Rama Setu: is the very essence of cultural human memory

Rama Setu- is the very essence of cultural human memory

If Jallikattu has to be protected as a cultural tradition, so should Rama Setu be protected as an abiding cultural tradition.

Rama Setu: is the very essence of cultural human memory; scrap Setu channel project, an ecological and coastal peoples’ livelihood disaster

Rama Setu is a memory of divine harmony.

Jules Michelet (1798-1874), French historian writes about the Ramayana :

  • The year 1863 will remain cherished and blessed. It was the first time I could read India’s great sacred poem, the divine Ramayana…. This great stream of poetry carries away the bitter leaven left behind by time and purifies us. Whoever has his heart dried up, let him drench it in the Ramayana. Whoever has lost and wept, let him find in it a soothing softness and Nature’s compassion. Whoever has done too much, willed too much, let him drink a long draught of life and youth from this deep chalice…. Everything is narrow in the Occident. Greece is small — I stifle. Judea is dry — I pant. Let me look a little towards lofty Asia, towards the deep Orient. There I find my immense poem, vast as India’s seas, blessed and made golden by the sun, a book of divine harmony in which nothing jars. There reigns a lovable peace, and even in the midst of battle, an infinite softness, an unbounded fraternity extending to all that lives, a bottomless and shoreless ocean of love, piety, clemency. I have found what I was looking for : the bible of kindness. Great poem, receive me !… Let me plunge into it ! It is the sea of milk.[Source: Michelet, La Bible de l’humanité, volume 5 of Œuvres (Paris : Bibliothèque Larousse, 1930), p. 109-110. ]

The social memory of Ramayana embodies the culture and tradition of not only India but many other countries which adore this memory.

This sacred memory, this tradition is the strongest evidence that any Court of law can review.

The memory of Rama, Ramayana, Rama Setu are NOT justiciable. They are the very essence of the lives of millions of Hindus worldwide. It will be a travesty of justice to question this memory on grounds of laws of evidence.

Laws of evidence

Tradition IS evidence, the very essence of life’s reality for millions of people in relation to the victory for dharma achieved by building Rama Setu to cross into Sri Lanka from Bharatam. This essence (saara) is enshrined in cultural memory of millions.

“History is Philosophy teaching by examples”, noted Thucydides (c. 460-c. 400 B.C.), Athenian historian. Quoted by Dionysius of Halicarnassus in: Ars Rhetorica, ch. 11, sct. 2.

Why are Rama and Rama Setu abiding episodes of history? An answer is provided by this statement of Nietzche: “Only strong personalities can endure history, the weak ones are extinguished by it.” — Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher. Thoughts out of Season, pt. 2, sct. 5 (1874).

F. W. J. Schelling notes (in the eighth chapter of Introduction to Philosophy and Mythology ): “Mythological representations have been neither invented nor freely accepted. The products of a process independent of thought and will, they were, for the consciousness which underwent them, of an irrefutable and incontestable reality. Peoples and individuals are only the instruments of this process, which goes beyond their horizon and which they serve without understanding.”

This is the one of the reasons why former Supreme Court Justice VR Krishna Iyer noted that no patriotic Indian can support the Setu Samudram Channel Project.

Where myth and history intersect, life-experience is the only reality. When people of Ramanathapuram do not use a plough to cultivate the land, they cherish the memory of Sita Devi who had made a shivalinga using this land and hence do not use the piercing plough, but only spades and shovels. When a muslim, christian or hindu fisherman harvests for algae from the marine bioreserve and when they pull out a piece of rock from the Rama Setu, they perform prayasc’ittam at Ramapadam on Gandhamaadana parvatam, asking for kshamaa for taking out a piece of the sacred bund (setubandhana). Ancestors of these people have walked across the Rama Setu to reach Srilanka where the tradition of venerating Ramayana episodes continues even today.

