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Coordinates: 9°07′16″N 79°31′18″E / 9.1210°N 79.5217°E / 9.1210; 79.5217

Adam's Bridge as seen from the air, looking West

Adam's Bridge (ātām pālam; Sinhala: adamgay palama), also known as Rama's Bridge or Rama Setu (Irāmar pālam, Sanskrit: rāmasetu),[1] is a chain of limestone shoals, between Pamban Island, also known as Rameswaram Island, off the south-eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and Mannar Island, off the north-western coast of Sri Lanka. Geological evidence suggests that this bridge is a former land connection between India and Sri Lanka.[2]

NASA satellite photo: India on top, Sri Lanka at the bottom of the photo

The bridge is 48 km (30 mi) long and separates the Gulf of Mannar (south-west) from the Palk Strait (northeast). Some of the regions are dry and the sea in the area rarely exceeds 1 metre (3 ft) in depth, thus hindering navigation.[2] It was reportedly passable on foot until the 15th century, when storms deepened the channel: temple records seem to say that Adam's Bridge was completely above sea level until it broke in a cyclone in 1480.[citation needed]

Historical mentions and etymology

The bridge was first mentioned in the ancient Indian Sanskrit epic Ramayana written by Valmiki,[3] wherein Rama constructed it for his Vanara (ape men) army to reach Lanka and rescue his wife Sita from the Rakshasa king, Ravana.[3][4]

The western world first encountered it in "historical works in the 9th century" by Ibn Khordadbeh in his Book of Roads and Kingdoms (c. 850), referring to it is Set Bandhai or "Bridge of the Sea".[5] Some early Islamic sources refer to a mountain in Sri Lanka as Adam's Peak, (where Adam supposedly fell to earth) and described Adam as crossing from Sri Lanka to India via the bridge; leading to the name of Adam's Bridge.[6] Alberuni (c. 1030) was probably the first to describe it in such a manner.[5] The earliest map that calls this area by the name Adam's bridge was prepared by a British cartographer in 1804.[3]


Historical map of Adam's Bridge and environs, before the cyclone of 1964

The bridge starts as a chain of shoals from the Dhanushkodi tip of India's Pamban Island and ends at Sri Lanka's Mannar Island. Pamban Island is semi-connected to the Indian mainland by the 2-km-long Pamban Bridge. Mannar Island is connected to mainland Sri Lanka by a causeway. The border between India and Sri Lanka is said to pass across one of the shoals, constituting one of the shortest land borders in the world. Ramasetu and neighbouring areas like Rameswaram, Dhanushkodi, Devipattinam and Thirupullani are mentioned in the context of various legends in Ramayana.

Geological evolution

Landsat 7 Image of Adam's Bridge
Landsat 5 image of Adam's Bridge

Considerable diversity of opinion and confusion exists about the nature and origin of this structure. In the 19th century, two major theories were prominent in explaining the structure. One considered it to be formed by the process of accretion and rising of the land, while the other surmised that it was established by the breaking away of Sri Lanka from the Indian mainland.[7] The friable calcareous ridges later broke into large rectangular blocks, which perhaps gave rise to the belief that the causeway is an artificial construction.[8]

According to V. Ram Mohan of the Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Studies of the University of Madras, "reconstruction of the geological evolution of the island chain is a challenging task and has to be carried out based on circumstantial evidence".[9] The lack of comprehensive field studies explains many of the uncertainties regarding the nature and origin of Adam's Bridge, which mostly consists of a series of parallel ledges of sandstone and conglomerates that are hard at the surface and grow coarse and soft as they descend to sandy banks.[10]

Studies have variously described the structure as a chain of shoals, coral reefs, a ridge formed in the region owing to thinning of the earth's crust, a double tombolo,[11] a sand spit, or barrier islands. One account mentions that this landform was formerly the world's largest tombolo that split into a chain of shoals by a slight rise in mean sea level a few thousand years ago.[12]

Based on satellite remote sensing data, but without actual field verification, the Marine and Water Resources Group of the Space Application Centre (SAC) of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) concludes that Adam's Bridge comprises 103 small patch reefs lying in a linear pattern.[10] The feature consists of the reef crest (flattened, emergent, especially during low tides, or nearly emergent segment of a reef), sand cays (accumulations of loose coral sands and beach rock) and intermittent deep channels. The coral reefs are variously designated by other studies as ribbon and atoll reefs.[13]

The geological process that gave rise to this structure has been attributed in one study to crustal down warping, block faulting, and mantle plume activity[14] while another theory attributes it to continuous sand deposition and the natural process of sedimentation leading to the formation of a chain of barrier islands related to rising sea levels.[13] Another theory affirms that the origin and linearity of Adam's Bridge might be due to the old shoreline (implying that the two landmasses of India and Sri Lanka were once connected) from which shoreline coral reefs developed.

