Chandragupta Maurya about which Megasthenes said that neither the palaces of Susa nor Ecbatana could vie with was made of wood.
Megasthenes account has been bolstered by archaeological evidence .Excavations of Waddell unearthed fragments of the wooden city wall of Pataliputra. In 1926-27 was unearthed a double line of upright timbers around 15 feet high near Patna which the excavator remarked appeared to him to extend almost indefinitely.
Dr Spooner unearthed massive remains of huge wooden buildings at Bulandibagh and Kumrahar near Patna � probably remains of the ancient palace of the Mauryas.
…Thus we see that ancient Indians had a long tradition of excellence in wood crafting . Their houses, cities , palaces , chariots were all made of wood which unfortunately have not survived to us owing to wood being a perishable material.
Coming back to the puzzle of Ram-setu , we can hazard the following theory. Around 500-1000 B.C , this being the time period in which we are assuming the events mentioned in the Ramayana happened , Lord Rama with his army had to cross the Palk strait to rescue his abducted wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana. Lacking a navy and not well-versed with sea-faring, Lord Rama and his army had to seek some other way to cross the strait. The Adam�s bridge was probably the same as it is today . Lord Rama and his army must have realized that this pre-existing shallow , natural reef chain could be used a way to cross the Palk strait .Having numerous skilled carpenters and artisans at their disposal , they could easily improvise upon this shallow, submerged chain of reefs and sand deposits .
Probably construction work was carried out only at low tide when the sea over the reef chain would become more shallow and some of the shallow sandbanks would be emergent. Construction of the bridge must have occurred over a period of weeks, if not months. The 5 day period claimed in legends is probably a later bardic invention. Small rocks and beach sand would have been used to fill up the shallow water filled channels . Forests provided the abundant wood out of which must have been fashioned a rough, makeshift wooden bridge which was probably supported on timbers which in turn were supported on the underlying, pre-existing reefs and sand deposits. Vines and ropes made of plants and nails would have been used to construct the bridge. [ The use of coir ropes was as yet unknown for the coconut tree was a later import from Malaya ]. The wooden bridge was then advanced forwards gradually. The carpenters and artisans of Lord Rama�s army were well versed with this type of work in wood and would have found constructing such a wooden structure quite easy .
Also one has to remember that in ancient period, battles generally consisted of man to man contest and the weapons generally used were clubs, spears, maces and the bow and arrow. Armies usually traveled light. Therefore , as most of the combatants while crossing the bridge would have been carrying little weight except light weapons like a bow and a quiver , a club or a spear , even a makeshift wooden edifice sufficiently strong to bear the weight of a man would have served the purpose.
Once the bridge was completed, Lord Rama and his army made the crossing , reached the Lankan shores and after vanquishing Ravana and rescuing Sita re-crossed the bridge and returned home to the Gangetic plain. The bridge , having served it�s purpose, was then forgotten. Made of wood and other perishable materials and being continuously exposed to the salt-water sea, the bridge would not have lasted more than a few years . Probably the sea claimed the wooden bridge erected by Lord Rama and his army in a span of few years but the memory of Lord Rama having used it to reach Lanka lived on and became part of folklore and legends.
Later legends out of necessity had to attribute the whole of the Adam�s bridge to Lord Rama since the structure which his army had actually constructed had long vanished. The later legends had to give some material basis to their claims and since the chain of sub-merged coral reefs, sandbars was all that was now visible , they began to claim that even this chain was constructed by Lord Rama and his army.
Agreeably no archaeological remains of the wooden bridge built by Lord Rama and his army over the Adam�s bridge has yet been found and probably will never be found owing to the perishable nature of wooden structures.
But one cannot deny the fact that Lord Rama used the Adam�s bridge to cross over to Lanka. The wooden structure crumbled but the memory of his crossing the sea lived on. One cannot furnish archaeological evidence for all past events � whole of the human history will have to be considered a collection of myths and fables if such cast-iron criteria are to be applied.
Legends normally are accretions over a historical kernel and in reconstruction of the past, oral traditions are sometimes as important as the material remnants.
