Valmiki Ramayana is a historical biography because...
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'Nala Setu' got renamed to 'Adam's Bridge' by...
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Archeology

One of the ways of proving historicity today is to show archeological proof or evidence. But continuous civilization, while a marvel by itself, does not leave intact, sufficient archeological remnants of its ancestors. Generations come and go and as they keep building and rebuilding their cities, they destroy or alter these remains in order to sustain themselves. Hence while the continuous civilizations and culture itself is an existing evidence, archeological artifacts are hard to come by.

To understand this, think of a clock which stopped ticking during an earthquake. If nobody repaired it, one can state with assertion the time of the quake. But if it were to continue ticking, then the clock ceases to be an evidence. Today, small occassional finds in deserted places are all what we have, to attempt to learn about our history.

It is because the deep seas swallowed Dwaraka, the town became uninhabitable and frozen in time and hence after so many thousands of years, it is still able to provide evidence for the existence of an advanced township tallying with the city described in the epic Mahabharata.

The only such uninhabited place to look for evidences around Rama’s times as per the epic Valmiki Ramayana, would be to study the Rama Setu or Adam’s Bridge.


Shri B.B. Lal
Director General, Retd.,
Archaeological Survey of India,


states:

"No contemporary inscriptional evidence is available to establish the historicity of the epic. An advantage in approaching this problem is, the sites mentioned in the epic, bear same names even today. This is because these sites have remained under continuous occupation ever since the 1st settlement began thereat. Authenticity of the names is there, as there is only one Mathura, Hastinapura, Ayodhya, Chitrakoota."

Since all traditional archealogical evidences are not directly available due to an elapse of time of more than 7,200 years coupled continuous civilization, the bridge is probably the only archaeological evidence!

What does the text say about this bridge and what do we find on site?
Contrary to just mentioning in passing, the Ramayana has detail verses explaining the construction of the bridge. The steps followed by Rama in constructing the bridge seem to be no different from those employed by modern day Civil engineering and Construction companies.

Textual Description:

It says that, during Rama’s encounter with the sea, they gathered that it was in the nature of the seas to be deep and not shallow, to have waves and fierce sea creatures. Given this, it was essential to find a path where Rama and his army would find it easy to cross the sea.

Nala who introduced himself as the biological descendant of Vishwakarma, an architect par excellence, offered his services for the design and construction of a bridge.

On his advice, the Vanara then piled different varieties of trees and then large boulders followed by smaller stones to create a causeway over the sea in 5 days, over which they crossed and reached Lanka.

Survey of the conditions.

Samudra Deva says

"O, beloved Rama !
Earth, wind, ether, water and light
remain fixed in their own nature,
resorting to their eternal path.
Therefore,
I am fathomless and my nature is that
it is impossible of being swum across.
It becomes unnatural if I am shallow.I am telling you the following device to cross me.
O, Prince!
Neither from desire nor ambition
nor fear, nor from affection,
I am able to solidify my waters inhabited by Makarah.
O, Rama!
I shall make it possible to see that you are able to cross over.
I will arrange a place for the vanara to cross me
and bear with it.
As far as the army crosses me,
the Makarah will not be aggressive to them."

       -- Ramayana 6.22.25 - 28


Planning and Deciding the approach

"I am a son born of Visvakarma's own loins. I am equal to Viswakarma. This god of Ocean has reminded me. The great ocean spoke the truth. Being unasked, I have not told you my details earlier. I am capable of constructing a bridge across the ocean. Hence, let the foremost of vanara build the bridge now itself."

Construction of the bridge.
Description in the Ramayana. Yudha Kandam. Sloka 6.22.50 – 72

Execution

Construction of the bridge.
Description in the Ramayana. Yudha Kandam. Sloka 6.22.50 – 72

"Then, being sent by Rama, hundreds and thousands of vanara, heroes jumped in joy on all sides, towards the great forest. Those army-chiefs of vanara, who resembled mountains, broke the rocks and trees there and dragged them away towards the sea. Those vanara filled the ocean with all types of trees like Sala and Asvakarna, Dhava and bamboo, Kutaja, Arjuna, palmyra, Tilaka, Tinisa, Bilva, Saptaparna, Karnika, in bloom as also mango and Asoka.

