British governor wanted Ram Sethu declared national monument in 1914

June 6th, 2008 - 2:18 pm ICT by IANS  

By Rana Ajit
New Delhi, June 6 (IANS) a senior British official had sought national monument status for the Ram Sethu or Adam’s Bridge off the Tamil Nadu coast almost a century ago, something that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some Hindu groups are pressing for now. Lord Pentlen, who was the governor of the Madras presidency between 1912 and 1919, had written to the then Indian Viceroy Lord Hardinge in December 1914 to have an archaeological study conducted on the Ram Sethu - between Rameshwaram, in India, and Sri Lanka - to ascertain if it could be declared a national monument.

“I would earnestly request you to direct the Archaeological Survey of India to undertake an extensive and intensive survey of Rameshwaram and its beautiful environs, particularly with reference to historic and primordial Adam’s Bridge, for declaring it as a national monument,” Lord Pentlen wrote to Lord Hardinge after touring Rameshwaram in 1914.

The letter, retrieved by former union minister Subramaniam Swamy from the archives of the Chennai mayor’s office, has now been sent to the central government to buttress his claim that the Ram Sethu needs to be declared a national monument after an archaeological study.

On a bunch of lawsuits, filed by Swamy and others, the apex court on May 8 had advised the government to explore the possibility of sparing the Ram Sethu and adopting an “alternative alignment” to build a shorter navigational route around the Indian peninsula.

The court had also sought the government’s stand for an archaeological study to ascertain if the Ram Sethu could be declared a national monument.

Lord Pentlen, after touring Rameshwaram and other places in his presidency, wrote: “Along the Bay of Bengal, the Madras presidency runs with the well-governed city of Madras at its centre and the sublime and glorious temple of Tanjore (Thanjavur), Trichinopoly (Tiruchirapalli), Madurai and Rameshwaram adorning the southern boundaries.”

“And, then the Adam’s Bridge, a reef of sunken island beckons us across the Palk Strait to Ceylon, where civilization flourished more than 2,000 years ago,” wrote Lord Pentlen.

“Linga sculptures may be seen at many places along the highways in my presidency. The Hindus break upon them the coconuts, which they offer in sacrifice. Usually the ritual is simple and becoming,” he added.

Under the spell of India’s “simple and becoming” lifestyle in Rameshwaram, Lord Pentlen found his own English lifestyle a “bottled-up” one and went on to write: “For me, Rameshwaram, very much like India as a whole, is the real world. We Englishmen live in a mad house of abstractions.”

“Vital life in Rameshwaram has not yet withdrawn in the capsule of the head. It’s the whole body, which lives here. No wonder, the Englishmen feel dreamlike; the complete life of Rameshwaram is something, which they merely dream… while living in England in a sort of bottle, filled with English air.”

Describing special features of the Rameshwaram temple and other places of the Madras Presidency, Pentlen wrote, “All these are a little part of my beloved Presidency - indeed my favourite India.”

“Right from the dawn of history, India is extraordinarily discontinuous. From early times in India, it is ethnology, philology and archaeology that give and will give us some notions of the truth. From archaeology, much can be expected,” he wrote while pleading to Lord Hardinge for an archaeological study of the Ram Sethu.

The BJP and other Hindu groups are against the Rs.24 billion Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP), which aims to provide a shorter navigational sea route around India’s southern peninsula by dredging the peak of what is believed to be the Ram Sethu.

The Supreme Court is hearing the plea against the damage to the Adam’s Bridge, which many Hindus believe to be the mythological bridge built during the Ramayana.

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