1st Edition

Adam’s Bridge Sacrality, Performance, and Heritage of an Oceanic Marvel

By Arup K. Chatterjee Copyright 2024
    260 Pages 23 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Adam’s Bridge offers the first comprehensive transdisciplinary study of the famous eponymous tombolo (also known as Ram Setu) combining its sacral, historical, geological, political, performative, and heritage aspects into one framework, viewed under the critical lenses of island studies and cultural theory.

    The book elucidates the entanglement of Adam’s Bridge’s discursive history with India’s colonial history, contemporary geology, domestic politics, and the nation’s emerging position in a complex geopolitical order in and around the Indian Ocean region, vis-à-vis increasing Sino-American involvement in Indo-Sri Lankan relations. Without foregrounding any absolute scientific claims on the location of the sandbars that inspired sage Valmiki’s Ram Setu and the Ramayan legacy or hindering narratives of religious faiths and folklore revolving around the structure, this intellectual historiography traces the parallel evolution of traditions of compassionate questioning and devotion for Indic sacred beliefs among commentators across the millennia from both Indian and non-Indian spectra, seen in juxtaposition with the biotic and abiotic diversity of the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay. Looking beyond secular-versus-religious debates, this book will be of interest to scholars of ocean and island studies, coastal economies, archipelagic geographies, environmental history, heritage studies, colonial studies, and cultural theory.

    Adam’s Bridge unifies a consortium of themes, ranging across ecological and livelihood sustainability, environmentalism, soteriology, economic and geostrategic history, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in conceptualizing a compellingly nuanced chronicle for India’s enchanted ‘bridge.’

    Chapter 1: Prologue

    Chapter 2: ‘Remnants of a Bridge’: Introduction

    Chapter 3: Colonizing India’s ‘Longest’ Bridge

    Chapter 4: Navigating a Postcolonial Imbroglio

    Chapter 5: Adam’s Bridge and Environmentalism

    Chapter 6: The Abjection of Tamil Fishermen

    Chapter 7: Coalitions Against the Sethu Canal

    Chapter 8: Ramifications of the Lankan Opposition

    Chapter 9: Epilogue



    Arup K. Chatterjee is a professor of English at OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, and the founding chief editor of Coldnoon: International Journal of Travel Writing & Travelling Cultures (2011 to 2018). He is the author of the bestselling book, The Purveyors of Destiny: A Cultural Biography of the Indian Railways (2017) [republished as The Great Indian Railways (2018)], the widely acclaimed, Indians in London: From the Birth of the East India Company to Independent India (2021), and the forthcoming The Great Indian Railway Saga (2024), besides being the author of over 70 articles and academic papers in national and international publications. In 2012, he translated the Urdu poems of Firaq Gorakhpuri, published in the biography written by Ajai Man Singh, The Poet of Pain and Ecstasy (Roli 2015). His research interests include nineteenth-century colonial history, anthropology, culture, and literary studies.

    "Adam’s Bridge: Sacrality, Performance, and Heritage of an Oceanic Marvel is a fascinating contribution to study of space and spatial infrastructure as it braids environmental concerns, and sacred belief with discursive insights into the Anthropocene. It is the outcome of serious archival research and interpretive analysis."

    Lakshmi Subramanian, Distinguished Scholar and Author; Historian and Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, BITS Pilani, Goa; formerly, Professor at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

    "Arup K. Chatterjee tells a captivating story of a unique feature, spellbinding in its geology and symbolism—a sacred space; the work of Gods; an oft-neglected link that connects Tamil Nadu/India and Sri Lanka. For Hindus, it is a land bridge built by a monkey army so that God Rama could rescue his beloved Sita from the demon-king Ravana, in the kingdom of Lanka. For geographers, it is a unique terraqueous ecosystem with 103 tiny reefs and sandbanks, with islets appearing at low tide. For Muslims, it is the causeway that allowed Adam, the first Man, to leave the Garden of Eden (Lanka) and proceed to the Asian mainland. For historians, it was an unbroken causeway until breached by a fierce tropical storm in 1480; and the site of thriving port city of Dhanushkodi, until it was abandoned after yet another devastating storm that killed some 1,800 people in 1964. For Indian and Sri Lankan nationalists, it is the site of tension, as one suspicious side accuses the other of dubious motives for interest and investment. For the thousands of species who live there, it is home. An ocean marvel indeed, and more besides. With this book, Chatterjee walks us through the multiple representations of this unique formation, perched graciously yet perilously betwixt two countries, land and sea, sacral and temporal, calm and tumult."

