Thursday, March 29, 2007

Saving Adam's Bridge

Also known as Ram Sethu, the bridge of Ram, who (according to the Ramayana) crossed over to Lanka from here. It's a natural link of shoals in the Palk Straits that links Sri Lanka to India, which also makes the Straits impassable. Apparently there's a government plan to, well, destroy this natural limestone feature, to give ships an easier access across the tip of the peninsula, without having to go all the way around the island of Sri Lanka. And, according to Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for the Times (London), there's worldwide protests from Hindus, who regard the bridge to be a holy structure. And, apparently, there might be some ecological concerns as well.

So, I guess, in many ways this is simply a larger version of a problem that crops up quite often in Indian cities: what to do about that pesky religious structure (temple, mosque, shrine, dargah) that is in the way of a new road, or a road widening project, or what have you. Tear it down? And cause a riot? Leave it be? Take the road somewhere else? Build the road around it? (It happens all the time!)

A couple of other things: Ms. Gledhill quite erroneously suggests that this bridge is as important to Hindus as Mecca is to Muslims or the Wailing Wall is to Jews. That's just not true. For one, Hinduism is vastly diverse, and I doubt that there's any one central location/temple/thing that is supremely important in the same way. The teerths? Not everyone goes there. Varanasi and the Ganga? Again, not everyone goes there. Nor is everyone supposed to go there. There's all kidns of regional variations and practices. I hadn't even heard of this bridge in any religious context until now (Granted, I'm a poor example, a convert to Christianity ... but it's just not something one hears about!). And, as an aside, I just don't think it's accurate to say "Hindus believe" without some qualifiers, for most such statements. There's very few things all Hindus everywhere believe, or are expected to believe. Belief, as in a central body of teaching one assents to, isn't really a concept in Hinduism.

Interesting too that this is the first I'm hearing about this story -- it's not news on the constantly chattering 24/7 channels (who are obsessed by the Indian cricket team right now), and I haven't seen it any of the English dailies. I'm sure there is a campaign to save this bridge among all kinds of Hindus -- but it just doesn't compare to, say, the Ayodhya temple issue (now that could truly be caleld a worldwide campaign), and yes, it is a stretch to call this India's Suez crisis!

Or maybe, I just am not reading the papers too well!

As to what I think? Oh let it be ... screw "development!"

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