Another study attributes the origin of the structure to longshore drifting currents which moved in an anticlockwise direction in the north and clockwise direction in the south of Rameswaram and Talaimannar. The sand could have been dumped in a linear pattern along the current shadow zone between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar with the later accumulation of corals over these linear sand bodies.[15] In a diametrically opposing view, another group of geologists propose a crustal thinning theory, block faulting and a ridge formed in the region owing to thinning and asserts that development of this ridge augmented the coral growth in the area and in turn coral cover acted as a `sand trapper'.[13]

The tombolo model affirms a constant sediment source and a high unidirectional or bi-directional (monsoonal) longshore current.[citation needed] One study tentatively concludes that there is insufficient evidence to indicate eustatic emergence and that the raised reef in southern India probably results from a local uplift.[16] Other studies also conclude that during periods of lowered sea level over the last 100,000 years, Adam's Bridge has provided an intermittent land connection between India and Sri Lanka, which according to famous ornithologists Sidney Dillon Ripley and Bruce Beehler supports the vicariance model for speciation in some birds of the Indian Subcontinent.[17]


The studies under "Project Rameswaram" of the Geological Survey of India (GSI), which included dating of corals, indicate Rameswaram Island evolved beginning 125,000 years ago. Radiocarbon dating of samples in this study suggests the domain between Rameswaram and Talaimannar may have been exposed sometime between 7,000 and 18,000 years ago.[13] Thermoluminescence dating by GSI concludes that the sand dunes between Dhanushkodi and Adam's Bridge started forming about 500–600 years ago.[13]

Another study suggests that the appearance of the reefs and other evidence indicate their recency, and a coral sample gives a radiocarbon age of 4,020±160 years BP.[13]

Early surveys and dredging efforts

Pearl fishing in the Gulf of Mannar, c. 1926

Due to shallow waters, Adam's bridge presents a formidable hindrance to navigation through the Palk Strait. Though trade across the India-Sri Lanka divide has been active since at least the first millennium BC, it was limited to small boats and dinghies. Larger ocean-going vessels from the West have had to navigate around Sri Lanka to reach India's eastern coast.[18] Eminent British geographer Major James Rennell, who surveyed the region as a young officer in the late 18th century, suggested that a "navigable passage could be maintained by dredging the strait of Ramisseram [sic]". However, little notice was given to his proposal, perhaps because it came from "so young and unknown an officer", and the idea got revived only 60 years later.

In 1823, Sir Arthur Cotton (then an Ensign), was assigned to survey the Pamban channel, which separates the Indian mainland from the island of Rameswaram and forms the first link of Adam's Bridge. Geological evidence indicates that a land connection bridged this in the past, and some temple records suggest that violent storms broke the link in 1480. Cotton suggested that the channel could be dredged to enable passage of ships, but nothing was done until 1828 when Major Sim directed the blasting and removal of some rocks.[19][20]

A more detailed marine survey of Adam's Bridge was undertaken in 1837 by Lieutenants F. T. Powell, Ethersey, Grieve, and Christopher along with draughtsman Felix Jones, and operations to dredge the channel were recommenced the next year.[19][21] However, these and subsequent efforts in the 19th century did not succeed in keeping the passage navigable for any vessels except those with a light draft.[2]

Sethusamudram shipping canal project

Opposition parties demanded implementation of the Sethusamudram canal project using one of the five alternative alignments considered earlier by the Government, without damaging the structure of Adam's Bridge.

