Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Bridge That Hanuman Built

From a story by Laurie Goering of the Chicago Tribune, Hindu nationalists in India are trying to prevent the dredging of a deep shipping canal that would destroy submerged sand and coral islands between India and Sri Lanka. The Indian government wants to improve shipping speed by clearing the waterway of any obstructions.

However, the Hindu nationalists believe the islands to be the stones that Hanuman, the monkey hero, enlisted the monkey army to throw into the water to create a bridge, thus allowing the hero, Rama, to get to Sri Lanka, the demon island, where Sita, Rama's wife, was being held captive.

According to the story, the Hindu nationalists called for violence against the politicians responsible, then rescinded that directive. But virulent protests continued, leading the government to reconsider the idea.

I cannot speak for either side, but this is certainly an intersection of the religious and the political, perhaps not quite "beyond" the veil, but certainly on the dividing line. Any religion's fundamentalists calling for violence, and the mindset that their beliefs are the only true beliefs, are actions that have absolutely no place in this world. However, is the economic betterment for some - probably the already wealthy - worth the cultural destruction of a mythological, and in this case, religious, landmark?

A thought from Joseph Campbell comes to mind. He felt it was a mistake when the Roman Catholic church eliminated Latin as the language of their mass because it took away the mystery and the awe of the rite being celebrated.

The myth, the story, the rite, the belief - it is only powerful if it still invokes a sense of wonder. Is there no other way to increase production of the ship lines that want to go through the bridge that Hanuman built? If there is no other way, is it truly necessary?

I cannot condone the call for violence to stop this action, but I sympathize with the need to better alleviate the differences between an economic and a mythological world. The bridge of Hanuman is a cultural treasure for its' Hindu believers. Since I read the Ramayana recently, I would never have guessed there was some sort of real bridge. Submerged though it is, just knowing it is there brings a new level of mystery and awe to the reading of a classic, and already enjoyable, work.

Here's hoping they work this out to both sides benefit.

1 comment:

Sharonda said...

Beyond the religion versus politics,the submerged bridge could also be considered a work of art. It reminded me of all the Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. It's interesting that there is such a sense of awe and wonder when cave paintings, frozen and preserved humans from eras pst and new species of dinosaurs are discovered, yet it all comes down to the dollar. It's dificult to know what to seems that progress improves the life of many, yets hurts others.

China and India are rapidly going to overshadow the US as the world's largest polluters, yet the pollution is hurting China's own people along the rivers and deep into the country. A lot to ponder.