Yogasutra 48 says: rtambhara tatra prajna (rtambhara means, ‘Supreme Truth Bearing’; prajna means ‘inner wisdom’self-arises, dawns and prevails.)
Christopher Chapple and Yogi Ananda in “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” (Sri SATGURU Publications, Delhi, 1990) translate this as: “This wisdom sustains the movement of life. Ignorance is to fall from this [intrinsic] order.”
Mahabharata, Vana-parva 313.117: “Dry arguments are inconclusive. Philosophers are known for their differences of opinion. Study of the branches of the Vedas will not bring one to the correct understanding of dharma. The truth is hidden in the heart of a self-realized person. Therefore one should follow the path of such great souls.”
This tradition, this wisdom passed down from generation to generation, from mother to child, from guru to student becomes the lived experience. So is the experience of Rama and Rama Setu in the hearts of millions of people the world over who look upon Rama as vigrahavaan dharmah, the embodiment of dharma, who built the Setu to protect dharma and vanquish a-dharma. This collective, received memory (termed also as the sacred tradition or sacred history) is as emphatic as any evidence and rules of evidence.
What is perceptible by senses is vyakta. What is realized by consciousness is avyakta. If vyakta is its reflection in consciousness, as ‘I am’. Avyakta is the universal and pure ‘I’ or aatman.
In Kapila’s sankhya, two means of proof are identified: perception and inference. The empirical (evidential) universe is thus seen as the duality: vyakta (evolved) and avyakta (not evolved). The evolved phenomena are perceived; the unevolved are inferred.
Purusha is the observer, the knower, the witness. Purusha observes Prakriti — the nature or multifaceted stuff the universe is made of –, in manifest and unmanifest (vyakta and avyakta – prakaTa or aprakaTa – publicized or unexpressed) forms. One such Prakriti is Rama Setu which links India and Srilanka which is considered sacred tirthasthana. Crores of hindus who accept the reality of Rama are the witness to received prajna from mother to child, from guru to student.
The root for vyakti, vyakta and avyakta is: an~j (= to annoint, decorate, make clear, make appear); the preposition vi- is the intensifier. Laws of evidence have to accept this traditional body of knowledge in Hindu thought, exemplified by the sankya darshana of Kapila. The prajna that has given the identity to crores of people as purusha (witnesses) living their lives reaching out to the ideal, vigrahavaan, Rama and emulate his life lived for protecting dharma is the sanatana dharma of this land, this punyabhumi. This is inalienable evidence, pramana which is integral to the very life-experiences of the people who live by this prajna. Courts of law as the arbiters of dharma have to accept this prajna as evidence.
There are case laws which support this. One is the London Nataraja case decided by the Privy Council (details in Annex B – London Nataraja case) and the other is the Navajo community’s sacred mountain declared by a US superior court. (details in Annex C –Navajo sacred mountain case)
Not all caves, all waters, all oceans are tirthasthanas. Some get experienced as tirthasthanas, like the Amarnath cave, or the Ganga river or Setutirtha near Rameshwaram, where the s’ivalinga gets venerated because they were experienced as memories of the sthapana by Rama, Sita and Hanuman. When people reasonably belief in the sacredness of such a tirtha, it is a tirthasthana, based on tradition. Such tradition needs no other evidence but the avyakta pramana (unmanifest perception). The evidence and laws of evidence have to become subservient to this perception which is at a level different from the vyakta (manifest) phenomena which are sometimes regarded as ‘evidence’ in law. The philosophical framework of sankhya of Kapila thus provides for tradition as evidence, for myth as inhering the very essence of history.

Three remarkable orders were issued by the Hon’ble Madras High Court which have not so far been responded to by Union of India:

Ancient monument.

It would mean to be any monument which is very old having historic past or record. It can also be a stone, a post, a river etc. Thus in RAM SARUP VS STATE OF HARYANA (AIR 1993 PUNJAB AND HARYANA 204) a Division Bench of Punjab & Haryana High Court held that the ‘Brahm Sarovar’ is a very old historic place and it would clearly come both within the expression of ancient and historical monument, as defined in the 1958 Act…Court order: The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Union of India is directed to file a counter affidavit explaining whether any study has been undertaken by the archaeological or any other concerned department in respect of Adams Bridge/Rama Sethu and whether the said bridge can be regarded as a national monument within the meaning of the 1958 Act.

Unprecedented mid-ocean channel passage cutting through Rama Setu should be abandoned

The (Sir A. Ramaswamy Mudaliar) Committee expressly rejected this proposal by giving a detailed reasoning. The report made by NEERI, which is sought to be relied upon by the respondents to justify the alignment, undoubtedly gives reasons for selecting route ‘6’ alignment. However, there is no discussion as to whether any other route is possible in order to avoid cutting of Adams Bridge… Court order: The Union of India to also explain as to whether the said project can be implemented without affecting Adams Bridge/Rama Sethu by resorting to some other routes discussed and deliberated upon by the previous committees.

Sustainable development

… policy makers and judicial bodies across the world have produced the concept of ‘sustainable development.’ Hence merely asserting an intention for development will not be enough to sanction the destruction of local ecological resources. The Court has to follow the principles of sustainable development and find a balance between the developmental needs and the environmental degradation. The principle of ‘sustainable development’ is also extensively dealt by the Supreme Court in KARNATAKA INDUSTRIAL AREAS DEVELOPMENT BOARD VS C. KENCHAPPA (2006(6) SCC 371 AND RESEARCH FOUNDATION FOR SCIENCE (19) VS UNION OF INDIA (2005(13) SCC 186).