The government of India constituted nine committees before independence, and five committees since then, to suggest alignments for a Sethusamudram canal project. Most of them suggested land-based passages across Rameswaram island, and none recommended alignment across Adam's Bridge.[22] The Sethusamudram project committee in 1956 also strongly recommended to the Union government to use land passages instead of cutting Adam's Bridge because of the several advantages of land passage.[23]

In 2005, the Government of India approved a multi-million dollar Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project that aims to create a ship channel across the Palk Strait by dredging the shallow ocean floor near Dhanushkodi. The channel is expected to cut over 400 km (nearly 30 hours of shipping time) off the voyage around the island of Sri Lanka. This proposed channel's current alignment requires dredging through Adam's Bridge.

Indian political parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)) and some Hindu organisations oppose dredging through the shoal on religious grounds. The contention is that Adam's Bridge is identified popularly as the causeway described in the Ramayana. The political parties and organizations suggest alternate alignment for the channel that avoids damage to Adam's Bridge.[24][25] The then state and central governments opposed such changes, with the Union Shipping Minister T. R Baalu, who belongs to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and a strong supporter of the project maintaining that the current proposal was economically viable and environmentally sustainable and that there were no other alternatives.[26][27][28]

Opposition to dredging through this causeway also stems from concerns over its impact on the area's ecology and marine wealth, potential loss of thorium deposits in the area, and increased risk of damage due to tsunamis.[29] Some organisations completely oppose this project on economic and environmental grounds and claim that proper scientific studies were not conducted before undertaking this project.[30]

Origin legends

A 19th-century painting depicting a scene from Ramayana, wherein monkeys are shown building a bridge to Lanka.

Indian culture and religion includes legends that the structure is of supernatural origin.

According to the Hindu epic, Ramayana, Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Lanka (Sri Lanka), enticed Rama's wife Sita with a magical golden deer, then kidnapped her and took her to Lanka, doing this for revenge against Rama and his brother Lakshmana for having cut off the nose of Ravana's sister, Shurpanakha.

To rescue Sita, Rama needed to cross to Lanka. Brahma created an army of vanara (intelligent warrior monkeys) to aid Rama. Led by Nila and under the engineering direction of Nala, the vanara constructed a bridge to Lanka in five days.

Rama crossed the sea on this bridge, and pursued Ravana for many days. He fired hundreds of golden arrows which became serpents that cut off Ravana's heads, but ultimately had to use the divine arrow of Brahma (which had the power of the gods in it and cannot miss its target) to slay Ravana.[31][32]

Revisionist movement

In recent times, some groups have attempted to recast this religious legend as a historical event, with Adam's Bridge being the remains of the bridge built for Rama by the vanara, rather than having been created by natural processes. These groups include Tamil nationalists,[Note 1] Hindu fundamentalists, and Infotainment providers.[33]

Bharathidasan University was founded in 1982 in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and named after Bharathidasan, a Tamil poet, social reformer, and political philosopher associated with the Dravidian movement, the Pure Tamil movement, and the resurgence of Tamil cultural identity generally.[34] Professor S.M. Ramasamy's team from Centre for Remote Sensing (CRS) at this university asserted that "as the carbon dating of the beaches roughly matches the dates of Ramayana, its link to the epic needs to be explored".[35]

Ramasamy's team dates the structure to 3,500 years.[36] The investigation determine that the land/beaches between Ramanathapuram and Pamban were formed due to the longshore drifting currents. About 3,500 years ago, the currents moved in an anti-clockwise direction in the north and clockwise direction in the south of Rameswaram and Talaimannar.[35] In the same study, carbon dating of some ancient beaches between Thiruthuraipoondi and Kodiyakarai shows the Thiruthuraipoondi beach dates back to 6,000 years and Kodiyakarai around 1,100 years ago.

S. Badrinarayanan, a former director of the Geological Survey of India, said that it is impossible for Adam's Bridge to be a natural formation, because of the presence of a loose sand layer under corals for the entire stretch. Coral typically forms above rocks.[37][38] He suggests that a thorough analysis was not conducted by the Geological Survey of India before undertaking the SSCP project.