The excellent vanara, the forest animals lifted and brought, like Indra's flag post, some trees with roots intact and some others without roots. From here and there the vanara brought Palmyra trees, pomegranate shrubs, coconut and Vibhitaka, Karira, Bakula and neem trees. The huge bodied vanara with mighty strength uprooted elephant-sized rocks and Mountains and transported them by mechanical contrivances. The water, raised up due to sudden throwing of mountains in the sea, soured upward towards the sky and from there again, gushed back.

The rocks befalling on all sides perturbed the ocean. Some others drew up strings a hundred Yojanas long, - in order to keep the rocks in a straight line. Nala on his part initiated a monumental bridge in the middle of the ocean. The bridge was built at that time with the cooperation of other vanara, of terrible doings. Some vanara were holding poles for measuring the bridge and some others collected the materials. Reeds and logs resembling clouds and mountains, brought by hundreds of vanara, lead by the command of Rama, fastened some parts of the bridge.

vanara constructed the bridge with trees having blossom at the end of their boughs. Some vanara looking like demons seized rocks resembling mountains and peaks of mountains and appeared running hither and thither. Then, a tumultuous sound occurred when the rocks were thrown into the sea and when mountains were caused to fall there. On the 1st day, 14 Yojana of bridge were constructed by the vanara speedily, thrilled with delight as they were, resembling elephants.

In the same manner, on the 2nd day 20 Yojana of bridge were constructed speedily by the vanara of terrific bodies and of mighty strength. Thus, on the 3rd day 21 Yojana of the bridge were constructed in the ocean speedily by the vanara with their colossal bodies. On the 4th day, a further of 22 Yojana were constructed by the dashing vanara with a great speed. In that manner, on the 5th day, the vanara working quickly constructed 23 Yojana of the bridge up to the other seashore.

That Nala, the strong and illustrious son of Visvakarma and an excellent vanara built the bridge across the sea as truly as his father would have built it. That beautiful and lovely bridge constructed by Nala across the ocean the abode of crocodiles, shone brightly like a milky way of stars in the sky."


From the above description, the bridge construction can be graphically explained as follows.

Physical Observation : Today there is a natural sea ridge formation over the seabed linking the land masses of India and Sri Lanka. This formation presents a good foundation over which, the Vanara of yore could have easily augmented and created a causeway bridge. This would vindicate Rama’s encounter with the sea to find a place in the sea where it would be easy for Rama and his army to cross over.



'Amar Chitra Katha' is a popular and widely accepted as an authentic expression of Indian legends. In their depiction of Ramayana, they clearly show the layers of the bridge construction, with a wood base on top of which large boulders have been piled on.


The question now is whether, under the layers of hardened sands, do the layers of this bridge show remnants of the trees and rocks as placed there by the Vanara over the natural ridge, under the guidance of Nala, as described in the text?

Dr. S. Badrinaryanan, Geologist - former Director of Geological Survey of India and Consultant at the National Institute of Oceanic Technology (NIOT), has done extensive geological research of the bridge, and this is what he has to say:

"Geological & geophysical studies of Ram Sethu reveal the presence of loose marine sand below the coral layer, clearly indicating the coral layer in the form of boulders are not natural and formed on their own, but have been transported by somebody and dumped there; thus clearly establishing the fact that Ram Sethu is very much man made in the hoary past."



The texts state that the bridge’s length is a 100 Yojana and the breadth is 10 Yojana making a ratio of 10:1.

Today the bridge, from Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar, measures approx 35 km in length and 3.5 km in breadth making it of the same ratio of 10:1 as mentioned in the texts.

Post Completion

Rama spoke to Sita
en route from Lanka to Ayodhya

"Survey the city of Lanka perched on a summit of the Trukuta Mountain, resembling a peak of Mountain Kailasha."

"Here see the landing place on the seashore where having crossed the ocean, we spent that night."

"Here is the bridge called Nala Sethu so called because it was constructed by the vanara Chief Nala, which was so difficult to execute for others."


Pushpaka Vimana


It is very clear from the above statement that Rama has himself called this bridge 'Nala Setu' because of the singular effort of Nala in executing this civil engineering marvel.



What do our other traditional literature say about this bridge?

Mahabharatha

        Vedavyasa

Nalasetu, a protected monument during Mahabharata times

nalasetur iti khyato yo 'dyapi prathito bhuvi ramasyajnac purask - tya dharyate girisacnibha
         - Mahabharata 3.267.45

...which even today, popular on earth as Nala's bridge, mountain like is sustained out of respect for Lord Rama's command.



