When and how was Ram Setu formed? Archaeological Survey of India gives nod for research

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(This story originally appeared in on Jan 14, 2021)

NEW DELHI: An underwater exploration project to determine the age of the Ram Setu, a chain of shoals between India and Sri Lanka, and “how” it was formed will begin this year. Scientists who will be working on the project said it may “help determine the age of the Ramayana period.”

The Central Advisory Board on Archaeology, a body under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), approved the proposal by the CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, (NIO) last month.

“The proposed study will be based on archaeological antiquities, radiometric and thermoluminescence (TL) dating for geological timescale and other supporting environmental data,” Prof. Sunil Kumar Singh, director, NIO, told TOI.

“Radiometric technique will be used to ascertain the age of the structure which is reported to consist of coral or pumice stones. Corals contain calcium carbonate that will help us find the age of the structure and of course the period of Ramayana,” he added.

Radiometric dating looks for radioactive impurities to ascertain an object’s age. TL dating analyses light released when an object is heated.

The project holds religious and political significance beyond the poll-bound state where it will be based. The Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’ said a “vanar sena” had built a bridge over the ocean to help Rama cross over to Lanka and rescue Sita. The 48-km chain of limestone shoals has been associated with the ‘Ramayana’ as that bridge by those who say Rama was a historical figure and not a mythological one. That hinges on one claim — that it is human-made. In 2007, the ASI had said it had found no evidence of this. Later, it withdrew this affidavit in the Supreme Court.

“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,” the proposal note by the institute says.

The NIO will use its research vessels, Sindhu Sadhana or Sindhu Sankalp. These can collect samples of sediment core 35-40m below the water level. The project will be overseen by a team along with one Dr Sundaresh, principal technical officer with the NIO’s marine archaeology department.

An ASI official said the study will also find out if there are any “submerged habitations” around Ram Setu. “Historically speaking, there have been such instances. In 1964, the entire village of Dhanushkodi near Ram Setu went under water during a cyclone.”

The NIO had five years ago signed an MoU with the ASI to revive underwater archaeology across the country. The highlights, at the time, were Ram Setu and the existence of Dwarka, the mythical city of Lord Krishna that scriptures say was submerged. The Dwarka project has been on for the past two years. An NIO official said, “These projects are scientific investigations, not just a matter of faith.”

The Dwarka exploration has been given additional budget of Rs 28 lakh while initial budget for Ram Setu site will be Rs 10 lakh, said officials.

CSIR has also been given approval to conduct onshore and offshore exploration along Odisha between Gopalpur and adjoining area of West Bengal coast and Shipwreck explorations off Konark Coast and coastal explorations along Andhra coast.

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