In 2007, a publication of the National Remote Sensing Agency said that the structure "may be man-made".[39]

In a 2008 court case, a spokesman for the government stated the bridge was destroyed by Rama according to the scriptures.[40] this claim has been rejected by other observers.[41] In connection with the canal project, the Madras High Court in its verdict stated that the Rama Sethu is a man-made structure.[42]

The Science Channel had broadcast an episode in the series What on Earth?, which included a few minutes on Adam's Bridge and claimed that the ancient Hindu myth of Lord Ram building the structure could be true. Deutsche Welle rejected the conclusions noting that no actual evidence is offered beyond vague speculation, false implications, and the point that – as with many geological formations – not every detail of its formation has been incontrovertibly settled.[43] Indian Geologist C. P. Rajendran described the broadcast as an "abhorrent" example of the "post-truth era, where debates are largely focused on appeals to emotions rather than factual realities".[44]

Other scientists in India and elsewhere have rejected a supernatural explanation for the existence of the structure.[45] NASA said that its satellite photos had been egregiously misinterpreted to make this point ("The images reproduced on the websites may well be ours, but their interpretation is certainly not ours. [...] Remote sensing images or photographs from orbit cannot provide direct information about the origin or age of a chain of islands, and certainly, cannot determine whether humans were involved in producing any of the patterns seen.").[46]

In 2007, the Sri Lankan Tourism Development Authority sought to promote religious tourism from Hindu pilgrims in India by including the phenomenon as one of the points on its "Ramayana Trail", celebrating the legend of Prince Rama. Some Sri Lankan historians have condemned the undertaking as "a gross distortion of Sri Lankan history".[47]

Scientific response to revisionist movement

A report from the Archaeological Survey of India found no evidence for the structure being man-made.[13] The Archaeological Survey of India and the government of India informed the Supreme Court of India in a 2007 affidavit that there was no historical proof of the bridge being built by Rama.[48]

See also


  1. ^ The Tamils, who are generally Hindu, inhabit lands on both sides of the Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar, which separates the island of Sri Lanka from the Indian mainland, and between which Adam's Bridge lies. Tamils are a minority group in the nation of Sri Lanka (the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese people are the majority), and the Sri Lankan Civil War, an unsuccessful attempt to establish a separate Tamil state of Tamil Eelam on the island of Sri Lanka, was fought 1983 – 2009; although the war ended, Tamil nationalism continues as a movement; part of Tamil nationalism is the valorization of Hinduism and Hindu mythology (as opposed to the Buddhism of the Sinhalese).


