The Ram legend and the canal controversy
By His Holiness Swami Chidanand Saraswati
There are also innumerable ecological reasons why the bridge should remain intact. These reasons range from tsunami prevention on the Kerala coast, to the precious reefs lying beneath the ocean surface, to the stores of minerals which will become fodder for international competition.
This year, the celebration of Diwali has a special significance. Each year we line our homes, our rooms and our offices with brightly lit diyas (lamps) symbolising the victory of good over evil and the return of Bhagwan Ram to Ayodhya.
Each year, I encourage people to not only light the lamp on their mandir or the lamp in their home, but to also light the lamp in their own hearts. The diya we light on Deepavali should not merely be outside. We must not only light the lamps of oil on our shelves but we must also light the lamps of truth, piety, purity, divinity and peace in our hearts and in our lives.
This year, with the controversy surrounding the Ram Sethu, the significance of the lamps we light on Deepavali is even more crucial.
Issue of “Truth” and “Authenticity”
Many pointed questions have been raised by various groups regarding the “authenticity” of the bridge in terms of its connection to the Ramayana, and some have even gone as far as to question the authenticity of Bhagwan Ram Himself. Their point seems to be that if Shri Ram’s existence is not provable, and if science cannot support the fact that the bridge was built by His hands, then it is fine to dismantle it. The very foundation of this reasoning is flawed and shows a dire need for the light of understanding, truth and compassion.
One of the basic principles of religion is its inherent improvability. Atheists stake their claim that “if you can’t prove God exists, He doesn’t.” While they are certainly entitled to their viewpoint, they are not entitled to destroy every religious symbol or place of worship simply because the existence of God cannot be proved. Many historians have “proven” that Jesus existed, and an equal number have “proven” that he didn’t. Many have even “proven” that he lived in India, a fact which is clearly not accepted by the fundamental Christians. But the scientific reliability of his having taken birth in Bethlehem is not related to Bethlehem’s indisputable religious and cultural significance. No one could dare suggest to turn the town of Bethlehem into a military base due to its strategic and convenient position. The Christians would never accept (nor should they) the desecration of the birthplace of Christ.
Similarly, Mt. Sinai is worshipped as the place upon which God spoke the 10 commandments to Moses as he led the Jews to the holy land. Did it really happen? Can it be proved? Are Moses’ footprints left in the rocks as an indelible reminder of his presence? These questions are irrelevant. What is relevant is that Mt. Sinai is taken to be a holy place by the Jewish people. They worship it as the place where Moses spoke to God. Is the same mountain which we call Mt. Sinai today the same as the mountain upon which Moses heard God’s voice? I am unaware of any archeological evidence proving this. Yet, proof is not required. What is required is the ardent faith of an entire population of believers. Would the Jewish community tolerate the levelling of Mt. Sinai to build a conveniently located airstrip or freeway or railway line?
Whether Ram Sethu is actually the bridge that Bhagwan Ram built with the help of his army of Vanar sena is really not the question. It is, in fact, a moot point. The Hindus say yes. The non-Hindus say no. No amount of debate or scientific “proof” on either side is going to sway proponents of one view to the other side. What is important is that it is believed to be a holy place by over a billion people. It is a religious and cultural heritage site, worshipped by every Hindu as the bridge built by Bhagwan Ram. Whether the archeological evidence can be proven is irrelevant. The sentiments of over a billion people cannot be ignored.
Furthermore, that archeological evidence is there, the fact that a bridge actually exists to this day, and that it is a bridge eminent scientists have said could not have occurred naturally is all the more reason to err on the side of caution and on the side of respect.
The bridge clearly exists and has earned even a place in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Naturally occurring reefs, sandbars, piles of rocks do not warrant mention in Encyclopedias. The ocean is full of them. They are the subject of biology and oceanography text books, but not Encyclopedias. The fact that the bridge has found its place into the Encyclopedia is yet another reason it should be left in tact. Even if it is not the bridge crossed by Bhagwan Ram on the way to Lanka, it indisputably is an ancient cultural and historical heritage site.
Progress or Preservation? Convenience or Compassion?
There are many places in the world where a “direct” route—whether it is through bodies of water, across mountains, or through holy sites— would be much more convenient and cost effective. However, for reasons of ecology, conservation, or religious and cultural sensitivity, we do not plow through the area to create a direct route.
Imagine if, for some reason, the port authority of New York wanted ships to come directly in the path of the Statue of Liberty. There is no New Yorker or American who would agree to have the Statue of Liberty dismantled just because it was convenient for the ships. It is a matter of cultural sensitivity. And the Ram Sethu should receive even more sensitivity because it cannot be reconstructed. Arguments could be made that the Statue of Liberty could just be “moved” or “rebuilt” as there is no significance to the exact plot of ocean She occupies. But that is not the case with the Ram Sethu. Once it has been dismantaled, it is a piece of our cultural and religious history that has been irreplaceably destroyed.
Progress is good. Modernisation is good. Development is good. Convenience and efficiency are good. But these are not unequivocally good. They are not good at all costs. There must be a limit and there must be priorities. Development at the cost of national and religious heritage is not a step in the right direction. Convenience at the cost of spiritual sanctity is not a decision India should support. Progress which is detrimental to the environment and ecology is not real progress. It is merely the temporary and fleeting façade of progress.
There are also innumerable ecological reasons why the bridge should remain in tact. These reasons range from tsunami prevention on the Kerala coast, to the precious reefs lying beneath the ocean surface, to the stores of minerals which will become fodder for international competition. There is not space here to go into these reasons in depth, but suffice it to say that, even from a strictly environmental perspective, to destroy the bridge and open the area for sea traffic is paving the way for environmental disaster.
Lighting the Real Lamps of Diwali
This Diwali let us light the true lamps.
Let us light the lamp of understanding
This lamp will shine the way forward that takes the sentiments of Hindus into consideration. It will dispel the darkness of narrow-mindedness. It will allow us to see the parallels between destruction of Ram Sethu and the destruction of religious sites of other religions. The lamp of understanding will show us how important it is—for national integration and harmony—to curtail plans to destroy this bridge.
Let us also light the lamp of truth
This lamp will show us the injustice inherent in this project to all Hindus as well as to the fishermen and inhabitants of the coastal region. This lamp will enable us to see that this project places the gain of a few ahead of the loss of so many.
Let us also light the lamp of piety
This lamp will fill us with devotion—to whatever name and form of God we worship. For, when one is truly pious and truly devoted one could never conceive of desecrating the religious monuments of others.
Let us also light the lamp of compassion and mercy
This lamp will allow us to place greater importance on not only the religious sentiments of the Hindus but on the concerns of tens of thousands of fishermen whose livelihoods will be severely and adversely affected by the opening of the canal for ships. This lamp of compassion will enable us to see beyond the limits of our own immediate goals of progress and financial gain to the distant goal of harmony, peace and betterment for all.
Then, not only will our Deepavali be filled with joy and peace, but our divine cultural and spiritual heritage will remain intact for generations to come. If we can light these lamps on this Deepavali day, we will lead the world in a much-needed direction of acceptance, understanding and harmony. After all, that is the true meaning of any holiday.
(The author is president and spiritual head of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)