Relevant portions of the Madras HC Division Bench judgement are given below:

In the High Court of Judicature at Madras

(Special Original Jurisdiction)

WP Nos. 18076, 18223 & 18224/2007 of 2007

Rama Gopalan (Petitioner in wp 18076/2007)

Dr. Subramanian Swamy (Petitioner in WP Nos. 18223 and 18224/2007)

Respondents

1.Union of India through the Secy of Shipping

2. Chairman and MD, Sethusamudram Corporation Ltd.

3. Secretary, Dept. of Culture, Govt. of India

4. Director General, ASI, New Delhi

5. Thiru TR Baalu, Hon’ble Min. for Shipping, Surface Transport and Highways, Govt. of India, New Delhi

R6 Dravida Kazhagam

R7 S. Kalyanaraman

R6 and R7 impleaded as per order dt. 19/06/07 by the Hon’ble CJ and RJMJ in MP.2 and 3/07 in WP 18076/OP

…(Common order of the court was made by the Honourable Chief Justice)

These petitions filed in public interest seek to issue mandamus directing the respondents in implementing the Sethusamudram Canal Project by following any other alternate route or alignment without affecting or destroying or demolishing historic place Rama Sethu otherwise known as Adams Bridge.

2. Adams Bridge, which is also called Rama Sethu, is situated betweent he Islands of Thailaimannar and Sri Lanka and Dhanushkodi of India. The said Bridge is 48 kms. long and separates the Gulf of Mannar from Palk Strait. The existence of the Bridge is supported by various scientific and photographic evidence. Some experts have concluded that the bridge like formation whose existence has been established by NASA is not a natural formation but this is a deliberately constructed bridge by placing shoal stones in a bridge formation. According to some archaeological studies, the unique curvature and composition by age reveals that is man made.

3. Reference is found in Kamba Ramayana and Thulsi Ramayana about the existence of the Rama Sethu. Early coins and copper plate inscriptions of Cholas and Pallavas support the case of the existence of the Bridge. Ramanathapuram District Gazetteer says about Rama Sethu as follows:

“This bridge is 110 miles east-south-east of Madurai, 43 miles along the same direction from Rmanathapuram. The bridge is 15.5 miles east of Rameswaram. This bridge is composed of sand and stone. The western bridge links with Rameswaram and eastern end links with the island of Mannar. Bridging these two islands (of Rameswaram and of Mannar), this bridge links Srilanka and India. This is called Ramar Palam because this bridge was built under the leadership of Hanuman and with the participation of Vaanara Sena (kuranguppadai) and facilitated the crossing by Rama to reach Srilanka and to attain victory. Upto 1480, this bridge had served as a land bridge to Srilanka. Thereafter, a severe cyclone created fissures changing the dimensions to 30 miles long and 1.25 miles wide. This stretches from south-east to north-west. This sand bridge (of shoals) is seen above the ocean waters in some places and below the ocean waters in some other places. When submerged, the depth of the ocean-waters is 3 or 4 feet. The sand shoals keep shifting. There are also canals interspersed. During the south-east monsoon season, severe ocean currents and surges impact on the Adam’s Bridge. A project is under planning to link the west-coast harbours with east-coast harbours with a view to reducing the navigational distance by creating a channel across the Adam’s Bridge and linking Gulf of Mannar and Palk Straits.”

4. Madras Presidency manual describes the Adams Bridge as follows:

“…Adam’s bridge (Sethu, Tam.) Title from the Mahomedan tradition that Adam on his expulsion from paradise, crossed to Ceylon by this bridge. Tamul means artificial bund. Tax. Also (tiruvanai) meaning holy + bund. Sanscrit name (nala setu), meaning nalan, the monkey who constructed the causeway + bund. Also (rama setu) meaning Rama + bund. Also (adisetu) meaning first bridge. Isthmus; Madurai district, Ramnad Tal. Lat. 9.5 long 70” 30’ from Madura ESE 110 miles; from Ramnad ESE 40 miles…”

5. The famous traveler Marco Polo during 13th century noted about Adams Bridge in these words:

“The name of this country, which both in the Basic edition and the older Latin is Maabar, and Moabar in the epitomes, is Malabar in the text of Ramusio, of which the former has been supposed a corruption; but the reverse is the case, for circumstances unequivocally point to the southern part of the coast of Coromandel as the place where the fleet arrived after leaving Ceylon; and what puts the matter beyong all dobt is, that the province of Malabar is afterwards distinctly mentioned in its proper place. Maabar, signifying a ‘passage, ferry, ford, trajectus; (see the dictionaries of Meninaki and Richardson), was an appellation given by the Mahometans to what we call the Tinevelly, Madura, and perhaps, Tanjore countries – from their vicinity, as it would seem, to the celebrated chain of sand-banks and coral reefs named Rama’s or Adams Bridge. It has now fallen into disuse, but is to be found in the works of all the oriental geographers and historians who have treated of this portion of India.”

