Rama’s or Adam’s Bridge is a series of limestone reefs and low islands between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. North of it is the Palk Strait, named after Robert Palk, President of Madras from 1763 to ’67, which connects the Bay of Bengal with the Gulf of Mannar. The Bridge begins at Rameswaram island off Tamil Nadu (which is linked to the Indian mainland by the Pamban Bridge) and ends at Mannar island in Sri Lanka. The ferry service between these two points has often been suspended because of fighting in Sri Lanka.
The earliest map that calls this area Adam’s Bridge was prepared by a British cartographer in 1804, probably referring to an Islamic legend, according to which Adam used the bridge to reach Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka, where he stood repentant on one foot for 1,000 years, leaving a large hollow mark resembling a footprint.
The shallow water makes it impossible for large ships to pass through. Fishing boats and small craft carrying coastal trade cross the line, but large ships must travel around Sri Lanka. The British first considered a shipping canal through the strait in 1860. The most recent study of the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, as it is now called, was an environmental impact assessment and technical feasibility study commissioned by the Tamil Nadu government in 2004. Sethusamudram is the Tamil/Sanskrit name for the sea between India and Sri Lanka.
The Ramayana recounts how Rama, with the help of an army of vanaras – humans with the tails of monkeys – built a bridge of stones across the sea to Lanka to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana. There is an Indian movement which argues that the Bridge was a human construction, and there is some evidence that it might have been passable on foot until the fifteenth century.
Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka in the third century BC. Nowadays, the main Hindu minority are the Tamils, who had established a permanent presence in the north of the island by the twelfth century.
Under the direction of Ravana’s mermaid daughter, fish and mermaids carry away stones from Rama’s bridge: detail of a painting at the Emerald Buddha temple in Bangkok