The controversial Adam's bridge off the Tamil Nadu coast could be "man-made" and has an "echo in the ancient mythological epic, the Ramayana", says a government publication tabled in parliament last week - a development that could put the Congress-led government in a piquant spot.
A book Images India published by Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) that comes under the Department of Space, says the satellite images have revealed an "ancient bridge between India and Sri Lanka in Palk strait".
"The origin of the bridge is a mystery. Archaeological studies have revealed that the bridge dates back to the primitive age, that is about 1,750,000 years."
"Its structure suggests that it may be man-made," it says on page 39 of the coffee table book under the sub-title 'Stunning Structures'.
"This 30 km long bridge, named as Adam's bridge, is made of a chain of shoals and links Rameshwaram in the south India to Sri Lanka."
It goes on to say: "This has an echo in the ancient Indian mythological epic, the Ramayana. According to the epic, such a bridge was built by Lord Rama and his followers to reach Sri Lanka. Studies are still on but the bridge is seen as an example of ancient history linked to the Indian mythology."
The revelations in the book, with a foreword by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman G. Madhavan Nair, are in contrast to what the government has been maintaining so far that the setu is formed by giant tombolos - bars of sand connecting an island with another island of the mainland.
It also contradicts the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which says there is no "historic or scientific" evidence of the existence of Lord Ram or Ram Setu.
The government has given the nod to a multi-million dollar Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, which requires breaking a portion of Ram Setu to make a route navigable for ships around the Indian peninsula.
However, Hindu hardliners have protested construction of the canal arguing that it would damage the "ancient" bridge that they say was built by Lord Ram and his army of monkeys to save his wife Sita who had been kidnapped by demon king Ravana and taken to Lanka.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been organising processions across the country protesting the construction of the canal, is excited over the NRSA findings.
"Finally, science has prevailed upon the politics of Congress. Now they have to accept the scientific evidence and should not enter in to vote bank politics. They must accept not only Lord Ram but also Ram Setu," a jubilant party spokesman Prakash Javadekar told IANS.
"They should not cut through the Ram Setu now," he said.
The issue had stalled parliament proceedings for many days during the budget and monsoon sessions and created furore throughout the country. An affidavit filed by the ASI, which the government had withdrawn later following strident protests, had said there was no "historical or scientific proof" of the existence of Lord Ram or Ram Setu.
The canal issue and the ASI affidavit had put the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress in a major embarrassment.
Shipping Minister T.R. Baalu, whose DMK has taken the construction of the canal as a prestige issue, had gone to the extent of saying he would resign from his cabinet post if the bridge was proved to be "man-made".
The latest to add to the controversy is West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who remarked on Thursday that "Ram was born in the imagination of poets and Ram Setu is a natural formation under the sea".
Earlier, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK patriarch Muthuvel Karunanidhi had questioned the existence of Lord Ram, which led to massive protests in many parts of the country with mobs resorting to arson and even attacking his house in Bangalore.