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The Sethusamudram Project and the Ram Setu Controversy(UPSC CAPF Essay 2024 | 2025)

24 Jun 2024

Ram Setu, also known as Adam's Bridge, is a limestone trail connecting Pamban Island off the coast of Tamil Nadu to Mannar Island off the coast of Sri Lanka.


  • Ram Setu, also known as Adam's Bridge, is a limestone trail connecting Pamban Island off the coast of Tamil Nadu to Mannar Island off the coast of Sri Lanka

  • The structure has been the focal point of political, religious, and ecological controversies for decades. 

  • This essay explores the historical and mythological significance of Ram Setu, the colonial and post-independence perspectives on the structure, and the ongoing debate about its origin and strategic importance.

Mythological Significance
  • Ram Setu is believed to be built by an army of monkeys, led by Lord Hanuman on behalf of Lord Ram during his march towards Lanka to rescue his wife, Sita, as mentioned in the Ramayana.

  • In Abrahamic religions, it is thought to be Adam's footprints from the time he was expelled from paradise, thus named Adam's Bridge.

Colonial Perspective
  • Contrary to the colonial practice of denigrating Indian religious beliefs, European writings subtly reinforced the mythology surrounding Ram Setu.

  • Johannes Walther, a German geologist, and other colonial geologists maintained an attitude of epistemic humility, acknowledging the mythological significance without confirming or denying it.

  • James Rennel, the father of Oceanography, was one of the earliest British colonial surveyors to map Adam's Bridge and suggest the possibility of deepening it to reduce navigational challenges.

British Attitude and Surveys
  • British colonial interest in building a canal through the Palk Strait was repeatedly met with ecological and economic concerns.

  • Surveys suggested that dredging the Adam's Bridge would be costly and environmentally challenging.

  • The Pamban Bridge, built 30 kilometers ahead of Ram Setu in 1914, symbolized a modern equivalent of the mythological structure, aiding navigation between India and Sri Lanka.

Post-Independence Controversy
  • The idea of dredging the channel where Ram Setu is located was revived by Independent India's first government in 1955 with the formation of the Sethusamudram Project Committee.

  • The committee recommended linking the canal project with the Tuticorin Harbour Project, but concerns over ecological impact and costs delayed the project.

Political and Religious Debate
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, interest in the Sethusamudram Project was revived multiple times, becoming a motif in electoral campaigns.

  • The BJP-led government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee approved a substantial budget for the project in 2004, but faced protests from Hindu nationalists fearing the destruction of Ram Setu.

  • Subramanian Swamy filed a petition in the Supreme Court, leading to government affidavits questioning the existence of Ram Setu, which sparked further controversy.

Scientific and Archaeological Findings
  • NASA images were misinterpreted by some to support the existence of a man-made Ram Setu, although NASA clarified these were natural formations.

  • In 2007, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) reported that Ram Setu was a natural formation, but the debate persisted.

Modern Scientific Efforts
  • In 2021, the Narendra Modi government announced a scientific expedition to ascertain whether Ram Setu is man-made and if it dates back to the Ramayana period.

  • The debate over Ram Setu has turned into a political tussle over the veracity of the Ramayana epic, with both sides creating new myths of their own.

Historical and Mythological Interpretations
  • According to Nilesh Nilkanth Oak, the Vanar Sena's route as described in the Ramayana suggests a different location for Ram Setu, potentially south-west of Kerala near Male.

  • The name Nala Setu, after the vanara Nala who is said to have engineered the bridge, is the original name mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

Cultural and Religious Significance
  • Despite contradictions in the epic, the popular faith in Ram Setu holds significant cultural and religious value, akin to Jerusalem for Jews or Mecca for Muslims.

  • The Ram Setu controversy highlights the intersection of mythology, politics, and environmental concerns. The structure holds profound cultural and religious significance, making any project involving it highly contentious.

  • Understanding the historical and mythological context of Ram Setu is crucial for addressing the debates surrounding it.

  • The symbolic importance of Ram Setu extends beyond its physical presence, representing a cultural and religious heritage that resonates deeply with many Indians.

  • Efforts to scientifically explore and understand Ram Setu can contribute to a more informed debate, balancing respect for cultural beliefs with scientific inquiry.

  • As India continues to develop and modernize, it is essential to consider environmental sustainability and cultural preservation in decision-making processes involving such significant historical sites.

Note: In this CAPF essay, the world limit has been crossed to give you more information, you can take relevant portions as per your need. Further, we have given subheadings for your reference. When you write in the UPSC exam, you don't need to do that.

Why should you know about this Issue?
  • Essay Writing: The topic exemplifies how to present a balanced argument on a contentious issue.

  • Current Affairs: The ongoing debate about Ram Setu is a significant current issue.

  • Syllabus Relevance: Topics like Indian history, culture, and environment are integral to the UPSC CAPF syllabus.

  • Exam Preparation: Understanding such topics aids in writing well-rounded essays and answers in exams.

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