By: Dr. S Kalyanaraman
In a heartening development catalysed by the Rameshwaram Rama Sethu Protection Movement, a group of scientists gathered in London in November 2008 to declare the imperative of saving and protecting Sethusamudram as the world’s sacred ecological treasure.
Location map of Rama SethuLocation map of Rama Sethu: bathymetry map of Sethusamudram (reproduced from Murty et al., 1994)
The Gulf of Mannar and Palk Straits of the Indian Ocean separated by the causeway Rama Setu called Setusamudram. Setusamudram is a compound term: Sethu + Samudram (Causeway + Ocean). Unlike the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, the Sethu has for millennia served as a causeway linking India and Sri Lanka. This sacred monument is venerated in the cultures of millions of people of many nations along the Indian Ocean Rim – nations that can be called the Indian Ocean Community, analogous to the recently constituted European Community. The Sethusamudram is so sacred that every year hundreds of thousands pilgrims assemble in the oceanfront near Rameshwaram (a jyotirlinga pilgrimage place) to perform samudrasnanam (sacred bath in the ocean) at a place where the Indian Ocean remains placid like a lake. This samudrasnanam is a celebration of and homage to the ancestors of many civilizations, Hindu civilization, in particular. This homage is called pitr-tarpanam reinforcing the identity of a billion people on the globe who revere the story of Rama and the history of Sethubandha (the bund to cross the ocean built by the architect Nala, under the direction of the Avatarapurusha, Sri Rama and by vanara army led by Sri Hanuman. Both Sri Rama and Sri Hanuman are worshipped in many temples across the globe. [vanara is erroneously translated as ‘monkeys’; va-nara literally means people-like speakers, evoking the evolution of man on earth.] The causeway is a physical structure superimposed over a ridge formed by collapsed canyons in geological past in an ocean zone exemplified by Mannar volcanic rocks, heat-flows of geothermal energy potential and plate tectonics (earthquakes caused by plate-movements).
HeatflowS in Rama Sethu 100 to 180 milliwatt per sq. m. comparable to Himalayan hotsprings. Will dredging in the area activate these heat zones?
Corals of Sethusamudram
Sethusamudram is home to corals. The coral conglomerates [* File contains invalid data | In-line.JPG *], which are referred to as floating stones in many versions of the story of Sri Rama, were used to construct the causeway, Sethu (which is explained in Tamil encyclopaedia Abhidana Chintamani as ‘ceyarkarai’ that is, artificial, man-made bund). Sethubandha is celebrated in ancient texts, in the song, dance and sculptural traditions of the Indian Ocean Rim states.
Sethubandha construction shown on a 9th century sculptural panel in Parambanan (Brahmavana) temple in Indonesia.
The devastation warned, affecting over 60 million people should make every public official and scientist pause and consider the sacred ecology that Sethusamudram constitutes. Over the millennia, people have venerated the Indian Ocean as a life-source. Many young, married couples go for the samudrasnanam praying for the birth of children in their families. Millions of marine folk along the long 7,500 km coastline of India live off the marine wealth of the coastline including the wealth of corals. Corals have a particular sacred significance in Hindu civilizational traditions. The shankha or turbinella pyrum is also called the sacred conch. This sacred conch, shankha, adorns the hands of Vishnu and Bhairava, two divinities worshipped in thousands of temples all over the world. The shankha is also venerated as the conch-trumpet called Panchajanya used by Avatara purusha Sri Krishna to call the troops to battle in the Kurukshetra war described in the epic Mahabharata. Sri Rama is also shown blowing the shankha trumpet in an exquisite terracotta sculpture of the 3rd century in a village near Ayodhya.
Terracotta panel of Bhitargaon showing Vishnu blowing the conch, an event depicting Rama as Vishnu Avatara, defeats the Rakshasas led by Malyavan, Mali and Sumali and as narrated in the Uttarkanda of the Ramayana (Cantoes VI-VIII). http://ignca.nic.in/pb0020.htm
Quake-induced uplift of coral families in Sumatra Mentawai islands.Sethusamudram is an Indian Ocean region famous for the coral turbinella pyrum, shankha. At Kizhakkarai, 15 kms from Rameshwaram, West Bengal Development Corporation has an office for acquiring the shankha; the annual turnover is over Rs. 50 million ($1 million). The shankha is used to make bangles. Without shankha bangles, no Bengali or Oriya marriage is complete. So sacred are the shankha bangles.Studies of the type carried out in Mentawai Islands near Sumatra have to be carried out in Sethusamudram to record the upliftment, if any, of the coral reefs, in the region which is earth-quake prone, apart from being the only coastal region with evidence of Mannar volcanic rocks and heat-flows comparable to the heat-flows recorded in the sub-Himalayan hot-springs.
Sethu as tsunami-protection wall
The Sethu has served as a natural tsunami-protection wall in an ocean zone subject to many earthquakes and consequent tsunamis. The nearby region of Sumatra is also home to the world’s most devastating volcano, the Mount Toba that had a super-eruption about 74,000 years ago spewing volcanic ash to a depth of 6 to 12 inches all over South India south of the Vindhya Mountains.
