Indian mythology is filled with accounts of cities and lands being submerged by the sea.
The Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram
One such myth, describes the ancient city of Mahabalipuram as being the city of Seven Pagodas. Whilst one such temple stands on the shore, legend states that there are six others submerged off the coast of southern India. In 2002 an underwater team discovered a maze of walls and temples, suggesting that the myth may actually be true.
India’s National Institute of Oceanography, which was involved in the discovery, has stated that the ruins at Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu could be 1,200 to 1,500 years old. However, Graham Hancock, a British writer and reporter who specialises in pseudoscientific theories involving ancient civilisations, has argued that civilisation predates the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians by thousands of years. The city of legend, if real, could go back to 3,000 BC. 1
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In 2004, yet more evidence was revealed to suggest that stories of ancient kingdom are based on truth. Right before the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami hit on 26th December, the shoreline of southern Indian receded into the ocean enough to reveal a series of stone walls buried under the sand. When the great waters collided with the land, they dragged pieces of a once magnificent kingdom onto the shore, including an elaborate stone statue of a lion. Archaeologists have stated that the 6ft tall stone remains date back to 7th Century AD. 2 It seems that the sea returned some of them to the land. With each new discovery since, the myth draws closer to reality. 3
These discoveries have led many speculate how much truth remains concealed in southern India’s mythology. After all, there are many more submerged cities reported in its literature.
An ancient land ruled by Pandiyan kings
One story in particular grips imagination. The modern Tamil people of India speak of a great civilisation that once existed on a large landmass off the southern tip of India. This ancient land was called Kumari Kandam. Spoken of as the cradle of civilisation, the land was supposedly ruled by Pandiyan kings (a historical dynasty of the Tamil people) for close to 11,000 years. 4
The genesis of the legend can be traced back to the second century AD. One of the five epic works of Tamil literature mentions a land belonging to the Pandiyan kings being devoured by a cruel sea. In the seventh century, a Tamil commentary contained a comprehensive list of all the Pandiyan kings which ruled Kumari Kandam. The list covered many thousands of years. It was said that in this land the kings established Tamil Sangams, assemblies of scholars and poets, to help promote the perfection of Tamil culture and language. According to the commentary, the first Sangam was established around 9000 BC, and lasted 4,440 years. It was around this time that part of Kumari Kandam was submerged by the sea. Over the course of the millenium that would proceed, the Pandiyans moved north as their once great kingdom was slowly conquered by the waves. By the time Kumari Kandam was fully submerged, the Pandiyan kings had moved into India, and established the Tamil culture that exists there today. 5
Perhaps surprisingly, there is much to indicate the possibility of there having once been such a landmass with a cultured civilisation living upon it south of the India. Many languages spoken by native Africans, Australians and other islands in the vicinity bear a striking resemblance to the Tamil language. Further hints of its existence come from the Greek explorer and ethnographer, Megasthenes. In the fourth century BC, he stated that Sri Lanka was only separated from mainland India by a river. This observation was made at a time which would correlate with the alleged gradual flooding of Kumari Kandam. 6
Kumari Kandam and the lost continent of Lemuria
It was in the 19th century, when scholars truly turned their eyes in the direction of the legendary city.
Contemporary scholars hypothesised that a continent must have once connected Madagascar, India, Africa and Australia, since these areas shared many similarities in biodiversity and geology. This notion was born in 1864, and was the brainchild of the English zoologist Philip Sclater. He sought to explain the presence of lemur-like mammals in these disconnected areas. 7 As such, the thought-to-be submerged continent was named Lemuria.
Despite the different name, Tamil nationalists instantly saw a connection between Lemuria and their legend of Kumari Kandam. As such, they popularised the theory of Lemuria as proof that their ancient homeland had most certainly once existed, and had been the cradle of their culture and civilisation.
Whilst many scholars at the time did agree that there may have been a lost continent located somewhere in the Indian or Pacific Ocean, they stated that Lemuria was too old to have been inhabited by people.
Since the 19th century, succeeding academics have undone much of the work to prove Lemuria’s existence. The theory of plate tectonics, for example, seems to have ruled out the possibilities that there ever was a landmass connecting these areas. Instead, it is proposed that Madagascar, India, Africa and Australia were once connected and then simply drifted apart. 8
Some scholars have questioned further, attacking the authenticity of the historical accounts which Tamil scholars use to evidence the existence of Kumari Kandam. 9
Despite mainstream scholars’ best efforts to disprove the legend of Kumari Kandam, the mythical land is still regarded as real by many people. And with recent discoveries of underwater cities off southern India’s coast, it seems that there may just be some truth in the folklore of ancient people. As such, the debate over the existence of Kumari Kandam continues to rage on.
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