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Ram Setu Expedition: What to Expect from This Shallow Sea Mission?

The expedition will try to understand the formation of the bridge and find if there are submerged habitation.

Published
Explainers
4 min read
An underwater expedition to be carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India at Ram Setu.
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An underwater expedition project will be carried out this year to determine the age of Ram Setu – the shoal chain between India and Sri Lanka. Scientists and archaeologists will be working on the project to help determine the age of the bridge that was supposedly built by Lord Rama. This project holds political significance as historians say that Rama is a historical figure – and not mythological.

The Adam’s Bridge – or the Ram Setu as Indians know it – is a 48-km-long chain bridge of limestone shoals between Rameswaram at the southeast coast of India and Mannar Island at the northwest coast of Sri Lanka.

What else do you need to know about the Ram Setu – and the expedition itself?

Ram Setu Expedition: What to Expect from This Shallow Sea Mission?

  1. 1. How Old is the Ram Setu?

    The Geological Survey of India (GSI) in its study under ‘Project Rameswaram’ indicates that the islands of Rameswaram in India and Talaimannar in Sri Lanka was exposed between 7,000 and 18,000 years ago; and by including the dating of corals the GSI stated that the Adam’s Bridge was formed about 500-600 years ago.

    The existence of the Ram Setu has been mentioned in the Hindu mythology Ramayana, but there has been no scientific proof yet that it is a man-made bridge. The bridge was reportedly passable on foot up to the 15th century. Temple records seem to suggest that Adam’s Bridge or the Ram Setu was completely above sea level till 1480. It was due to natural calamities that it was completely immersed in the shallow sea.

    The sea around the area of Rameswaram is very shallow, as it is only 1 to 10 metres deep. According to the scientific study, the depth of the sea rarely exceeds more than 90 metres.
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  2. 2. What is the Expedition About?

    Countless number of proposals have been sent to the Indian Council of Historical Research till date. Though the proposals had been accepted, this is the first time that an expedition will be carried out. The Advisory Board of the Archaeological Survey of India approved the proposal to study the Ram Setu bridge through an expedition last month by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) to ascertain whether there are any submerged habitations around the Ram Setu.

    The main reason for the expedition is to study if the bridge is man-made or natural. In the proposal note, the NIO said, “The historicity and the date of Ramayana remain a debatable subject among historians, archaeologists and scientists. It is proposed to carry out scientific and underwater archaeological studies to understand the nature and formation of the Ram Setu and its surrounding area.”

    According to media reports, the expedition is said to start by the end of March 2021 in view of the upcoming state Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. However, an office administrator at the Archaeological Survey of India, Chennai, told this reporter that they have not been given any notice by the central government yet.

    Expand
  3. 3. How Will The Expedition Be Carried Out?

    The research vessels of the NIO – Sindhu Sadhana or Sindhu Sankalp – will be deployed in this project to collect samples of the sediment from 35 to 40 metres below the water level.

    The NIO will be conducting the experiment using carbon dating techniques to find the age of sediments if they find any archaeological remains. Also, the study of the underwater expedition will be based on archaeological antiquities, radiometric and thermoluminescence dating for geological timescale.

    In spite of having the underwater archaeological section from 2001, the Centre till now did not conduct an expedition to explore the Ram Setu.

    Union Minister of State for Tourism and Culture, Prahlad Singh Patel, while addressing the media said, “The central government has approved the underwater expedition at the Ram Setu because the world should get to know about the bridge through evidence based on scientific research.”

    Expand
  4. 4. Did Previous Expedition Ideas Bear Any Fruit?

    A senior archaeological journalist, who covered the ‘Sethu Samuthram Project’ initiated by the Tamil Nadu State Department in 2007, said that he remembered from his reports that the exploration bore no results as they tried to excavate under the sea, and they were not able to reach the sea bed.

    In 2005, marine archaeologist Alok Tripathi, who was heading the Underwater Archaeological Research Department for India from 2001 to 2009, submitted his proposal to go on an underwater expedition for the Ram Setu. His idea was approved by the Indian Council of Historic Research (ICHR). Later, the then newly appointed chairperson of the ICHR stated that, “It is not the work of historians to carry out excavations and work like that. For that, there are apt agencies such as the Archaeological Survey of India. The maximum the ICHR can do is to recommend it to the agency concerned.”

    Alok Tripathi said his expedition idea of the Ram Setu was to find the archaeological remains of the limestone shoals of the bridge.