The Bay of Bengal part of the Indian Ocean is a trough subject to recurring, severe cyclonic storms from the area of depression near Taiwan. The storm surges get sucked into the trough of Bangladesh causing enormous damage to lives and properties. The tsunami which occurred on December 26, 2004 was an event triggered by the subduction of the Indian plate under the Burmese plate resulting in the displacement of water which surreptitiously traveled as tsunami resulting in the loss of over 200,000 lives and the virtual disappearance of Aceh island. A tsunami expert, Prof. Tad S. Murthy notes that if any channel is laid across Sethusamudram, the channel will act like a funnel absorbing the energies of the next tsunami and devastate the coastline of South India because of what is known as the ‘quarter-wave resonance amplification’. This is proved by the Alaska tsunami of 1964 which resulted in maximum devastation along the Alberni Canal in Canada and the destruction of the Alberni Port.
The sentiments expressed in the London seminar echoe the judgment of the Supreme Court of India which asked the Union of India to reconsider the Sethusamudram Channel project and noted that a Pachauri Committee will go study the issue. Prof. Rajendra Pachauri heads the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an institution that received the Nobel Prize for Peace. Pachauri Committee should not only recommend the scrapping of the Sethusamudram Channel project, which will be a world calamity if carried through, but also recommend a serious, multi-disciplinary agency to study the impact of another tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Another tsunami in the Indian Ocean is not a theoretical model but a reality. Scientific advances have not been able to predict the exact date of the next tsunami but all scientists are agreed that another tsunami more devastating than the December 26, 2004 tsunami is a possibility.
This nightmare warning, this possibility has been studied by seismologists (researchers of earthquakes) and earth scientists studying corals. In a recent study published in the Science Magazine (December 16, 2008) scientists have observed that many coral colonies in the Mentawai Islands near Sumatra were killed in September 2007 when large earthquakes lifted the reefs 1 meter or more out of the water. Seismology studies show that an earthquake of magnitude greater than 8.8 on Richter scale, could rock the coastal areas of Bengkulu and Padang in the next 30 years (along the Sumatra earthquake belt), triggering a major tsunami which could put over 60 million people of the Indian Ocean, east coast of India, west coast of Burma and south coast of Bangladesh at risk.
Pachauri Committee will also be well advised to review the creation of Marine Economic Zones all along the long 7500 km. coastline of India to create new economic opportunities for the coastal and marine people.
Tsunami-protection wall in Japan
A multi-disciplinary team of experts should be constituted IMMEDIATELY, by the Union of India to study the warnings of another tsunami which will devastate the nation’s coastline and lives and property of coastal people and establish Disaster Management Zones all along the vulnerable coastline with structures like tsunami-protection walls constructed in Japan.
Sacred traditions help us remember the sacredness of the earth in which we are only trustees of the present and future generations.
We do NOT have the right to destroy this sacred ecology and deny future generations, the privilege of worshipping sacred sites and remembering the ancestors who have given the humanity its very identity.
Indian Ocean Rim states impacted by the tsunami of December 26, 2004
The next tsunami is likely to impact the same Indian Ocean region – a lesson learnt from history.List and locations of catastrophic tsunamis of Indian Ocean.catastrophic tsunamis of Indian Ocean
What the scientists tell us about earthquakes and tsunamis should make us pause and ponder.The 9.0 Earthquake of December 26, 2004 at 6.58 hours at the epicenter (and in Sri Lanka) led to a sequence of 15 quakes across the Andaman region. While earthquakes could not be predicted in advance, once the earthquake was detected it was possible to give about 3 hours of notice of a potential Tsunami. Such a system of warnings is in place across the Pacific Ocean but is only being put in place in the Indian Ocean; this needs further cooperation among the nations of the Indian Ocean Community.
Nature magazine reports: “Tens of millions of people along the heavily populated coasts of Myanmar, Bangladesh and West Bengal could be living under threat of a tsunami as massive as the one that devastated the Sumatran coast in 2004, according to a report to be released by Nature on Thursday this week. The report claims that while the 2004 disaster took the scientific community by surprise many of the same warning signs currently exist in the Bay of Bengal.”
When the plate boundaries abruptly deform and vertically displace the overlying water, a tsunami occurs. A tsunami travels very fast as ocean waves, about 800 km/h, or 0.2 km/sec for a water depth of 5000 m. Seismic waves are faster and cause enormous upheavals on the earth’s crust and ocean-beds. Oceans are the treasure of humanity and it is our responsibility to harness the treasure in a sustainable manner through well-regulated Marine Economic Zones which have the potential to make the Indian Ocean Community a veritable powerhouse to create wealth of nations, while providing new livelihoos opportunities to over 2 billion people on the globe.
Tsunami impact on land cover of Indian Ocean Community
fullMaps_Sa.nsf/luFullMap1724ADB850F3F30B85256F8E0055AB65/$FileEUJRC_tsu_cov_sasia070105.pdf?OpenElement Land cover
/ potential land affected by tsunami (26 December, 2004)
Details of scientific papers on “Sacred ecology, sacred ocean, sacred Setusamudram” are provided at http://sites.google.com
(The author is the National President,
Rameshwaram Rama Sethu Protection Movement
and he can be contacted at email@example.com)