‘Ravan Was The First Aviator’: How Sri Lanka Sees The Ramayan
Posted on October 1st, 2022

Seema Guha Courtesy Outlook India

The epic tale says that Ram with the help of Hanuman and Sugriv rescued Sita from Ravan. The epic also mentions that a bridge was constructed by the Vanaras to help Ram and his army cross the ocean.

The Ramayan continues to evoke passions in the faithful on both sides of the religious and cultural divide. Ram is worshipped by millions of Hindus as the embodiment of light while Ravan symbolises darkness and evil. But this version of Ravan is as contested in Sri Lanka as in several parts of south India. Ravan is a heroic figure in Lanka, a great warrior and a compassionate monarch endowed with superior intelligence.

There are also people who claim that Ravan was the first to fly a plane centuries before the Wright brothers did. His Pushpak Vimana was the world’s first aircraft. In fact, the Sri Lankan government 2020 funded a project to be taken up by the nation’s civil aviation authority to search for evidence of Ravan’s aircraft and aerial routes. 

King Ravan was a genius. He was the first person to fly. He was an aviator. It’s not mythology; it’s a fact. There needs to be detailed research on this. In the next five years, we will prove this,” Shashi Danatunge, the former vice-chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, was earlier quoted by local reports. He said that the government had irrefutable facts to prove that Ravan was the first person to fly an aircraft.

In the Buddhist-majority nation, Ravan is more of a cultural than a religious or political issue.  Sri Lankan expert S Sathya Moorthy says: “Hindu Tamils of Jaffna are mainly Shaivites and are not followers of Ram, though among the Indian origin Tamils living in the central highlands there are temples dedicated to Sita.’’

The British took several residents of Tamil Nadu as indentured labourers to work in tea plantations. It is said that the temple in Sita Eliya, where Indian Tamils are concentrated, marks the place where she was kept by Ravan during her captivity. 

Sita Eliya is a favourite destination for Indian tourists visiting the island state.  In fact, a stone from Sita Eliya will be used in the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. 

Also Read: How Ramnami Sect In Chhattisgarh Fights India’s Brutal Caste System By Tattooing Ram’s Name

Enters Ram Setu 

The epic tale says that Ram with the help of Hanuman and Sugriv rescued Sita from Ravan. The epic also mentions that a bridge was constructed by the Vanaras to help Ram and his army cross the ocean.

Many Hindus believe that the evidence of the bridge called Ram Setu still exists. They point to the 48-km long chain of natural limestone shoals that runs between Rameswaram, a coastal town in Tamil Nadu, to Mannar, an island in Sri Lanka’s northern province. The view from Talaimannar clearly shows the limestone chain which looks like a pathway to India through the ocean. While Hindus call it Ram Setu, in Sri Lanka it is called Adam’s Bridge.

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According to some geologists, the limestone shoals are the remnants of a natural bridge that was formed after Sri Lanka broke away from the Indian land mass. Other geologists say the line of shoals was a result of geological changes that led to the rising of the sea bed. 

Adam’s Bridge also has an interesting myth attached to its name. There is a hilltop in Sri Lanka known as Adam’s Peak. Some Muslim scholars say that this is the exact location where the Biblical Adam fell on the earth after being expelled from the Garden of Eden. These sources describe Adam as crossing into India from Sri Lanka across the bridge, which is now known as Adam’s Bridge. This version was popularized by Al-Biruni in b.c.1030. 

An English cartographer in 1804 prepared a map that referred to the shoal pathway as Adam’s Bridge. The British continued to refer to the pathway as Adam’s Bridge.

Also Read: How Ramnami Sect In Chhattisgarh Fights India’s Brutal Caste System By Tattooing Ram’s Name

In India, the Ram Setu became an issue when the union government came up with the idea of the Sethusamudram project. As the seawater near the coral reef around Ram Setu is shallow and not navigable by ship, the vessels have to take a roundabout route to reach Sri Lanka. The government proposed to reduce the navigation time by building an 83-km deep-water channel to link Mannar to the Palk Strait by dredging and removing some of the limestone shoals that are part of the Ram Setu. The channel would have brought down shipping costs considerably. Tamil Nadu politicians had made this demand to both the AB Vajpayee government and the Manmohan Singh government. When TR Balu was the Shipping minister in the UPA, he pushed for the project and work began.

However, there was a massive uproar at the proposal, both from the BJP as well as various Hindu religious groups as they believed that it would destroy the bridge built by Ram.

Joining the debate, the late DMK chief M Karunanidhi had retorted: “Which is the college from where Ram got his engineering degree?” His remark further outraged many Hindu groups, with a Sri Lankan Tamil from Jaffna threatening to cut off the DMK leader’s tongue.

The Sri Lankan government was not too keen on the project, for purely economic considerations. The government feared that it would reduce the cargo traffic of Colombo port.

The issue went to Indian courts on several grounds, including environmental concerns, but mostly for hurting the religious belief of Hindus. Despite assurance by the government that the Ram Setu would be preserved, the project is at a standstill. The Save Ram Setu campaign was launched on Ram Navami 2007. Subramaniyam Swamy wants the Prime Minister to declare Ram Setu a national monument.


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