Aug 5, 2012

God-built bridge in a Ghost-town!

The plot of the story is set several centuries ago. Morgan Freeman is the dad of Brad Pitt’s, and he’s a king who rules a small kingdom. He has three wives and four sons, out of which Brad is the first son. After winning a fanfare-filled competition of masculinity and strength, Brad gets married to Angelina Jolie who is a princess from a nearby kingdom. When it’s time for Brad to raise up the throne as king, his step mother turns out to be a villain and gets him banned out of the kingdom, and to live in the woods for 14 years. On the other hand, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a demon-king who rules a faraway island. He tricks and abducts Angelina to his place. With the help of a huge team, including his grateful friend Sylvestor Stallone, Brad sets out on a battle with Arnold. They build a bridge connecting Arnold’s island, reach the other end, defeat Arnold’s army. Eventually, Brad rescues Angelina and brings her back to his kingdom and they live happily ever after. Well, this is no Hollywood period movie, but the storyline of the great Indian epic - Ramayana.  But wait, how does the Ramayana story relate to here? The epicenter of our story here is the bridge that Rama and his team built - the controversial, debated, and worshiped - Ram Setu, Ramar Paalam or Adam’s bridge.

Rameshwaram is a town in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu and is one of India's most revered pilgrimage spots. It is situated on the Pamban Island that is located between mainland India and Sri Lanka. At the eastern end of the Pamban Island is another town called Dhanushkodi that rivaled Rameshwaram in tourism. While Rameswaram was famous for its Ramanathaswamy temple, Dhanushkodi was also a flourishing tourist and pilgrimage town, back in the days. With Sri Lanka being just 31 km away from Dhanushkodi, there were many ferry services connecting it with Talaimannar of Sri Lanka. Trains from mainland reached the island at Pamban Station, from where the railway lines split into two directions- one towards Rameshwaram and another towards Dhanushkodi. At Dhanushkodi, it's a great to sight to watch the rough Indian Ocean meeting the calm waters of Bay of Bengal. It was at the tip of Dhanushkodi that Lord Rama built a bridge connecting Sri Lanka, as per Ramayana! But as destiny had it, the seeming auspicious Dhanuskodi was ill-fated.

Year 1964. The night of December 22nd. It should have been a very peaceful night after dharshan at the Rameshwaram temple for those 110 passengers who rode train No.653, the Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger. The quaint meter-gauge train that left the Pamban station zoomed majestically toward Dhanushkodi. While in the train, those tourists should have been glad after finishing a long-planned pilgrimage trip with their family. Some of them would have cheerfully discussed about their next day's stopover at Dhanushkodi before heading back to their hometowns. But they were in for a total surprise

At 23:55 PM sharp, a few yards before Dhanushkodi railway station, the train was hit by a massive tidal wave. The whole train was washed away killing everyone on board. Along with them, over 1800 people died in the cyclonic storm in the whole town of Dhanushkodi. The high tidal waves moved almost 10 kilometers onto the island and ruined the entire town. All houses, the small railway hospital, the dharmashala, and all other structures in Dhanushkodi were swallowed into the sea.  Following the disaster, the Government declared the town as “Ghost town” (unfit for living).

I'm forced compare this with the sinking of the Titanic, and the commendable job by the Westerners to keep memories of the Titanic alive for several generations to come. Today, the whole world remembers the grand Titanic ship and its tragic end via the movie. Well, we don’t need a melancholic romantic Hollywood movie that would make memories of Dhanushkodi freeze within our hearts, but don’t those poor tourists and inhabitants of Dhanushkodi deserve to be remembered? Or at least to be known that such a tragic event happened?!

Zooming back to Lord Rama’s bridge from Ramayana. The Indian epic claims the bridge to have been built by Rama several thousand years ago with the help of his brother Lakshmana, his ape friend Hanuman and several other members of his team. He had used this bridge to reach Sri Lanka on foot and rescue his wife Sita from Raavana, the demon king of Sri Lanka. This very bridge starts from Dhanuskodi and continues to Srilanka! While this has been one of the great epics of India for several centuries, out of the blue, some American scientist “discovers” the remains of the bridge and names it “Adam’s bridge”, and claims it to be naturally formed, and not man-made, consequently suggesting Ramayana to be a myth.  As this blatantly strikes the religious beliefs of several Indians, there has always been opposition of this notion. There is also another group of people who fight for the destruction of the bridge and for making the sea deeper so that big ships can sail through, making for more efficiency of trade.

When the controversy around the truth and the debate of the bridge’s authenticity is saddening to many, even more sad - is the fact that a whole town that once flourished greatly, has been swallowed by a cyclone, and stands abandoned and helpless today. 

A God-built bridge in a Ghost-town indeed!

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