A place of worship by definition has to be visited by worshippers. This is the basic premise on which the Supreme Court observed on Tuesday that the Ram Sethu or Adam’s Bridge off the coast of Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu is not a structure of religious importance. The Ram Sethu came into the news when various petitioners succeeded in stopping work on the Sethusamudram shipping canal project on separate grounds. The aspects of the canal project possibly being ecologically destructive and that the whole enterprise was economically unfeasible have strong empirical arguments against the venture. But it is the more subjective matter of religious faith that has proved to be more tricky. Those, including the Sangh parivar, have opposed the Sethusamudram project on the grounds that the formation was ‘man-made’ — constructed during the time Lord Ram crossed the sea to move his army into Lanka.
Which brings us back to the familiar ground where mythology ends and history starts in our nation’s public consciousness and where religion and politics precariously cohabit. The Archaeological Survey of India had claimed that the Ram Sethu was a natural formation. But the ruckus that this report created made the central government hastily withdraw that affidavit. The case before the Supreme Court was to resolve whether any dredging activity in the Adam’s Bridge area would cause damage to the Ram Sethu causing ‘injury’ to devotees. It now turns out that the apex court has its doubts about whether the Ram Sethu holds any religious affinity for any one apart from the petitioners.
The fact of the matter is that it takes as little as two bricks under a tree for a temple to be made in this country. Whether the Ram Sethu was indeed the bridge made by Lord Ram’s army or not is, in that sense, besides the point. As is the matter of how many people revere it. What matters is whether the canal project makes sense in the flesh-and-blood world — affecting livelihoods and the environment and whether one is creating yet another white elephant.