Further, in the Mahabartaha text, when the 5 Pandava brothers roam the forest during their exile period, they visit the Ashrama of Rishi Markendeya, who regales them with the histories of their land. One such story is of the Nala Setu, the text of which is given below.

Mahabharatha, Vanaparva Ramopakhyanam - 20 Chapters



Rishi Markandeya - conversation with the Pandava brothers

Account of the construction of Nala Setu

...And that mighty army, protected by Nala and Nila and Angada and Kratha and Mainda and Dwivida, marched forth for achieving the purpose of Raghava. And encamping successively, without interruption of any kind, on wide and healthy tracts and valleys abounding with fruits and roots and water and honey and meat, the vanara at last reached the shores of the briny sea. And like unto a second ocean, that mighty army with its countless colours, having reached the shores of the sea, took up its abode there. Then the illustrious son of Dasaratha, addressing Sugriva amongst all those foremost vanara, spoke unto him these words that were suited to the occasion, 'This army is large. The ocean also is difficult to cross. What way, therefore, commends itself to thee for crossing the ocean?'

At these words, many vain-glorious vanara answered, 'We are fully able to cross the sea. ' This answer, however, was not of much use, as all could not avail of its meaning. Then, some of the vanara proposed to cross the sea in boats, and some in rafts of various kinds. Rama, however, conciliating them all, said, 'This cannot be. 'The sea here is a full hundred Yojanas in width. All the vanara, ye heroes, will not be able to cross it. This proposal, therefore, that ye have made, is not consonant to reason. Besides we have not the number of boats necessary for carrying all our troops. How, again, can one like us raise such obstacles in the way of the merchants? Our army is very large. The foe wilt make a great havoc if a hole is detected. Therefore, to cross the sea in boats and rafts doth not recommend itself to me. I will, however, pray to the Ocean for the necessary means. Foregoing food, I will lie down on the shore. He will certainly show himself to me. If, however, he doth not show himself, I will chastise him then by means of my great weapons that are more blazing than fire itself and are incapable of being baffled!'

Having said these words, both Rama and Lakshmana touched water and duly laid themselves down on a bed of kusa grass on the seashore. The divine and illustrious Ocean, that lord of male and female rivers surrounded by aquatic animals, then appeared unto Rama in a vision. And addressing Rama in sweet accents, the genius of the Ocean, surrounded by countless mines of gems, said, 'O son of Kausalya, tell me what aid, O bull among men, I am to render thee! I also have sprung from the race of Ikshwaku and am, therefore, a relative of thine!' Rama replied unto him, saying, 'O lord of rivers, male and female, I desire thee to grant me a way for my troops, passing along which I may slay the Ten-headed (Ravana), that wretch of Pulastya's race! If thou dost not grant the way I beg of thee, I will then dry thee up by means of my celestial arrows inspired with mantras!'

And hearing these words of Rama, the genius of Varuna abode, joining his hands, answered in great affliction, 'I do not desire to put any obstacle in thy way. I am no foe of thine! Listen, O Rama, to these words, and having listened, do what is proper! If, at thy command, I get a way for the passage of thy army, others then, from strength of their bows, will command me to do the same! In thy army there is a Vanara of the name of Nala, who is a skilled engineer. And endued with great strength, Nala is the son of Tashtri, the divine artificer of the Universe. And whether it is wood, or grass or stone, that he will throw into my waters, I will support the same on my seabed, and thus wilt thou have a bridge over me, through which to reach Lanka!'

And having said these words, the genius of the Ocean disappeared. And Rama awaking, called Nala unto him and said, 'Build thou a bridge over the sea! Thou alone, I am sure, art able to do it!' And it was by this means that the descendant of Kakutstha's race caused a bridge to be built that was 10 Yojana in width and a 100 Yojana in length. And to this day that bridge is celebrated over all the world by the name of Nala's bridge.







In Conclusion:

  • Thus the Setu has been discussed in literature as a protected monument through the ages.
  • The findings at the site of the Rama Setu tally with the literature on the construction of the bridge.
  • The detailed reports of the few surveys conducted till date, point to the Setu being a man made accretion over a natural formation.