  1. ^ also spelled Rama Setu, Ram Sethu, Ramasethu and variants.
  2. ^ a b c "Adam's bridge". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Archived from the original on 13 January 2008. Retrieved 14 September 2007.
  3. ^ a b c Room, Adrian (2006). Placenames of the World. McFarland & Company. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-7864-2248-7.
  4. ^ "Valmiki Ramayana - Yuddha Kanda". Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  5. ^ a b Suckling, Horatio John (1876). Ceylon: A General Description of the Island, Historical, Physical, Statistical. Containing the Most Recent Information. Chapman & Hall. p. 58.
  6. ^ Ricci, Ronit (2011). Islam Translated: Literature, Conversion, and the Arabic Cosmopolis of South and Southeast Asia. University of Chicago Press. p. 136. ISBN 9780226710884.
  7. ^ Tennent, James Emerson (1859). Ceylon: An Account of the Island Physical, Historical and Topographical. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts. p. 13.
  8. ^ Suess, Eduard (1906). The Face of the Earth (Vol. II). Translated by Hertha B. C. Sollas. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 512–513.
  9. ^ "Ram Setu: Fact or fiction?". Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  10. ^ a b Bahuguna, Anjali; Nayak, Shailesh; Deshmukh, Benidhar (1 December 2003). "IRS views the Adams bridge (bridging India and Sri Lanka)". Journal of the Indian Society of Remote Sensing. 31 (4): 237–239. doi:10.1007/BF03007343. ISSN 0255-660X.
  11. ^ "Double Tombolo reference by NASA". Archived from the original on 2 December 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2007.
  12. ^ "Tombolo | geology". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g "Myth vs Science". Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  14. ^ Crustal downwarping, block faulting, and mantel plume activity view
  15. ^ Ramasamy, S.M. (2003). "Facts and myths about Adam's Bridge" (PDF). GIS@development.
  16. ^ D. R. Stoddart; C. S. Gopinadha Pillai (1972). "Raised Reefs of Ramanathapuram, South India". Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 56 (56): 111–125. doi:10.2307/621544. JSTOR 621544.
  17. ^ Ripley, S. Dillon; Beehler, Bruce M. (November 1990). "Patterns of Speciation in Indian Birds". Journal of Biogeography. 17 (6): 639–648. doi:10.2307/2845145. JSTOR 2845145.
  18. ^ Francis, Jr., Peter (2002). Asia's Maritime Bead Trade: 300 B.C. to the Present. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-2332-0.
  19. ^ a b Hunter, Sir William Wilson (1886). The Imperial Gazetteer of India. Trübner & co. pp. 21–23.
  20. ^ Digby, William (1900). General Sir Arthur Cotton, R. E., K. C. S. I.: His Life and Work. Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 15–16.
  21. ^ Dawson, Llewellyn Styles (1885). Memoirs of hydrography. Keay. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-665-68425-8.
  22. ^ Sethusamudram Corporation Limited–History Archived 14 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "Use land based channel and do not cut through Adam bridge:Sethu samudram project committee report to Union Government". 30 September 2007. Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 15 October 2007. "In these circumstances we have no doubt, whatever that the junction between the two sea should be effected by a Canal; and the idea of cutting a passage in the sea through Adam's Bridge should be abandoned.
  24. ^ "Ram Setu a matter of faith, needs to be protected: Lalu". 21 September 2007. Retrieved 24 September 2007.
  25. ^ "Rama is 'divine personality' says Gowda". 22 September 2007. Archived from the original on 21 April 2008. Retrieved 24 September 2007.
  26. ^ "–Sethu: DMK chief sticks to his stand". Archived from the original on 21 April 2008. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  27. ^ Latest India News @ NewKerala.Com, India[dead link]
  28. ^ "". Archived from the original on 21 April 2008. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  29. ^ "Thorium reserves to be disturbed if Ramar Sethu is destroyed". The Hindu. 5 August 2007. Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 24 September 2007.
  30. ^ Karunanidhi or T R Baalu's arguments are not based on scientific studies claims coastal action network convenor
  31. ^ "Ravana loses his heads". British Library. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  32. ^ Ariel Sophia Bardi (31 May 2017). "God or Geology? The Genesis of Ram's Bridge". Hakai Magazine. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  33. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (2008). Amélie Blom and Nicolas Jaoul (ed.). "Hindu Nationalism and the (Not So Easy) Art of Being Outraged: The Ram Setu Controversy". SAMAJ (South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal (2 ('Outraged Communities': Comparative Perspectives on the Politicization of Emotions in South Asia)). Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  34. ^ Raman N. Kalyam (3 October 2015). "Remembering Bharathidasan: Prolific poet and Dravidian politics' rhetorical memory". The News Minute. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  35. ^ a b "Rama's bridge is only 3,500 years old: CRS". Indian Express. 2 February 2003. Retrieved 18 September 2007.
  36. ^ CRS study point Ram Setu to 3500 years old
  37. ^ "Debate shifted over Ram from Ram Sethu". 15 September 2007. Retrieved 18 September 2007.
  38. ^ Ram sethu should be manmade says former Geological survey of India director
  39. ^ "Ram Sethu 'man-made', says government publication". Sify News. 8 December 2007. Archived from the original on 20 December 2007.
  40. ^ Ram himself destroyed Setu, govt tells SC
  41. ^ "Because it is Ram Setu and not Nehru bridge".
  42. ^ Ram Sethu Timeline
  43. ^ "A bridge that Lord Ram built - myth or reality?". DW. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  44. ^ C.P. Rajendran. "A Post-Truth Take on the Ram Setu". The Wire. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  45. ^ "Hanuman bridge is myth: Experts". Times of India. 19 October 2002. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  46. ^ Kumar, Arun (14 September 2007). "Space photos no proof of Ram Setu: NASA". Hindustan Times. Archived from the original on 22 January 2008. Retrieved 18 September 2007. "The mysterious bridge was nothing more than a 30 km long, naturally occurring chain of sandbanks called Adam's bridge", [NASA official Mark] Hess had added. "NASA had been taking pictures of these shoals for years. Its images had never resulted in any scientific discovery in the area.
  47. ^ Kumarage, Achalie (23 July 2010). "Selling off the history via the 'Ramayana Trail'". Daily Mirror. Colombo: Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. Archived from the original on 25 July 2010. Retrieved 23 July 2010. the Tourism Authority is imposing an artificial [history] targeting a small segment of Indian travellers, specifically Hindu fundamentalists...
  48. ^ No evidence to prove existence of Ram, Centre to SC

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