…the amount of evidence suggesting that the Adam�s bridge was used by Lord Rama to cross over to Sri lanka is impressive. We have long standing oral traditions and historical accounts corroborating this , correct in all probability. We have numerous historical mentions associating the Adam�s bridge with Lord Rama including that of foreign travelers. No other ancient king / bardic hero is credited with building the Ram-setu � this too is an important pointer that since ancient times, local folklore has preserved the memory of Lord Rama crossing the sea over Adam�s bridge.
Hence on strength of oral traditions and literary evidence , we can safely deduce that Lord Rama used the Adam�s bridge to cross over to Sri-Lanka , probably by erecting some wooden structure which is no longer extant.
…Archaeological evidence , if available in the future, will only serve to corroborate the literary evidence . The need of Archaeological evidence here is probably not as pressing as usually is owing to the cumulative evidence of literature and oral traditions already available.
Thus we see that the Ram-setu is a historical entity and not a figment of bardic imagination. It was used by Lord Rama to cross over to Lanka as is held in oral traditions and literary evidence , however probably the structure which Lord Rama�s army actually built has been lost forever to us.
It is rightly considered sacred by Hindus and their resentment at it being damaged during the implementation of the Sethusamudram project is well placed.�
*** End of Excerpts ***�
In this context,�many of you�will find this excerpt�on Itihaasa Rama by Dr Kalyanaraman-ji interesting:�
Hindu civilization tradition has two itihaasa: Ramayana and Mahabharata. Ramayana is also narrated in the Mahabharata, making Ramayana the aadi kaavya and the earliest itihaasa. In the Hindu tradition, the key attribute of itihaasa is: Upades’a samanvitam (blended with guidance). The ayana of Rama is such a guidance, the setu of Rama is such an inspiration that with determination, even oceans can be crossed.
Without Setu there is no Ramayana and without Ramayana, there is no Hindu civilization and there is no Hindu culture because Rama is the very embodiment of dharma, vigrahavaan dharmah. Hindu civilization exists so long as sanatana dharma exists.
An amusing incident occurred in the Supreme Court on 9 May 2008. Some counsels referred to Encyclopaedias (Britannica etc.) to ‘prove’ Setu or worship in Setu. The Bench was also amused that Encyclopaedias should be cited to validate Ramayana or the ayana, journey of Rama. My mother’s mention of Rama is enough for me. My mother’s message that I should follow Rama as a role model is enough for me. I need no evidence, no birth certificates issued by bureaucrats. Mythology is history, tradition is evidence � the very essence of our identity. This needs no validation in any forum, but the forum of every individual’s conscience.
We are living in ridiculous, pathetic times, citing indologists or encyclopaedias to validate our own identity.
…B.B. Lal has brought out a new book (99 pages) titled, Raama � his historicity, mandir and Setu…This booklet seeks to present archaeological facts, nothing but hard facts, in regard to the three more or less allied topics, viz., (i) ‘Was Raama a figment of the imagination of a poet called Vaalmiki, or is there any evidence to suggest that he may have been a historical figure?’; (ii) ‘Was there a temple in the Janma-Bhumi area at Ayodhya, prior to the construction of the Babari Masjid?’ and (iii) ‘What are the ‘credentials’ of Rama Setu’?”
And finally, some excerpts from a recent article by Sandhya Jain in�The Pioneer:�Ram bridges our history�(13th May ’08)
The current controversy over Ram Setu presents an ideal opportunity to probe the reality of a god whose human incarnation is central to Hindu faith. The deity who inspired a footbridge wide enough for an army to cross the Palk Straits poses a powerful challenge to historians who hold that India’s first political states were the 16 mahajanapadas that fought to control the Ganga valley in the sixth-fifth centuries BCE. The kings of Kashi, Koshal, and the Vrijji confederacy succumbed to Magadh under Bimbisar (c 543-491 BCE). Much later, after Alexander’s retreat, the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE) rose by deposing the Nanda dynasty.
Can history accept that Koshal (which included Ayodhya) was an older kingdom; that a prince banished after a palace coup could raise a formidable force and cross an ocean to recover his abducted wife? Closely linked is the veracity of Valmiki Ramayan as ‘itihas’, not kavya; the existence of a temple in the Janmabhoomi; and the evidence of human intervention at the Setu.
