The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), under the aegis of the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry, will be running a pilot project to determine whether the legendary Ram Sethu is a man-made structure or a natural phenomenon.
Also known as Adam's Bridge, the the chain of limestone shoals at the Palk Straits, linking the Tamil Nadu coast to Sri Lanka, is popularly believed to have been made by Rama's army of apes to facilitate his journey to rescue his wife, Sita, from Ravana, the king of Lanka.
ICHR chairman Y Sudershan Rao said so far India hasn't undertaken any underwater exploration to ascertain the status of the Ram Sethu. So the council will enlist the help of the rare expert in the field of underwater archaeology to train a group of historians in the area.
A group of scholars will gather in New Delhi for a few weeks in May to work under Professor Alok Tripathi of Assam University at Silchar, formerly with the Archaeological Survey of India, before diving deep into the ocean in October-November to run the actual survey.
Citing the example of historical research that proved Helen of Troy did exist in reality, Rao made a case for a similar investigation to find out if Ram Sethu was indeed made by human beings or is a natural formation found between Pamban Island or the Rameswaram Island, off the south-eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and Mannar Island, off the north-western coast of Sri Lanka.
The timing of the survey, which follows the revival of the demand to build the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya after the elevation of Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, may raise some eyebrows.
In 2003, a team of scientists concluded, using carbon dating, that the origin of the bridge matches the era of the Ramayana, though the link needed to be explored further. In 2007, an affidavit from the government of India said there was no proof of the structure being built by Ram.
The Sethusamudram project, which intends to dredge up the shallow sea in Palk Straits in order to create a shipping route along the Indian peninsula, ran into trouble with Hindutva outfits claiming that such a move would destroy the remnants of the Ram Setu, built by their revered Lord Ram.
Referring to the debate, Rao said, "ICHR would like to address this vital issue relating to our ancient past which may help us to judge the historicity and chronology of our great civilisations as reflected in our epics and other literature."
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