6. Several historic travelers, writers like Thomas Horsfield 1851, William Fordyce Mayor 1807, Charles O’Coney 1819 and several others recorded the existence of Adams Bridge.

7. There is thus ample evidence of Adams Bridge. In the counter affidavit filed on behalf of the 5th respondent the existence of the Bridge is not disputed, and in fact the stand of the 5th respondent is that the creation of the channel will afford an opportunity to the pilgrims to visit the Adams Bridge, not possible today, and offer obeisance as the 5th respondent is contemplating provision of a Viewing Gallery along the channel alignment.

8. According to the petitioners, the ancient history of India, as evidenced by the epic Ramayana, shows that the Bridge was constructed by Rama with the help of local allies with a view to go to Srilanka to rescue his wife from Lanka King Ravana. Further, according to the petitioners, as per the calculations based on Indian Yuga system the Bridge was constructed several centuries ago and the existence of the Bridge in the area is unquestionable and there is no evidence or other material to show that the said Bridge was built by anybody else other than Rama the Prince of Ayodhya who belonged to Surya Dynasty was first deified and declared as Avatara by the Alwar saints of South India. In this regard, reliance is placed on the observations made by the Supreme Court in VEERAPATHIRA CHETTIAR VS RAMASWAMY NAICKER (AIR 1958 SC 1038) that whether any object is held sacred by any class of persons, must depend upon the evidence in the case, so also the effect of the words in Section 295 “with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion.”

9. A reference is also made to Article 49 of the Constitution of India which says that it shall be the obligation of the State to protect every monument or place or object of artistic or historic interest declared by or under law made by the Parliament to be of national importance, from spoliation, disfigurement, destruction, removal, disposal or export as the case maybe. Article 51A (f) makes it a fundamental duty of every citizen of India to value and preserve the rich heritage of the nation’s composite culture. Reliance is also placed on the provisions of the Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (for short ‘the 1958 Act’). Section 2(a) of the 1958 Act defines the word ancient monument, as any structure, erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of interest, or any cave, rock sculpture, inscription or monolith which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than one hundred years and include,

(i) the remains of an ancient monument;

(ii) the site of an ancient monument;

(iii) such portion of land adjoining the site of an ancient monument as may be required for fencing or covering in or otherwise preserving such monument; and

(iv) the means of access to, and convenient inspection of an ancient monument.

Section 2(d) of the 1958 Act defines archaeological site and remains to mean any area which contains or reasonably believed to contain ruins or relics of historical or archaeological importance which have been in existence for not less than one hundred years. Section 2(3) of the 1958 Act defines protected monument as an ancient monument which is declared to be of national importance by or under the said Act.

10. It is the contention of the respondents that Adams Bridge is not a man made construction but it is a natural formation of shoal stones. However, from the above mentioned definitions given in the 1958 Act it would be apparent that an ‘ancient monument’ has been given a very wide meaning. It would mean to be any monument which is very old having historic past or record. It can also be a stone, a post, a river etc. Thus in RAM SARUP VS STATE OF HARYANA (AIR 1993 PUNJAB AND HARYANA 204) a Division Bench of Punjab & Haryana High Court held that the ‘Brahm Sarovar’ is a very old historic place and it would clearly come both within the expression of ancient and historical monument, as defined in the 1958 Act.

11. The grievance of the petitioners is that when the existence of the Adams Bridge/Rama Sethu is brought to the notice of the Government, it was the duty of the Government to undertake such studies and if it is found that there is a Bridge it has an obligation and constitutional duty under Article 49 to protect the said bridge as a national monument. It is urged that Sethusamudram Canal Project had been under consideration right from 1860 onwards. Between 1860 and 1922 as many as nine proposals were made and subsequently also reports were submitted by different committees in 1956, 1967, 1983 and 1996 about the viability of the project. In this connection our attention was invited to the report made by Sir A. Ramaswamy Mudaliar. The said Committee was specifically constituted to consider the proposal of cutting the canal across the narrow strip of the land mostly through the Rameswaram Islands to connect Gulf of Mannar with Palk Bay. The Committee expressly rejected this proposal by giving a detailed reasoning. The report made by NEERI, which is sought to be relied upon by the respondents to justify the alignment, undoubtedly gives reasons for selecting route ‘6’ alignment. However, there is no discussion as to whether any other route is possible in order to avoid cutting of Adams Bridge.