Chandragupta Maurya’s mentor, Kautilya, treated Ramayan and Mahabharat as familiar history. In the Adhikarana dealing with discipline, the author of Arthasastra advises shunning the vices of lust, anger, greed, vanity, haughtiness and excessive joy, for Ravan perished because he was too vain to restore a stranger’s wife; Duryodhan because he would not part with a portion of his kingdom.
Ram’s life resonated in art from the time image-making began. Kausambi, Uttar Pradesh, has the earliest terracotta depiction of a Ramayan scene, datable second-first century BCE, which shows Ravan abducting Sita and the latter throwing her ornaments on the ground to help Ram to trace her (described in Aranya Kand, 54th Sarga, Slok 2, 3). This coincides with the period when Buddha’s life began to be portrayed in stone, notably at Sanchi and Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh. If the latter are accepted as true episodes from the Sakya Muni’s life, it follows that the real story of Ram was being depicted in the Hindu art of the same period. Los Angeles County Museum has a terracotta sculpture of Ram from Nachara Khera, Haryana, with an inscription saying “Ram,’ in Brahmi script of the third century CE.
…The earliest Tamil Sangam literature, dating a couple of centuries before the CE, mentions the exploits of Ram. A verse in the Purananuru collection says that when Ravan was carrying Sita away, she dropped her ornaments as clues to her whereabouts (depicted very early in art).
Three Buddhist Jatakas which form part of the Khuddaka-nikaya, third century BCE, deal with the Ram story, with minor variations. The Dasarath Jataka is set in Varanasi, not Ayodhya; however, Ram gives his sandals to Bharat to rule the kingdom on his behalf. The Nidana of the King of Ten Luxuries is lost, but survives in a Chinese translation by Kekaya in 472 CE. Similarly, the Anamaka Jataka or Jataka of the Unnamed King is preserved in Chinese translation by Sogdian monk Kan-Seng-hui in 251 CE.
…Archaeology has yielded much since Prof BB Lal began excavating the ‘Ramayan Sites’ in 1972. The demolition of 6 December, 1992 yielded valuable material from the walls of Babri Masjid, including three inscriptions. Deciphered by renowned epigraphist Prof Ajaya Mitra Shastri of Nagpur University, the largest, in classical Nagari script of 11th-12th century, said a temple of Vishnu-Hari was constructed in the temple city of Ayodhya, Saketamandala. Supreme Court mandated excavations of 2002-03 indicate that the earliest habitations at Ayodhya go back well before 1000 BCE (possibly 1980-1320 BCE).
So what are the true credentials of the 30-km chain of sandbanks, underlain by coral reefs and limestone shoals, from Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka? In the 11th century, Alberuni noted: “…Setubandha means bridge of the ocean. It is the dike of Ram, the son of Dasarath, which he built from the continent to the castle Lanka. At present it consists of isolated mountains between which the ocean flows.” A 16th-17th century map shows a land-link between India and Sri Lanka; Ramanathapuram Gazetteer refers to Sethu Palam. The 13th century Venetian, Marco Polo, speaks of ‘Setabund Rameshwara’, bridge related to Ram. Coins by Tamil kings of Nallur in Jafna (Sri Lanka), who ruled between the 13 th and 17th centuries, affirm the existence of Ram Setu.
A cross-section of the setu with present sea level as datum-line shows many sandbanks above sea-level. The last glacial period ended 10,000 years ago; subsequently sea levels rose by a conservative two metres per 1,000 years. Microsoft Encarta 2006 says melting of ice sheets in Flandrian Transgression caused separation of Ireland from Great Britain; and of Great Britain from mainland Europe.
Ayodhya excavations suggest Ram’s era fell around 1,000 BCE, when the sea level was probably six metres below current levels, exposing the entire land-mass near Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar. The odd stretch underwater could easily be filled up to create a ford to cross over. A close up of the setu shows firm edges on both sides (to prevent erosion), suggestive of human agency. [ link ]