    He told The Quint, “I have no idea about what they have planned in this expedition. The Archaeological Survey of India has not publicised the proposal submitted. I have no idea how did the government suddenly accept the proposal and decide to start the expedition, because in 2008, under the Congress regime, an affidavit was submitted to the Supreme Court by the Archaeological Survey of India stating that the islets and shoals of the bridge are of natural formation between the two countries and it would have been possibly created when the island of Sri Lanka was separated from the Indian land mass.”

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

How Old is the Ram Setu?

The Geological Survey of India (GSI) in its study under ‘Project Rameswaram’ indicates that the islands of Rameswaram in India and Talaimannar in Sri Lanka was exposed between 7,000 and 18,000 years ago; and by including the dating of corals the GSI stated that the Adam’s Bridge was formed about 500-600 years ago.

The existence of the Ram Setu has been mentioned in the Hindu mythology Ramayana, but there has been no scientific proof yet that it is a man-made bridge. The bridge was reportedly passable on foot up to the 15th century. Temple records seem to suggest that Adam’s Bridge or the Ram Setu was completely above sea level till 1480. It was due to natural calamities that it was completely immersed in the shallow sea.

The sea around the area of Rameswaram is very shallow, as it is only 1 to 10 metres deep. According to the scientific study, the depth of the sea rarely exceeds more than 90 metres.
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What is the Expedition About?

Countless number of proposals have been sent to the Indian Council of Historical Research till date. Though the proposals had been accepted, this is the first time that an expedition will be carried out. The Advisory Board of the Archaeological Survey of India approved the proposal to study the Ram Setu bridge through an expedition last month by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) to ascertain whether there are any submerged habitations around the Ram Setu.

The main reason for the expedition is to study if the bridge is man-made or natural. In the proposal note, the NIO said, “The historicity and the date of Ramayana remain a debatable subject among historians, archaeologists and scientists. It is proposed to carry out scientific and underwater archaeological studies to understand the nature and formation of the Ram Setu and its surrounding area.”

According to media reports, the expedition is said to start by the end of March 2021 in view of the upcoming state Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. However, an office administrator at the Archaeological Survey of India, Chennai, told this reporter that they have not been given any notice by the central government yet.

How Will The Expedition Be Carried Out?

The research vessels of the NIO – Sindhu Sadhana or Sindhu Sankalp – will be deployed in this project to collect samples of the sediment from 35 to 40 metres below the water level.

The NIO will be conducting the experiment using carbon dating techniques to find the age of sediments if they find any archaeological remains. Also, the study of the underwater expedition will be based on archaeological antiquities, radiometric and thermoluminescence dating for geological timescale.

In spite of having the underwater archaeological section from 2001, the Centre till now did not conduct an expedition to explore the Ram Setu.

Union Minister of State for Tourism and Culture, Prahlad Singh Patel, while addressing the media said, “The central government has approved the underwater expedition at the Ram Setu because the world should get to know about the bridge through evidence based on scientific research.”

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Did Previous Expedition Ideas Bear Any Fruit?

A senior archaeological journalist, who covered the ‘Sethu Samuthram Project’ initiated by the Tamil Nadu State Department in 2007, said that he remembered from his reports that the exploration bore no results as they tried to excavate under the sea, and they were not able to reach the sea bed.

In 2005, marine archaeologist Alok Tripathi, who was heading the Underwater Archaeological Research Department for India from 2001 to 2009, submitted his proposal to go on an underwater expedition for the Ram Setu. His idea was approved by the Indian Council of Historic Research (ICHR). Later, the then newly appointed chairperson of the ICHR stated that, “It is not the work of historians to carry out excavations and work like that. For that, there are apt agencies such as the Archaeological Survey of India. The maximum the ICHR can do is to recommend it to the agency concerned.”

Alok Tripathi said his expedition idea of the Ram Setu was to find the archaeological remains of the limestone shoals of the bridge.

He told The Quint, “I have no idea about what they have planned in this expedition. The Archaeological Survey of India has not publicised the proposal submitted. I have no idea how did the government suddenly accept the proposal and decide to start the expedition, because in 2008, under the Congress regime, an affidavit was submitted to the Supreme Court by the Archaeological Survey of India stating that the islets and shoals of the bridge are of natural formation between the two countries and it would have been possibly created when the island of Sri Lanka was separated from the Indian land mass.”

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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