    Godfrey Baldacchino, Distinguished Scholar and Author; Professor of Sociology, University of Malta; Founding Editor, Island Studies Journal

    "Arup K. Chatterjee’s Adam’s Bridge provides a scholarly socio-cultural insight into an enchanting geological feature called the Adam’s Bridge, a linear coralline ridge separating a shallow sea between Pamban Island on the southeast coast of India and Mannar Island on the northern coast of Sri Lanka. A part of the Hindu mythological lore celebrated as the mythical Rama’s bridge, it became a hot topic of discussion both among environmental scientists and among religious enthusiasts, ever since the government mooted the idea of dredging a navigable route through the limestone shoals of Ram Setu. This book takes us through a complex web of ethnography, historiography, and ecological equity concerning this oceanic structure. In this most profound and eloquently written work I have read on Adam’s Bridge (Ram Setu), the author enables us to think about ways of heritagization of this marvel of nature by fostering cross-cultural collaborative efforts. Indeed, a fascinating book and a must-read!"

    C.P. Rajendran, Distinguished Scholar and Author; Professor, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; and National Geoscience Awardee

    "Considering the evolving geopolitics of southern South Asia, bridging the sea between India and Sri Lanka may perhaps soon get on policy radar screens. By delving into history, historiography, geology, ecology, politics, economics, mythology, and more, Arup K. Chatterjee provides a fascinating background to the physical structures and legend-based structuration of Adam’s Bridge that may very well shape South Asian futures in this century."

    Nikhilesh Dholakia, Distinguished Scholar and Author; Professor Emeritus, International Business, University of Rhode Island

    "Arup K. Chatterjee has made a landmark contribution to South Asia’s coastal histories. Meticulously researched, this book is an epic, interrogative excavation of India’s Adam’s Bridge. Enchanting and exhaustive, it is a provocative inquiry into the intertwining legacies of colonialism, decoloniality, and island geologies."

    May Joseph, Distinguished Scholar and Author; Professor of Social Science and Cultural Studies, Pratt Institute, New York; Founder, Harmattan Theater, New York

    "Adam’s Bridge: Sacrality, Performance and Heritage of an Oceanic Marvel is a fascinating study of the historiography of the eponymous structure (also known as Ram Setu), touching upon several entangled threads on myth, literature, colonial narrative, and contemporary politics. It empowers an understanding of how the idea of Adam’s Bridge/Ram Setu became infused with power over the minds of people. This dispassionate analysis reveals that much of the current controversy related to it is public theatre – a cognitive category the distinguished American anthropologist Clifford Geertz saw as a useful lens in interpreting the history and evolution of religious landscapes."

    Subhash KakDistinguished Scholar and Author; Regents Professor of Computer Science, Oklahoma State University-Stillwater; Member of the Indian Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council

    "Melting the boundaries between the sacral traditions of Ram Setu and geoscientific knowledge about Adam’s Bridge, Arup K. Chatterjee offers a fascinating account of the tombolo stretching from India to Sri Lanka. The story of origins, politics, diplomacy, ecology, and the troubling concerns of the Anthropocene, is pertinent to the current debates about dredging the area. What are the risks and gains to the people and the planet? How do ancient beliefs interface with modern commerce? Impressive scholarship and cultural sensitivity make Adam’s Bridge highly significant and wonderfully engaging."

    Malashri Lal, Distinguished scholar; Professor and Former Head, Department of English, and Dean of Colleges, University of Delhi; Convener, English Advisory Board, Sahitya Akademi.

    "Arup K. Chatterjee’s latest book, Adam’s Bridge: Sacrality, Performance, and Heritage of an Oceanic Marvel (Routledge UK, 2024) is unique, as is the subject of this formidably complex and multilayered volume ... a fine book-length revelation of Adam’s Bridge or Ram Setu as a magnificent and enchanting ‘tombolo’ whether seen from soteriological or geological perspectives! ... Chatterjee recounts an intriguing saga, previously very little known, plausibly told through discourses traversing history, geology, mythology, legends, political, cultural, and geostrategic mores, in a most delightful way. Adam’s Bridge will inevitably stimulate further thought and pronouncements by those fascinated by the world’s natural and anthropogenic geography, its civilization, and its amazing place in our collective minds. I recommend this book to both academic and non-academic readers most enthusiastically!"

    Richard Cathcart, Distinguished scholar, geographer, and Founding Director and Head of the Department, Geographos, Burbank, California, USA. Appeared in The Australia Today 

    "Adam's Bridge is a superb addition to the emerging discipline of oceanic and island studies. It presents an engrossing academic analysis of the social, economic, and cultural heritage surrounding the structure in the Gulf of Manner to pick apart a region's multifaceted historiography."

    The Telegraph, India