12. In SHRI SACHIDANAND PANDEY VS STATE OF WEST BENGAL (AIR 1987 SC 1109) Justice Chinnappa Reddy observed:

“Today society’s interaction with nature is so extensive that the environmental question has assumed proportions affecting all humanity. Industrialisation, urbanization, explosion of population, over-exploitation of resources, depletion of traditional sources of energy and raw materials and the search for new sources of energy and raw materials, the disruption of natural ecological balances, the destruction of multitude of animal and plant species for economic reasons and sometimes for no good reason at all are factors which have contributed to environmental deterioration. While the scientific and technological progress of man has invested him with immense power over nature, it has also resulted in the unthinking use of the power, encroaching endlessly on nature. If man is able to transform deserts in to oases, he is also leaving behind deserts in the place of oases.”

13. The learned Judge referred to the warning given to mankind by a great German materialist philosopher: “Let us not, however, flatter ourselves over much on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first.”

14. In a recent judgment in INTELLECTUALS FORUM VS STATE OF A.P. (2006(3), scc 549), the issue raised was in respect of two ancient tanks, viz., Avilala tank and Peruru tank which were situated in the suburbs of Tirupathi town, a world-renowned popular pilgrim centre. The case involved preservation of and restoration of status quo ante of these tanks which were historical in nature, being in existence since 1500 AD. Disposing of the appeal the Supreme Court held that the responsibility of the State to protect the environment is now a well-accepted notion in all countries. It is this notion that, in international law, gave rise to the principle of ‘State responsibility’ for pollution emanating within one’s own territories. This responsibility is clearly enunciated in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm 1972 (Stockholm Convention) to which India was a party. Article 48-A of the Constitution mandates that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. Article 51-A of the Constitution enjoins that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India, inter alia, to protect and improve the national environment including forests, lakes, rivers, wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures. These two articles are not only fundamental in the governaqnce of the country but also it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws and further these two articles are to be kept in mind in understanding the scope and purport of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution including Articles 14, 19 and 21 and also the various laws enacted by Parliament and the State Legislatures. The Court further observed that the debate between the developmental and economic needs and that of the environment is an enduring one, since if the environment is destroyed for any purpose without a compelling developmental cause, it will most probably run foul of the executive and judicial safeguards. In response to this difficulty, policy makers and judicial bodies across the world have produced the concept of ‘sustainable development.’ Hence merely asserting an intention for development will not be enough to sanction the destruction of local ecological resources. The Court has to follow the principles of sustainable development and find a balance between the developmental needs and the environmental degradation. The principle of ‘sustainable development’ is also extensively dealt by the Supreme Court in KARNATAKA INDUSTRIAL AREAS DEVELOPMENT BOARD VS C. KENCHAPPA (2006(6) SCC 371 AND RESEARCH FOUNDATION FOR SCIENCE (19) VS UNION OF INDIA (2005(13) SCC 186).

15. It appears that two writ petitions questioning the viability of the Sethusamudram project have been dismissed by this Court and appeals are pending in Supreme Court. It is seen that the only issue involved in those petitions was as to whether the project would cause environmental degradation. The petitioners before us are not opposing the project. The prayer of the petitioners is to implement the project without affecting the Adams Bridge/Rama Sethu which according to the petitioners, si a national monument. The Union of India has not filed any counter affidavit. A counter affidavit has been filed by the 5th respondent which is only an implementing agency. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Union of India is directed to file a counter affidavit explaining whether any study has been undertaken by the archaeological or any other concerned department in respect of Adams Bridge/Rama Sethu and whether the said bridge can be regarded as a national monument within the meaning of the 1958 Act. The Union of India to also explain as to whether the said project can be implemented without affecting Adams Bridge/Rama Sethu by resorting to some other routes discussed and deliberated upon by the previous committees. The counter affidavit shall be filed within four weeks from today. We are not inclined to grant any interim relief at this stage, as it would hamper the further work in the project. However, we leave it to the Union of India to decide whether the actual cutting of Adams Bridge/Rama Sethu could be postponed till the issue involved in these petitions are considered by this Court. Hearing is adjourned to 23.7.2007. To be listed as the first matter on the Admission Boad.

Sd.

19 June 2007

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